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An interview with Noemi Cantele, September 27, 2008

Hometown Girl aims for gold

Fourth at the last two World Championships, Noemi Cantele goes into the weekend's road race as one of the leading contenders. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins spoke to the Italian women's team captain as she made her last minute preparations.

Noemi Cantele
Photo ©: Ben Atkins
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For most riders, just to represent their country at the World Championships is a great honour, to do it when those World Championships are in their home country is something else. When those World Championships are in the town in which they were born and grew up is another thing entirely, especially if that rider happens to have a genuine chance for victory.

When we caught up with Noemi Cantele she had just returned home after racing in the Giro della Toscana, a race she won last year. Despite second place on the second stage behind Dutch superstar Marianne Vos (DSB Bank) she finished the race in 16th overall. This year however, she entered the race with intentions other than victory. "It was good for my goal," she said, "because I didn't want to be 100% there. I looked only at the first two stages and then I used it to be okay for Saturday."

Ah, yes, Saturday. The Worlds in Varese. Her hometown. Surely it must be a little bit exciting to have the World Championships in your hometown...

"A lot, not a little bit!" she laughed. "Really for me it's like a dream, and also today I went on the lap for training and really now I can understand the atmosphere: the feelings are really different from the other World Championships. Also the finish is really special, because inside the cycling stadium, the scenario is really special."

There are quite a few cyclists based in the area, a number of Australians for instance are there at the European base of the Australian Institute of Sport. No one though quite has the same claim as Cantele to be the real local girl. "Yes, I was born in Varese," she confirmed, "but I live 5km outside. I went to the university – to study there – so really it's my town. I train every day on these roads, so I know everything."

"For me it's like a dream ... the feelings are really different from the other World Championships"

-Noemi Cantele reflects on racing the championships at home.

With that kind of local knowledge, surely nobody will know Saturday's course as well. "I think no!" she laughed again. "Also because, okay, it's not a big city so everybody knows me, so when you train it's... and now the city is really ready for the World Championships!"

Despite being the local girl, it seems that the expected pressure has not yet begun to be felt, but she expects it to at some point soon. "I don't know," she said, "I think I feel less pressure than last year, I don't know why... But okay, now I'm at home so I don't think that, but when I go to the hotel where I will stay with the national team... Then I think it will be a little bit different because we are in Italy, and the World Championships are in Italy, and everybody wants that we do really [well] and so I think the pressure will increase. But okay, it's normal; it's no problem."

Twice fourth

Noemi Cantele was disappointed
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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At the last two World Championships Cantele has finished in fourth place, demoralisingly just off the podium (she actually crossed the line in fifth in 2007, but fourth placed finisher Svetlana Bubnenkova has since been disqualified). It was the first of these that was the most frustrating though, as the sprint with Great Britain's Nicole Cooke was so close.

"Yes," she confirmed, "most [frustrating] in Salzburg it was really bad because I lost the third position [by] one centimetre in the finish, and it was not so nice. Okay, last year was a strange race because I crashed. I was really good, but I was not so lucky, but okay we made a really good race as a team so it was a little bit different. [team-mate Marta Bastianelli rode away to finish solo and Giorgia Bronzini took the bronze in the sprint]

"Now I am in my town: I was so close to the podium, I would like to reach the podium!"

That crash, caused by a collapsing barrier on to the course that put paid to the chances of a number of riders, also caused Cantele to change her tactics; and not – she feels – for the better.

"Then it was like when you are shocked a little bit," she continued, "and then just after I attacked with [USA rider Amber] Neben, and that was not a good choice! I should have waited for the next lap, but it's like a reaction for the crash, very strange. It was like to see if everything was okay because I hit my knee and also the head so I was a little bit confused! But okay, every race is different."

In recent years Cantele has enjoyed considerable success in the latter part of the season. She has had two victories in the Grand Prix Plouay World Cup (2005 and 2007) as well as overall success in the Trophée d'Or Féminin and Giro della Toscana last year. This is not entirely by design, she claims, but a feature of her own physical characteristics, although this year's late summer target proved to be a disappointment.

"I don't know why I race like this," she laughed. "I need a lot of time to get fit; I don't know, it's a little bit strange. But this year it was also Olympic Games, even if I had a physical problem between Thüringen and the Olympic Games. So, it was a little bit hard after the Olympic Games because I looked forward a lot [to] this race and for this physical problem I was not 100% in the race and so just after I had to change the page, and to reset everything and to focus it on Saturday."

Despite her own personal disappointment, the bronze medal for Tatiana Guderzo – and indeed the silver for Davide Rebellin in the men's road race – meant that the Olympic experience was overall a positive one.

"At the Olympic Games," said Cantele, "I think it's really good when you get a podium, because every other position means nothing. I think for Italy it was really, really good, especially for women's cycling because – I don't know – it was since Atlanta I think that we didn't get any medals and I think also in the last year we are pretty good, and I wish really that also Saturday we can be good, really one team, you know, really connected."

Noemi Cantele is from Varese
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

The Italian team for Saturday's world championship consists of Cantele, Guderzo, Fabiana Luperini, Monia Baccaille and Eva Lechner. In that list are four obvious leaders, but Cantele still feels that they will be able to work well together. "I think we are a very good team," she said, "I think we are four [leaders in herself, Guderzo, Luperini and Bronzini], but we have different qualities, we can look at different riders, I think everyone will have a job during the race – very specific. Okay, we didn't talk already about this, but we'll see."

Being a good team will be vital, if they are to overcome the one person that she – and most other people – see as the hottest favourite for the victory. "I think the rider is [Marianne] Vos," she explained, "because she is really, really, really fast and if the race is not fast then it's a big problem also. Okay, Bronzini is fast, but I think that Vos is always the fastest. Also again in Toscana she was good and I think she will be good on Saturday."

Luckily for the Italian team, Cantele feels that another strong team will have the same idea in mind. "At this moment also Judith Arndt and [Trixi] Worrack are really, really fit. So I think [we] and the German team has to do the race, because if we wait for Vos she'll kill us! Also in the Olympic Games, if Guderzo didn't attack – if there was not this breakaway – Vos could win again because she has such an incredible sprint. Even if, I think, she was not 100% because during the race she was really hiding in the bunch, you never saw her. She is able to wait, to wait, to wait, so I think the German team, and also us, we have to find a way to not arrive with her."

Whether or not the Italian team manages to shake Marianne Vos before the race enters the Mapei Cycling Stadium on Saturday, expect Noemi Cantele to be there fighting for the medals. Maybe she'll even get one this time.

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