Q&A with Ashleigh Moolman Pasio

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio may not be gracing local training peletons, but that doesn't make her any less of a threat in the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge! She recently took second place at the Giro Rosa in Italy, the biggest stage race for women and perhaps the most prestigious race of the year. A few days later Ashleigh took third place in La Course, which is held during the Tour de France.

A former winner and good friend of the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge, Ashleigh will be riding for charity this year. Cyclopedia caught up with her to hear more about her year so far.

1. You became the first African to stand on the podium of a Grand Tour at the Giro. Tell us about what that achievement means to you.

Finishing 2nd overall at the Giro Rosa this year was an incredible feeling. When I first starting cycling seriously in 2008, this was my dream. Becoming an international pro cyclist as a South African is not an easy feat. It means giving up a comfortable life in South Africa... leaving your family and friends... and setting up life in a foreign country. Luckily for me I’ve always had the full support of my husband, Carl, who has selflessly given up any of his own aspirations as a professional athlete to fully support my career. This meant that we pursued a life in Europetogether, which made things that much easier. When you are so far from family and friends, it’s so important to have someone you can lean on, especially during the tough times. So, after 10 years of hard work, dedication, sacrifice and many challenges along the way; it was hugely satisfying to realise my dream… our dream of podiuming at the Giro Rosa.

2. You made a bold statement that you would be the first African to achieve this last month. Did that put a little more pressure on you and/or did it show your confidence in your form and ability?

When I saw the route for the Giro this year, it was obvious that it was something I needed to target. I knew there were a lot of mountain top finishes and that really tough climbs like the Zoncolan would suit me, plus I’ve been riding consistently well this year, and success breeds success. Of course, it was a bold statement to make, but I definitely believed it was possible. There is something powerful about proclaiming a goal for everyone to see. It creates a sense of accountability, encourages bravery, and welcomes anyone into the journey. It also inspires others to be bold, and that’s what motivates me the most.

3. Was it the greatest performance of your career? Would you say that this has been your best year as a pro rider?

My Giro podium is definitely one of my greatest performances. And yes, this year has been my best season as a pro rider. I’ve been super consistent this year and I’m currently ranked fourth in the world. I suppose it comes down to the 10 thousand hours theory. This year everything just seemed to click. Cycling is a strange sport, you can train hard and do everything right to arrive at a race in your best possible form… but at the end of the day there are so many things that are out of your control and can prevent you from achieving your goal. Like punctures, illness, crashes etc. So, to achieve great results you need everything to come together perfectly on the day. I’m just so grateful that this year everything came together for me. And I’m hoping that this can happen just one more time for the last big race of the season, the World Champs at the end of September.

4. Just a few days later, you took third at La Course. Tell us about that race.

In the women´s peloton we are often frustrated that the efforts made by the ASO (organisers of the Tour de Franceand La Course) to improve the status of our sport still feels very much like, “Well, just do something so that people stop complaining and it looks like we’re making an effort around equality.” However, the race this year was a huge improvement on last year in terms of distance and parcours. Last year was only 67km, which was kind of an insult.

So, to have a 112km stage with two really important climbs towards the back end of the race, meant we could really showcase women´s cycling as it should be. Our team objective was to give it everything and to make sure it was a race to remember. Hitting the penultimate climb, when my teammate, Cecilie Ludwig, attacked, she caught a lot of riders by surprise and got a decent gap. The race favourites were hesitating, looking to each other tochase, and I remember thinking, “This is an incredible opportunity for Cecilie - maybe she can stay away?” I had a free ticket to sit in. When Cecilie eventually got caught my instinct was just to attack off the momentum she hadcreated. But my legs didn’t have it so soon after finishing the Giro. Crossing the finish line third and Cecilie holding onto fourth place, though, I was so proud. We had demonstrated with our legs why women´s cycling is exciting andwhy we deserve more exposure.

5. Obviously, you would like to see a women’s Tour de France. Have there been any moves towards that happening? And, if not, what can be done to get the UCI and ASO to push for it.

I don’t want to totally badmouth the ASO, because it’s important to have these opportunities. And it doesn’t look good when we’re constantly demanding, because people get fed up with us playing the victim role. There is a lot of talk about how we deserve a women´s Tour de France, but I’m actually not much of an advocate for this. I don’t believe in forcing men’s cycling to create opportunity for women´s cycling if they don’t really believe in the value we can bring. Because then we become a bit of a sideshow. Its like, ´Get the women out the way, so that we can get on with the men’s show.´ I would prefer to see races that really believe in women´s cycling, like the Women´s Tour of Britain to become bigger and get more exposure. Because they believe in the value we add and they make a real effort to showcase our sport.

6. Women’s cycling has been getting more TV and media coverage. But what still needs to be done to lift it another level. To expand on that, there is obvious talent and hunger, but what needs to change in terms of infrastructure and finances to give it the boost it deserves?

The mentality of those in powerful positions within cycling and business needs to change. In Europe there is stillvery much an old fashioned mentality around women… that women shouldn’t be athletes, they should stay at home and look after the kids. We need the UCI to become more representative, we need more women in high positions within the sport and business. And we need to push the women´s side of the sport in countries which are more progressive in mentality, like the UK for example. Women´s cycling is growing in leaps and bounds in countries like the UK where we are receiving good exposure and equal opportunities. And, of course, it would help if we could get really powerful corporate companies to invest in our sport. We need more visibility and this would be more easily achieved if we had exposure through big brands.

7. Finally, will we see you at the Cycle Challenge?

Yes, of course I´ll be at the Cycle Challenge this year. But this time I won’t be racing. I´ll be riding for a cause. I’m joining Joel Stransky to do the double to raise funds for his Lumohawk Foundation. I’m looking forward to experiencing the Cycle Challenge in a more relaxed way this year.

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