We were fortunate enough to be able to interview International Professional South African Cyclist Ashliegh Moolman Pasio, recent winner of the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge.
Well done on winning this year’s 94.7! Tell us about the race? How confident were you coming into the race?
Thank you, it really was a very special day winning the Momentum 947, the very first UCI 1.1 race in South Africa. Coming into the race I felt confident, but I was also very aware of the fact that all eyes would be on me and that I would be heavily marked.
My race at Momentum 947 got off to quite a stressful start. I suffered some mechanical problems before the start, which eventually meant I had to ride the entire race in the big blade. Then just as I’d got my head around the mechanical problem, about half way through the race, I crashed heavily on the fast descent of Jan Smuts when I hit a pot hole in the road. Initially I thought my race might be over, but luckily my injuries were limited to some bad road rash and my bike was fine, so I got back on the bike and kept going. My team were incredible in supporting me and helping me to stay focused and calm, and on the third to last climb up Cedar Road I put in a big attack. When I looked over my shoulder and saw that no one could follow me, I felt very motivated and I put my head down to the finish line. On a day that didn’t get off to the best start, I was incredibly grateful and very happy to cross the finsih line first despite the challenges I had faced.
Is this race particularly special to you?
Spending so much time racing abroad on the international stage of women’s cycling, it is always special to come home to South Africa and to race on home soil. The Momentum 947 is a very special race, with 30 000 cyclist from all walks of life, it really is a festival of cycling on the streets of JHB and the vibe is always amazing with the locals coming out to support.
How do the events in South Africa compare internationally?
The races are very different in Europe. South Africa certainly is the world leader in mass participation events with the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the Momentum 947 and the Absa Cape Epic; but we don’t have many professional races. The races I take part in in Europe, are very different in that they are just for pro riders and the masses come out to support. There are mass participation cycling events in Europe and some of them are connected to the pro race, but they will usually take place the day before or after the pro race.
What challenges does living half your year in Spain and half in South Africa create?
It is a great adventure traveling the world racing my bike, but living half the year in Spain does mean that I have to leave my family and friends, to live in a foreign country with a different culture and language. But luckily Skype and Whatsapp do help to make the world much smaller nowadays, and it means that I can easily stay in contact with family back home. There are also some logistical challenges, like a car and home, it is not ideal to leave a car standing for six months or to leave an apartment empty for an extended period of time. We have to be creative sometimes, but we always manage to come up with a plan. It also means that I don’t have much winter. Living in constant summer months might sound great, but I must admit your body does miss the cold months.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge you face as an athlete?
Dealing with disappointment is one of the most challenging aspects of cycling. Cycling is a tough sport in that there are so many factors that we can not control, i.e. mechanicals, punctures, weather and tactics to name a few. This means that we put in a lot of hard work and commitment, and we can arrive at the start line of a race in the best possible form, but there is no guarantee that the strongest rider will win. Sometimes we might build up for an entire year for one event, and a mechanical could cost you the opportunity to reach your goal. This is hard to deal with, but I have learnt through my career that it is important not to dwell in the past for too long. I believe everything happens for a reason and that there is always a lesson to be learnt.
You train with your husband, Carl. How much does it help to have a active family like you do?
My husband has played a very important role in my cycling career. He is a very talented and experienced athlete, and training with him every day pushes me to ocntinue to grow and improve. He has taught me so much with regards to skill, tactics and technique, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without the support from Carl.
Cycling is a rapidly growing sport, especially in South Africa. Have you seen a growth in opportunities within the sport – especially as a female racer?
Cycling is certainly a fast growing sport in South Africa and The Momentum 947 race is a great example of the growth in opportunities for women cyclists in the country. This year the race was the very first UCI 1.1 race in South Africa and with the largest female peloton ever in the race. This is a great indication of the growth in women’s cycling locally and hopefully the momentum will continue for many years to come. This year we also saw the introduction of a women’s commission within Cycling South Africa, under the leadership of Lise Olivier. The commission and the hard work from Lise has also been instrumental in getting more women on bikes, and ensuring the healthy growth of our sport.
When was the moment that you realised you could become a professional athlete?
My husband Carl introduced me to a life of endurance sport while I was studying at Stellenbosch University. He was a professional triathlete at the time and at first I dabbled in triathlon and duathlon. But after suffereing from multiple running injuries, I was forced to focus my attention only on cycling, a decision I will never regret. I first started competing locally within the Western Province and then nationally, as a part time amateur cyclist. When I won the Jock Classic, a very tough 140km cycle race in Mpumalanga in 2009. That was when I realised I could become professional, and after I completed my degreee at the end of 2009, I decided to go to Europe to race full time.
What is your proudest sporting moment?
Winning a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
Where is your favourite place in the world to go cycling?
Girona, Spain. For the beautiful, quite country roads; the amazing pyreneen climbs and the breathtaking coastline. There is a different route for every day and the scenery makes every ride special.
How important are your sponsors to your racing?
Sponsors play a pivotal role in my racing. Without the support of sponsors it would not be possible to pursue a career as a full time professional. Being involved with passionate people and world class brands like Liqui Moly makes pushing myself to the limit absolutely worth it, and helps me to conintue to stay motivated to reach my goals.
Is it easier working with a company such as Liqui-Moly SA, which has a strong female leader in the form of Melicia Labuschagne?
Melicia is a very strong woman and formidable business woman. She has worked in a male dominated industry for very many years, which means that she has great insight and I can learn so much from her. She is a great inspiration to me and I feel very privileged to work with her.
Who inspires you?
Not one person in particular inspires me, but the influence I can have through the lessons I learn on my journey as a professional cyclist inpires me to push my body to the limit and to perform.
What is your fitness routine to stay cycling fit?
Consistency is key. I train consistently and I never miss important training sessions. My training hours and routine differ slightly through the year depending on racing schedule. But I train on average 6 days a week, of which at least two of these sesssions include intervals or power training. I also do yoga and strength work in the gym on a regular basis.
What are your aims for next year’s season?
My biggest goal for next year is the Rio Olympic Games. Of course I will have some smaller goals along the way, but all my focus next year will be on arriving at the Games in the best possible form with the goal to medal.
What are the highlights on the calendar for next season?
South African Championships in Durban and African Championships in Morocco. These competitions will both take place in February.
Fleche Wallonne World Cup in Belgium in April.
Giro d’Italia in Italy in July.
Rio Olympic Games in August.
Where can fans keep track of your achievements and races?
I am very active on Twitter (@ashleighcycling) and on my Ashleigh Moolman Pasio Facebook page. I regularly update my social media streams with my racing plans, results and daily activities.
You have been nominated for the People’s Choice Awards and SportsWoman of theYear. Is this a big honour for you?
Yes, I am very honoured to win SA Sports Woman of the Year. I couldn’t have asked for a more special ending to what has been a huge year of growth for me. I spend much of the year away from South Africa racing abroad and receiving this award makes me realise once again that South Africa is behind me every step of the way. Knowing this adds to my motivation going into an Olympic year, and I will do my absolute best to continue to make South Africa proud.
Is this the start of more riders getting the attention they deserve?
Although cycling is a fast growing sport in South Africa; as professional cyclists we don’t really get the same mainstream media exposure as some of our other big sports do, like rugby, cricket and soccer. This is largely due to the fact that we race predominantly abroad and our racing doesn’t get much television exposure locally. Although this is rapidly changing, winning an award like Sports Woman of the Year definitely helps to put our sport in the spot light and gain more traction locally. This is great, especially leading into an Olympic year.