Interview - Ashleigh Moolman Pasio: I still want to learn at CCC Liv
Feb 13 2019 07:12 pm CET

Interview - Ashleigh Moolman Pasio: I still want to learn at CCC Liv
Interview - Ashleigh Moolman Pasio: I still want to learn at CCC Liv
Ashleigh Moolman Pasio © Mary Cárdenas /

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio is undoubtedly one of the world's top riders in the women's peloton and is looking forward to a new challenge at CCC Liv where she will team up with Marianne Vos.

The South African just won the South African National Championships Road Race for the fifth time, as such making a perfect start to what may well be a big season for her. had the opportunity to speak to the rider during CCC Liv's recent winter training camp in Spain, discussing her switch, the past season and women’s cycling in South Africa as well as globally.

How are you feeling at your new team?

I'm really happy to be here and it's great to have a pre-season camp at this stage, to start breaking the ice, meeting the sponsors and getting new equipment. So far the vibe in the team is really great. I think we're all having a lot of fun. Maybe the first day was a little bit quiet, we didn't know what to say, but now we're really starting to be relaxed. It's really nice.

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Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (CCC-Liv)

What was it like for you to change teams?

I've been at Cervelo Bigla for four years so it's a big change. But I really couldn't think of a better team to be part of for the next season. My impression of the team has been great. It's really professional and it's a great group of riders. Of course it's amazing to be on a team with Marianne Vos.

When I started cycling seriously about ten years ago I was a novice and I remember doing some rides with Marianne in South Africa, because the Dutch national team had a training camp there. I had the opportunity to join them for a day. I remember being in a group with Marianne and being so nervous. I was with this really great cyclist and now, ten years later, to be in a position to be on a team with her is a proud moment.

Did she play a role in your move to CCC Liv?

She is the most accomplished cyclist, I would say, in the female peloton. Of course there are now other riders like Annemiek (van Vleuten) that are also accomplished, but I think Marianne encapsulates the most tactically wise and most skillful rider in the peloton. For me it's really great to have the opportunity to be on a team with her.

Although maybe I'm considered as quite an experienced rider and one of the best in the world, I still believe that I can learn a lot. So I'm really hoping to do that in this team, from Marianne and the management around her. Obviously it's the management and team that was basically the Rabobank team and then evolved over the years. I definitely think they represent a lot of experience and knowledge in women's cycling.

About your previous team: You made a big investment in your first season, so how is it for you to leave that behind?

Yeah, in 2015 Bigla didn't manage to find a second title sponsor and halfway through the season it reached a point where either the team would fold, or we would need to find extra funding. My family and myself personally put in money to make sure that the team could continue, and riders weren't left without jobs and salaries. I suppose that was part of the reason why I had invested interest to make a success of my time there.

I'm very grateful for the development that I had at the team. It definitely made me a better cyclist. But now I'm excited for a new challenge and to move on to something new and hopefully grow more as a cyclist.

What would you say were your highlights in the past season?

I had a really consistent season, but I suppose what really stands out is the Fleche Wallonne. I came very close the victory there. It's my favorite race on the calendar, and it has always been a very important race for me. I've placed in the top ten in every Fleche Wallonne except the very first one. I'd really like to win that race one day, that's still a big objective to me.

And then in the middle of the season the Giro, finishing second on the podium there and having a good showing at La Course, finishing on the podium as well. And then of course the two races in France which I won (La Classique Morbihan and the GP de Plumelec-Morbihan Dames) were a highlight.

What makes the Fleche Wallonne such a special race to you?

I suppose the finish. Over the years I have become an all-rounder but it's very clear that my biggest strength is climbing, steep climbs in particular. So, I've always liked the drama of the Fleche Wallonne. Hard finishes after really steep climbs, all the crowd on the sides cheering you on. For me it's such an amazing finish. I suppose that's mostly the reason why I like it so much.

Did you imagine some years ago that you would end up in that kind of setting in Europe?

I started cycling much later in life. As a child and even in my later teenage years I never imagined that I'd be in this position. I had always really been into sports and always had ambitions and aspirations to be a top athlete. But I never really found the sport I was very good at, at school. More traditional school sports like field hockey or tennis I was good at but never the best. Often the reason why I wasn't selected to be in the first team was because I would be too small or not strong enough.

Finally, when I went to university in South Africa I met who is now my husband and he introduced me to cycling as a sport. He identified very quickly that I had potential, especially on the climbs. He really nurtured my talent and encouraged me. It's really incredible, especially at that stage when you've really made up your mind that a career in sports is not possible, to then finally be introduced to it and to now be in a position where I am a professional cyclist.

Did it cause you any conflict at all that you basically had to switch one life expectation for another?

Well, I'm really happy that things happened this way. I completed my degree. That was important. I was far enough into it so it made sense that I would complete it. So, I have a degree in chemical engineering but I've never actually practiced as an engineer. As soon as I graduated my husband and I came to Europe to give it a go in the professional European peloton. I'm really grateful for the life experience that we had together.

Do you already know more about your schedule for the coming season?

I think it will be quite similar to previous seasons. My first race where I'll have aspirations will be the Strade Bianche but my real target will be the Ardennes Classics. Then of course the focus will change to the tours. It's possible that we might be racing in the United States, in the Tour of California. It's not confirmed but it's possible.

And of course, the Giro Rosa just announced that we have a really good hill top finish on the Gavia so that will be a focus for me. Towards the end of the season there will be Plouay and I will potentially have the opportunity for the first time to race the Boels Rental Tour. The teams I've been on before were never there so that would be interesting.

Are you already looking at the World Championships?

Yeah, although for me it's always a bit difficult because I don't really have a team to support me. It's every rider's dream to be a world champion, but I do always know that I have to go in there with an open mind rather than focusing too much on it. It's quite hard for me to set my heart on a World Championship win when I'm all on my own against nine Dutch or eight Italians. I will focus on my preparation for the time trial. That's something that I can control, and then just see what happens.

You mention that there's not much of a team now, but do you see anything coming up in South Africa, in women's cycling?

Unfortunately, it's not looking too bright for the future of South African women's cycling. I'm not entirely certain why. I suppose it's really hard for girls in South Africa as safety is a real concern for women. It's not easy for girls to go out riding on their own.

But there is a lot happening in mountain biking. There's a school league. So, there's definitely something happening there, and I hope that some of the talented mountain bikers can eventually come to the road. It would be sad if I had to retire and there's no one there to fill that space. So, it is on my radar to find ways to help South African women's cycling but at the moment it is quite difficult, also being so busy in my pro career to give a lot of time to that.

About the changes the UCI will apply from 2020, such as minimum salaries and the second tier of teams: Is there anything else you think the UCI or anyone else could do to improve the situation?

For me, the most important issue right now is TV exposure. I was quite vocal around the announcements of the minimum wage, that I kind of felt that too much focus was put on minimum wage while we hadn't solved the problem of exposure yet. So, I've actually had some conversations personally with the UCI since then and they promised that they are trying to increase the exposure. We need to find ways to bring bigger exposure to women's cycling. That has to come first. To try and enforce a minimum wage or any of those other things is not really possible if we don't have good exposure.

ASO could also play a bigger role in that sense.

Unfortunately, the ASO for me... I don't want to bad-mouth anyone but it's quite hard that there is always kind of a wall. There is no inclination from their side to really support women's cycling. I always get the feeling that it's just things to keep us happy, making it look as if they're trying. Of course, the ASO has a lot of power and they could really push women's cycling forward. While they may not see the return on investment right now I do believe that it will come. At this point in time they don't seem willing to give it a try.

By Jonathan Roorda




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