Ashleigh gives 94.7 the sweetest swan song

     

    Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, wearing the South African champion's jersey, claimed the honours at this year's 94.7 Cycle Challenge on Sunday. Photo credit: www.cyclenation.co.za

    It was fitting that Ashleigh Moolman Pasio won the 94.7 Cycle Challenge on Sunday. It marked the final race for the Momentum Toyota team which she raced on for all five years of its existence. Her win also confirmed that the team objective had been met – to develop world-class female South African road riders.

    Moolman Pasio went from promising upstart when the team formed in 2009 to the most successful female road cyclist in South African history by the end of 2013. The 28-year-old Chemical Engineering graduate, who achieved a top 15 World Ranking this year, wasn’t the only one to benefit from the squad, which essentially helped put South African women’s racing on the international radar.

    Lynette Burger, Lizanne Naude (Van der Merwe), Anriette Schoeman, Leandri du Toit, Andri Coetzee, Heidi Dalton, Cherise Taylor (Stander), Robyn de Groot and Joanna Hotchkiss (Van de Winkel) were all members of the team during the five-year period.

    Established by Roy and Kim Gershow and Andrew McLean initially as the Toyota Supercycling racing team, the squad began to make an immediate impact on domestic women’s racing, which, at the time, was stagnant and well below world class. The team convinced Cycling South Africa to allow Elite women to race with Veteran men in order to increase the intensity and raise the standard of the women’s racing – a strategy that worked extremely well.

    The team management also developed an overseas partnership with the Belgian-based Lotto Belisol team to ensure the riders had access to international races during South Africa’s quieter winter months. This relationship strengthened to the point that some Momentum Toyota riders were offered full-blown contracts with the European squad.

    While the team’s riders flourished domestically, winning virtually every major race on the calendar between 2009 and 2013, including multiple national and Continental titles, the squad’s focussed, rapid progress also helped significantly raise the general standard of South African women’s racing. All three South African slots at the London Olympic Games were occupied by Momentum Toyota team members – Moolman Pasio, De Groot and Van de Winkel.

    Finishing second to Moolman Pasio on Sunday was 2012 champion, Sharon Laws, the 2012 British road champion, who has been a member of the Momentum Toyota team for the past 14 months. The win was the fourth in the iconic race by Momentum Toyota riders in the past five years – Van de Winkel (2009), Moolman Pasio (2011 and 2013) and Laws (2012).

    “This is such a wonderful event. It’s great to win it again, but more amazing to have two Momentum Toyota riders on the podium. Our objective was to win today and that objective was achieved,” said Moolman Pasio during her post-race TV interview.

    “I’m grateful for the time with Momentum Toyota. It’s been great for my career and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”

    “While we are ending the professional racing team as such, we will continue in our capacity as the Toyota Supercycling Club to support the three young riders that shone on the team this year – Heidi Dalton, Andri Coetzee and Leandri du Toit,” confirmed Burger, who has fulfilled a manager/rider/mentor position on the team for the past two years.