You can hardly fault Ashleigh Moolman Pasio’s 2013. In March she claimed both gold medals at the South African Championships in Nelspruit and then bookended her racing year appropriately this week with double gold at the African Championships in Egypt.
In between she competed in Europe against the world’s best racers and moved into the top 15 in the International Cycling Union (UCI) world rankings, the highest climb ever by a South African road racer.
This past Monday Moolman Pasio charged to a dominant win in the individual time trial in a time of 30 minutes 38 seconds for the 21km out-and-back course. Eritrea’s Wehazit Kidane claimed the silver medal 02min 09sec back with Namibia’s Vera Adrian taking bronze another seven seconds down. Then on Wednesday Moolman Pasio comfortably outsprinted her two breakaway companions – again Adrian and Kidane – to claim the road race gold medal.
The 27-year-old South African has now won five African championship titles, claiming the road race gold in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and the time trial crown in 2012 and 2013.
“Our race was shortened from three laps of 31km, to two laps. With such a short distance, An-Li (Kachelhoffer) and I were aggressive from the start. I managed to force a breakaway up a long drag about 20km into the first lap and a Namibian (Adrian) and an Eritrean (Kidane) came with me,” explained Moolman Pasio.
With limited cooperation between the three breakaway riders on the final lap, the chasers shortened the lead significantly. Fellow South African, An-Li Kachelhoffer, tried to bridge across to the trio with an Egyptian and an Eritrean, which forced Adrian to drive the lead group harder.
“I could see with her effort that the Namibian was desperate to win a medal and ensure we stayed away, so I sat on the back, waited for the right moment and started my sprint about 300 metres from the finish line,” said Moolman Pasio
Moolman Pasio noted that the depth of the women’s racing is improving each year, which bodes well for African cycling.
“It was very encouraging to see growth in the women’s field, with full teams from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt. I was particularly impressed with the Eritrean women who have improved in leaps and bounds over the past two years since the Continental Champs in Eritrea in 2011,” said Moolman Pasio.
The year after an Olympic year is always a time for regrouping and South African women’s road racing, last year a shining example of what can be achieved with focus and support, found itself in a state of change during 2013. Moolman Pasio however remained focussed and continued to pursue success domestically for Team Momentum Toyota and in Europe, where she raced for the Belgian-based Lotto Belisol professional team.
“It is quite common in women’s sport for things to take a little dip after the Olympics. The Olympics is very much the pinnacle of women’s cycling. This means it’s often the end of some careers and the starting point for others. Yes, South African women’s cycling is going through a period of change, but change is good, because it essentially stimulates growth. It’s almost like it is the end of one era and the start of a new one.
“Through the Momentum Toyota team’s foresight and successful international programme, it has been confirmed that in order to improve South African women’s professional racing, we need more women to be based in Europe. Things aren’t going to happen overnight, but there are lots of positive things happening. A full junior women’s track team went to the world champs in Glasgow this year. After spending a week with the South African Junior girls in Egypt I’m confident we have great potential.
“I also met with CSA President William Newman last week to discuss the future of our women and some ideas around developing our talent. There is a lot of positive energy out there and things are happening, but as I said, it will take time. We might not have a full team for 2016 Olympic Games, but 2020 is a very realistic goal.”