By Mark Etheridge
Slightly frustrated but hugely positive over the future for South African women’s cyclingÔÇª that’s the feeling of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, our top-placed women’s racer at the recently completed UCI road world championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Mooman-Pasio ended 30th in the women’s time trial and 23rd in the road race, signs that our women’s cyclists are making their presence felt on the international stage.
“I enjoyed my first Worlds experience,” said Moolman, from Stellenbosch but based in Italy for much of the racing season. “The entire European racing season culminates in one race, World Championships and it was my first year representing South Africa. Copenhagen is a beautiful city with a wonderful vibe and its a city passionate about cycling.”
Looking back at her championship experience and Moolman-Pasio told Road to London 2012 how her two races went. “The 27.8km time trial consisted of two laps of the same circuit, in and around the city centre. The lap was as flat as a pancake and included many corners, cobble sections and even a pavement drop-off.
This kind of flat, technical time trial is not suited to my small build on the best of occasions, but adding to the equation wind and rain, I knew it was going to be hard to get a great result. Knowing that the course didn’t suit me very well and being my first World Championships, my objective for the time trial was to use it as a learning experience and an ice-breaker before the road race. Thirtieth was not the result I would have liked, but I learnt a lot. Seeing the TV coverage helped me realise that I have a lot of work to do to improve my position and aerodynamics on the bike. Time trialling is a very specialist discipline and I look forward to building on this for World Time Trial Championships 2012.”
On to the road race and it was South Africa’s performance in this event that gave Moolman-Pasio hope for the future. She lined up with Robyn de Groot, Joanna van Winkel and Cherise Taylor. “The road race consisted of a 14km loop in one of the suburbs of Copenhagen city, which we did 10 times. The loop was mostly flat, with two noticeable drags, an uphill drag to the finish line and another small hill. After watching some of the junior and Under-23 races on television, it became quite clear that although the loop included tough sections, it was more than likely that our race would end in a bunch sprint.
“Our tactics going into the race was for Robyn and Jo to take part in any racing that took place early on in the race, that is to ride up front and neutralise or go with any attacks, while Cherise and I were to save ourselves for the final sprint.
“Looking back, I feel I rode a good race. I held a comfortable position in the bunch, not too far back, but also not too high up, as not to waste any unnecessary energy. Going into the last lap, we all knew that it was important to be placed high up in the bunch to contend the sprint. Jo and Cherise worked well together, however, with Robyn going down in a crash in the final 5km, I was left to battle it out on my own. With more crashes happening in the last kilometre, I was forced to pull brakes numerous times in the rush to the finish line and I never really managed to sprint properly. I finished 23rd, Jo 32nd, Cherise 34th and Robyn 100th. I found myself feeling very frustrated after the race. I had the legs for the sprint, but not the bunch position.
“It is not often that a World Championships race comes down to a mass bunch sprint. The Copenhagen course was just not hard enough to split the field. World’s is always a very tactical race. No one wants to see anyone else go off the front, there is just too much at stake and without a meaningful climb in the circuit, the race finished with too many girls having fresh legs.
“In hindsight, this year’s World Championships was a great learning experience. Robyn, Jo and Cherise rode incredibly well and South Africa can be proud of what we have built so far. I am very positive about the future of South Africa women’s cycling. Next year is a big year with South Africa hosting its first UCI women’s tour in May, The Tour de Free State and the London Olympic games in July. I look forward to next year and am excited about the potential it holds for us as South African women cyclists.”