In these uncertain times we “sat down” to chat to South African road and time-trial champion and CCC-Liv rider Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. We’re publishing this exclusive interview in three parts. This is the first.
In the Bunch: How did you get into cycling – at what age and how did it happen?
Ashleigh Moolman Pasio: I learnt to ride my bike as a child – at the age of four or five. My bike played a role in my life as just a means of enjoyment growing up. My mom used to do the Cape Town Cycle Tour and being an ambitious person I wanted to do what my mom was doing. But she said to me that I needed to be a certain age before I was allowed to do it, so I suppose Grade 10 was the first time I was allowed to do the Cycle Tour.
During my school years I took part in three Cycle Tours – in grades 10, 11 and 12 – but this was really just a case of a bucket-list thing. I definitely was not anything close to a racing cyclist. I rode on an entry-level mountain bike with my tekkies. Then I went on to study at Stellenbosch University and it was actually then when I was really introduced to competitive endurance sports.
My husband was a triathlete when I met him. I came from a background of playing mostly sports like hockey, tennis and athletics, so studying engineering it was becoming more and more difficult to always make team practice times. Seeing what Carl, my boyfriend at the time, was doing, I thought well I’d give it a go. So I first tried out triathlon, but I’m not a very fast swimmer so that didn’t go very well. I thought I wasn’t a bad runner so I tried duathlon and then after some running injuries from half marathons I ended up getting a really bad ITB [iliotibial band syndrome] injury, so that’s what eventually forced me just to ride my bike.
It was really only at the age of 21 that I got a nice carbon race bike. For my 21st birthday I had the option of getting a car or a carbon bike, and I chose to get a brand new Giant TCR bike. Many people would’ve thought that was quite a stupid decision at the time, but actually it’s what got my career going and gave me the opportunity to really take cycling a little bit more seriously.
ITB: How do you feel you’ve changed/developed throughout the years?
AMP: I’ve grown a lot through my cycling career. I’d say the biggest change that has happened for me as a person is the way I’ve grown in confidence and self-belief. When I first started cycling I was a relatively shy person. I had big ideas and I’m a very disciplined and highly motivated person, but I didn’t have maybe the self-confidence to really believe that I could be one of the best in the world or that my ideas mattered to the world.
It took my husband, who identified my talent and really believed in me and pushed me in the right way. He guided me through this process and helped me to learn how to believe more in myself, to grow in confidence and in my cycling ability. As my strength and ability on the bike grew, so did my self-confidence.
For me, cycling has been a means of empowerment and I believe that exists for many women out there. I’ve definitely become a much stronger and more confident woman through my cycling, which has allowed me to get results and enabled me to make sort of an impact or difference in the world by sharing my vision, ideas and opinions. It still happens on a day to day basis. You never stop growing, I believe. In cycling we’re constantly being pushed out of our comfort zones and challenged to grow further by the obstacles that come our way.
ITB: What obstacles have you encountered during your career and how have you managed to overcome them?
AMP: Every year there are different challenges, but in different shapes and sizes. In the very beginning of my career I suppose the biggest challenge was the fact that I broke my collarbone three times in the space of 12 months. I got a lot of criticism for always crashing.
Even my mom for example, the third time that I broke it, she called me while I was in the hospital in Belgium and said ‘okay, Ashleigh, do you not think that this is enough? Maybe you should try and find something else’. But I was super determined and I managed to come out of that and continue to work towards my dreams.
Then there are smaller challenges along the way, maybe with disappointment in not achieving your goals, or a crash or mechanical during a race. Then I suppose the next real big challenge for me was fracturing my ilium at the end of 2016. That was a big injury to overcome. There were times I doubted that I would be able to get back to the same level.
ITB: What have been the best parts for you?
AMP: The fulfilment aspect of cycling; so the way that although often the challenges are hard, the growth that one gets out of working through these challenges and becoming a better person, that for me has been really fulfilling.
Cycling is my passion, so to be able to ride my bike out in nature every day, to travel around the world to different beautiful parts to race my bike is really amazing. Also, the people I’ve met along the way and the experiences that I’ve been able to have – London and Rio Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The successes along the way too – it’s obviously great to win and it’s not always easy to win. When you do win, it really is special and it’s important to appreciate it.
ITB: What advice do you have for those looking up to you and also wanting to achieve internationally?
AMP: In the beginning I would always have said find your passion and pursue it and that’s definitely something I live by. It’s important to really love what you’re doing. It’s important to find that motivation within. If you want to be successful, you have to have a passion and love for the sport. It’s also important to continue to be realistic; to set yearly goals and try and tick them off.