Yesterday we published part one of our “sit down” interview with South African road champion and CCC-Liv rider Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. We’re publishing this interview in three parts. Here is the second part.
In the Bunch: How long have you been racing internationally?
Ashleigh Moolman Pasio: I’ve been racing internationally since 2010. I completed my chemical engineering degree in 2009 and graduated at the end of that year. I then made the commitment to try and start an international cycling career with the objective of first going to the 2012 Olympic Games, and then obviously things extended after that.
Having said I started internationally in 2010, it wasn’t full-time from the very beginning because I actually broke my collarbone twice in that year, so in the end in 2010 my time racing in Europe was a little bit limited. But it was my first season racing for the Lotto–Soudal Ladies team.
In the first years of my international career (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013) I raced a double season. I was racing for the SA team Cycle Lab-Toyota-Biogen for the local season and then for Lotto for the European season. This did make things quite demanding, because with it being the southern and the northern hemisphere, it meant that the season almost extended throughout the year and there wasn’t really a proper off-season.
It was only in 2014 that I actually signed a proper contract with pay with a European team, which was Hitec Products. That was the first year that I could really start to focus on racing internationally. I went on from 2014 to sign for the Bigla team, who I rode for for four years and now with CCC-Liv. My real breakthrough year was 2015 when I managed to place in the top-10 world ranking and since then I’ve now become seen as one of the best cyclists in the world. It was definitely a process.
ITB: What life lessons (personally and career-wise) has cycling locally and internationally taught you?
AMP: The most important life lesson I’ve learnt from cycling is to be able to adapt. What makes cycling one of the hardest sports in the world is the fact that there are so many uncontrollables, so many things that can go wrong – in the lead-up to a race, but in particular in the race itself. You can do the perfect training, as well as be in perfect form and shape for a race and it might be your biggest goal of the year or even an Olympic Games, which you’ve been working towards for four years, and then on race day anything can happen.
From a puncture or a crash to tactics not playing in your favour. You put all this commitment into a race and then on the day it doesn’t work out and sometimes the reason it doesn’t work out is totally out of your control. Or you get an injury, illness or now with the coronavirus, it’s another example of where we’re completely out of control of our circumstances and we have no idea when we’re going to be racing again. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to make the most of your situation and to adapt – not to become too fixated on one specific goal but to try and always keep the bigger picture in mind and to look at all the positives or the growth opportunities in every situation.
I haven’t raced properly locally for a couple of years now. My international career has been my focus at this point in time. I suppose those lessons started locally on a smaller scale – learning how to adapt just within the local cycling scene. The importance of the local scene in the early years for me was to build my confidence, to learn how to race in terms of the tactics, to learn how to win and how to believe in myself.
Then to come to Europe and to take all those lessons, but actually they were almost null and void because now I had to start again from the very bottom. Although I might have been one of the best cyclists in SA, at the time that I came over to start my career in Europe I was nobody. I started from zero and it was very important in that sort of scenario to be able to tap into that confidence and all the things I learnt in SA, but also to come to Europe completely humble and accepting that I’m starting from the bottom and that I’m nobody in Europe and that I have to earn my place in the peloton.
ITB: How has racing in SA and overseas differed throughout the years?
AMP: It’s a very big difference. In SA the women’s bunch is often very small in comparison to the bunches in Europe. In SA, often if we have 30 women racing then that’s considered actually quite a big bunch whereas in Europe we are racing with anything from 120 to sometimes even 180 women starting in the peloton, so that’s one of the biggest differences.
It’s also very different in SA because our road races are not necessarily proper professional races, they’re mass-participation events with a pro element added to it. In SA it did mean, especially in the early days, often we were racing with the men or you have other sort of bunches around you or passing you during the race. In Europe that’s not the case. When we race, it’s a professional race. Maybe there’s a men’s and women’s race, but the elite women start all on their own. There’s no other bunch or other race happening at the same time, so it’s totally your race.
Another big difference would be just generally the roads that we race on. In SA it’s big, wide and open roads most of the time and we also don’t have little cobbled roads or a lot of road furniture. The racing terrain is also often not hugely challenging. In Europe most races are on narrow roads with lots of road furniture. It depends what country you’re racing in to how technical it is. Moving around in the peloton in Europe is much harder; positioning is much more important.
ITB: What have you missed and not missed about your home country?
AMP: Now Europe has become more or less my home. I live in Spain most of the time, so when I come to SA it’s more for a holiday to visit rather than spend considerable amounts of time. Now that we’ve really set up our life in Spain, and have a business and property here, it does mean that when I come back to SA it’s maybe for two weeks to one month – which would usually be the longest period of time I spend in SA. So it is quite a big change.
What I miss most is family, although I have my dad and stepmom living now in Spain and helping us run our business. I miss other members of my family and Carl’s family. Luckily they do come to visit us quite often, but now during the coronavirus period that’s when you feel it the most.
There’s also something special about SA that’s totally irreplaceable and that many people don’t understand – I suppose it’s that “gees” that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Europe is really beautiful though and a great place to live, because life is easy and simple and you don’t have many things to worry about. But I do miss that energy and spirit from SA.