SA woman wins respect in Giro d’Italia

13 July 2010

A new South African cycling star is on the rise. Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, from the Biogen Toyota women’s road cycling team, overcame more than just a formidable international field to become the first African to finish in the top 20 at the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile.

The 23-year-old Stellenbosch University graduate, competing in her first few weeks as a professional in Europe on the Belgian-based Lotto team, finished a very respectable 17th in the General Classification of the 10-stage race, which ended at the Monza motor racing circuit on Sunday.

United States champion Mara Abbot won the event overall, upstaging among others, world number one Marianne Vos, former world champion Judith Arndt, defending champion Claudia Hausler, and current world champion Tatiana Guderzo.

Top in her team

Moolman Pasio was the top finisher in her team, but had to contend with illness in the final four days, which weakened her somewhat in the big mountain stages, which should have helped her to improve her overall position.

“Unfortunately I became ill just as the toughest climbing stages arrived. This was a major setback, but I did my best to make the most of the circumstances,” she explained.

“I didn’t feel as strong as I would have liked to, so it was frustrating. I did my best to hang in as long as I could. With a throat on fire and a chest full of phlegm, it was hard to push my body to the limit.”

Moolman Pasio is the first South African and African to finish in the top 20 at the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile. Her South African teammate Lynette Burger, returning from a long injury layoff, was ordered by the race doctor not to start stage eight due to contracting bronchitis.

Improvement

Moolman Pasio provided proof that South African women’s road racing, a division with plenty of promise but little support over the years, has improved dramatically as a result of focused sponsorship and structural support.

Earlier this year Carla Swart of the MTN women’s team produced some impressive results in single-day races in Europe, the true testing ground for international cycle racing.

The 2010 Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile is probably the best all-round test there is and Moolman Pasio passed it with excellent grades.

On stage five, when the race hit the first mountains, she moved out of the anonymity of the pack and finished 15th on the 122km stage, one minute and 22 seconds behind stage winner and race leader Vos. That strong finish lifted her to 19th place on General Classification (GC).

Moolman Pasio finished 18th on stage six to move into 18th overall, ahead of Australian teammate Vicki Whitelaw, as the top-placed member of the Lotto team. It also placed her in the unfamiliar, yet highly coveted position of team leader.

‘My team was great!’

“My team was great! They were all incredibly supportive and encouraging. Especially when I got sick, they did their best to protect me and help me maintain my GC position. Without them, I would not have made it to the end,” said Moolman Pasio.

But instead of focusing on moving further up the classification over the next three big climbing stages, the South African star was forced into survival mode as she battled with illness. She managed to finish between 17th and 21st places on stages seven, eight, and nine, which saw her move up to 17th place by the final flat stage.

“The Giro was one tough tour! From what all the girls were saying, this year’s edition was the toughest women’s tour yet. It just got harder and harder and the climbs got bigger and bigger every day,” remarked Moolman Pasio, who confirmed that South African women’s racing is on the up and has earned the respect it has been fighting for.

‘Amazing experience’

“Riding amongst the best women cyclists in the world was one amazing experience. Wow, the girls over here are strong!”

“My goal for this year is to learn and to grow. To get to know myself better as a cyclist, to understand what I am doing and why I am doing it, so that in the years to come, I can come back and experience the view from the podium!”

Source: Biogen Toyota professional cycling team