South African cycling superstar, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio has proven that passion, hard work and dedication does not go unrewarded. Last week, she was ranked third in the Elite Women UCI Individual World Rankings, the highest ever for any South African woman cyclist.
In 2014, Moolman-Pasio won the bronze medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and then in 2015 she escalated her position in the Elite Women UCI Individual World Rankings to sixth place, then the highest ranking from any woman rider in the country. Since the end of April 2017, she has had a string of successes, including Festival Elsy Jacobs where she finished third in the General Classification (GC) in the three-stage event; winner of the five-stage Emakumeen Bira; winner of the two back-to-back French one-day races Classique Morbihan and the Grand Prix de Plumelec; and finished seventh in the GC of the five-stage Ovo Energy Women’s Tour.
When chatting about her achievement, she said: “Being ranked third in the world is very special. To be absolutely honest, it’s not something that I expected this year especially after the injury I sustained in October last year.”
Moolman-Pasio, who races for the Cervelo-Bigla Pro Cycling Team, was off her bike for a great while last year whilst she recovered from a nasty crash in which she broke her hip. “I really didn’t set any goals, although an objective before the crash would’ve been to continue to climb the world rankings’ ladder,” she said.
In talking about what she has learnt from not over-committing to a specific target, she said: “Sometimes it’s when you’re not really aiming for something that it comes your way. And that’s often because you’re not pushing for it.
“Sometimes we push too hard as athletes and we make certain goals too big in our lives. It can become overwhelming and because of the nature of the sport we cannot control our circumstances. There are so many uncontrollable elements in terms of tactics, injuries, punctures, mechanicals, and crashes on the day of the race.
“I think it’s when you just embrace the journey and go with the flow and allow things to happen and to take their course – that’s when I feel things generally really come together. I think that is what I’m experiencing right now.”
It feels extra special for Moolman-Pasio to be at a world number three coming from South Africa and the African continent. She mentioned that the Europeans have a greater advantage because of the cycling hub that Europe is.
“To be able to continue to live in your home country and to race at the highest level is much easier than for those of us who are trying to do it from the southern hemisphere and particularly from South Africa and Africa,” she said.
The public often only see the brighter side, successes and outcomes of the racing lifestyle, but Moolman-Pasio described some of the hardships and how she deals with them. “As athletes, we share the positive moments on social media platforms. It looks like we’re living the dream, and I am living the dream, but it’s not always as dreamy as it might appear. The life of a pro cyclist is challenging and like everything else in life, also has its down side. Of course I absolutely love my job and that's what makes it possible for me to continue to push through the hard times. And then sometimes, we get to experience the successes and limelight that people see in the media.”
Mooman-Pasio mentioned the unwavering support she receives in every aspect of her career from her husband Carl, which often gets her through the tougher times.
Having overcome some pretty serious injuries, she said that the mental aspect of having to pick herself up every time something went wrong is never easy. “I must say, what has made it easier for me to continue journeying to get to this point is faith and a sense of purpose.
“For me that purpose is to be able to inspire others and to be able to share the life lessons and obstacles and challenges and successes with the hope that it all will inspire someone else to pick themselves up when they’re feeling low or to set themselves a goal to find their dream and to pursue it,” she said.
Moolman-Pasio concluded with some advice for aspiring athletes: “Find your passion in life and pursue it, because if you really love what you’re doing you’ll be able to overcome the obstacles and reach your true potential. Having said that, of course it is important to dream, but it is also very important to set realistic goals. If at any point you feel that the goals are becoming completely out of reach, then there’s no shame in stepping back, reassessing and re-determining whether that is your real purpose or passion. Or is there something else that you could be doing?”
*Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio will be competing in the 2017 Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile, which gets underway from 30 June to 9 July 2017. The high profile event is the only Grand Tour in women’s cycling. The 10-day race begins in Aquileia with an 11.5-kilometre Team Time Trial. At 25 June 2017, Ashleigh was ranked fifth in the Elite Women UCI Individual World Rankings.