Ashleigh turns heads in Italy | SASCOC - SASCOC

Ashleigh turns heads in Italy

There is a new South African cycling star on the rise.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, a professional racer for the Biogen Toyota women’s road cycling team, overcame more than just a formidable international field to claim an historic top-20 place at the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile, which finished at the weekend.

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 in Italy on Sunday.

United States champion, Mara Abbot, won the event overall, upstaging among others, World No1 Marianne Vos (Netherlands), former world champion, Judith Arndt (Ger), defending champion, Claudia Hausler (Ger) and current World Champion, Tatiana Guderzo (Ita).

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 that suited her.

ÔÇ£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.

“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,ÔÇØ explained Moolman Pasio afterwards.

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 team-mate, Lynette Burger, returning from a long injury lay-off, was ordered by the race doctor not to start Stage Eight after contracting bronchitis.

Moolman Pasio was representing more than just her sponsors, she was representing South African women’s road racing, a division with plenty of promise, but little support over the years.

During the past two years, however, the standard of South African women’s racing 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 was probably the best allround test there is and Moolman Pasio passed 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, 1min 22sec behind stage winner and race leader, Vos. She leaped up into 19th place on General Classification and gained instant respect back home.

She finished 18th on Stage Six and moved into 18th overall, ahead of Australian teammate, Vicki Whitelaw as the top-placed member of the Lotto team. This gained her respect among her international teammates and rivals and placed her in the unfamiliar, yet highly coveted position of team leader.

ÔÇ£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,ÔÇØ said Moolman Pasio.

But instead of focusing on moving further up the classification over the next three big climbing stages, Moolman Pasio was forced into survival mode as she battled with illness.

She managed to finish between 17th and 21st places on Stages 7, 8 and 9, which saw her move up to 17th place by the final flat stage.

ÔÇ£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 everyday!ÔÇØ 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.

ÔÇ£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!ÔÇØ