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Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio on how indoor training is making her stronger, returning to Tour de France Femmes

The South African veteran came close to retirement last year, but she doesn't think she's reached her peak as a rider.

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Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio almost retired at the end of last season, but the South African rider believes she hasn’t hit her peak yet.

At 37, Moolman-Pasio is one of the older riders in the peloton and she had planned to quit the sport at the end of last year. However, she announced that she would ride for at least one more season when she signed for the Continental squad AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step.

Since then, she’s enjoyed some of her best performances and took her first WorldTour win at the Tour de Romandie in October. She came out of the traps this season, too, with a win on the queen stage of the Volta Conmunitat Valenciana in February and was only beaten to the overall victory by her teammate.

A former Esports world champion, Moolman-Pasio believes that her use of indoor racing has played a part in helping push her further as a rider.

“I’ve shown that I’m continuing to get stronger and stronger, or, you know, I haven’t hit a ceiling yet in terms of performance,” Moolman-Pasio told VeloNews. “So that was a question I was getting already early last year. ‘Are you sure you want to retire because you’re performing better than you ever have before?’

“I believe that the reason why I’m still making these steps is because of the way that I’m using Zwift and indoor training to complement my road cycling. I really do believe it makes me stronger. To this day, I do at least one interval session a week on Zwift, because I believe that the combination of indoor cycling and unnatural resistance makes me stronger.”

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It’s not just the indoor trainer that has helped to push Moolman-Pasio and the disappointment of having to leave the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift a day before the finish has helped spur her on.

She was sitting in fifth place going into the key final weekend last year but fell ill prior to the penultimate stage and slipped down to 12th before being forced to abandon the race altogether. With at least one more year as a pro, Moolman-Pasio has set her sights on getting back there in top shape.

“It was quite hard to get over the disappointment of the Tour de France,” she said. “I really had my sights set on at least a podium at the Tour de Femmes because, to me, it just made so much sense. I embraced Zwift in the first Esports world championships, and now Zwift was the title sponsor of the Tour de Femmes for the first edition.

“It would have been a fairy tale for me to have been able to at least have finished on the podium, but even better to have won and so I put all the hard work in to be there in a position in the form to be able to do so. But unfortunately, there was a stomach bug going around the peloton, and it caught me at the worst possible moment, on the second last day, which was the biggest climbing day and then I wasn’t able to finish the tour. That was quite a big setback.”

Lessons learned

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio beat Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt in Valencia in February
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio beat Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt in Valencia in February (Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

Despite the disappointment of the Tour de France Femmes, the 2022 season was largely a success for Moolman-Pasio. She enjoyed a string of solid results in the spring, but her Tour de Romandie win was undoubtedly the highlight.

At the three-day Swiss race, she did what had seemed impossible at times during the season by dropping Annemiek van Vleuten on a climbing stage. Going into the key stage, Moolman-Pasio was merely hoping to stick with Van Vleuten, but a pep-talk from her husband Carl saw her change her mindset.

“I still remember the day before the queen stage of Romandie and I was having a conversation with my husband. Maybe I had a couple of doubts in my mind because of the travel from Australia and I hadn’t really been training the long climbs, you know,” Moolman-Pasio said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to do my best to stay with Annemiek’ and he said, ‘do your best to stay with Annemiek? What do you mean? You know, you can win it, if you if you have that mentality now like, you’ve already lost.’ Maybe it was that pep talk that really got me in the zone that I really needed to give it my absolute best.”

Van Vleuten is no longer the dominant rider in the women’s peloton this month with Demi Vollering overtaking that role so far in 2023. Though, it’s not just Vollering but her whole SD Worx squad that has taken a stranglehold on the bunch.

The Vuelta Femenina saw Van Vleuten’s Movistar really take on the SD Worx dominance by splitting up the peloton on the penultimate stage and dropping Vollering in the red jersey. Trek-Segafredo is another team that has tried to throw a cat among the pigeons, but SD Worx was almost given free rein throughout much of the classics.

Moolman-Pasio would like to see more teams and riders take the approach she did at the Tour de Romandie, and then again at the Volta ComunitatValenciana, and risk it for glory rather than settle for second place.

“It is often the case in women’s cycling in general that you have these standout riders, and everyone’s just riding, so defensively,” Moolman-Pasio said. “It’s like ‘I’m going to see how long I can hang on and a second or third will be good enough.’ It should be ‘how do I take the racing into my own hands? How do I create the race that suits me the best, you know, and then challenge these riders?’

“That was a really special day and I think it was a saving grace and I felt I should be riding for another year, and there is still an opportunity to go for the Tour de Femmes victory, because I’ve proven to myself that I can do this.

“To go into Valencia and then to sort of cement that it wasn’t a fluke and then again, cements the confidence in the whole team to really commit to the Tour de Femmes this year and that will be a big goal.”

Moolman-Pasio has learned a lesson from last year and is making no statements yet about the future of her cycling career. Nothing is set in stone and the door remains open for her to take on at least one more season.

“I haven’t signed any contracts yet, but I’m open to considering it. I don’t want make that predetermined.”

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