The next rider in our Q&A series in collaboration with Peloton Magazine is Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. The multi-time road and ITT champion of South Africa is also the first ever UCI Cycling Esports World Champion, and has a degree in engineering. Find out more about her journey to the pro peloton, where she finds motivation, and her advice for younger riders.
Where are you from?
I’m from South Africa. I grew up in a city in the centre of South Africa and then moved to Cape Town to study at Stellenbosch University. From there I came over to live in Europe.
Where do you live?
I live in Banyoles in Spain, or more specifically Catalonia.
How did you get into cycling?
I only discovered my talent for cycling while I was studying at Stellenbosch University, although I learned to ride a bike as a young child and then even took part in events like the Cape Town Cycle Tour later on. But growing up, I never thought that I’d become a professional rider, although I had always dreamed of going to the Olympic Games. In school I did hockey and athletics, and I’ve always loved riding horses. However, I was never really good enough in those to compete at the Olympics, so that dream had to be shelved at that stage. Then I met my now-husband at university, who was competing as a triathlete and so I got motivated to get back into sports. First triathlon and marathon, and eventually I settled on cycling, as I found that the training routine for that fit better into my busy schedule.
When did you know that cycling was more than a hobby?
I joined the university cycling team and the local league in the Cape Town area and started winning races. This led me to joining an amateur team and I managed to race nationally while still studying. I got more and more into racing and I realised that cycling could really become a viable career prospect. And so when I completed my engineering degree, I took the step to move to Europe and joined the Lotto Ladies team.
What are your most cherished moments?
There have been many special moments at different points in my life that I treasure. One such moment was winning the Cape Town Cycle Race the very first time. Taking my first national title was also a really special moment. And of course the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games are right up there too. My first victory in Europe was also a significant event, and so was the first WorldTour podium, so there have been a variety of moments that have stood out so far.
What are your goals for the Olympics?
This will be my third Olympic Games and I feel that I have gained a lot of experience, and as an individual, I am now wiser and more composed. I hope I can do well and make history as a South African rider. The country is still very much a developing cycling nation and to win a medal in cycling for South Africa at the Olympics would be a historic moment. I am fortunate that I do not have the added pressure of competing early in the season with the goal of being selected, as I think I can be pretty confident that I will be going to Tokyo. Now I’m trying to work on my form and hope to peak at the right time for the Games.
Which athletes inspired you?
Penny Heyns comes to mind. She is a South African swimmer who won multiple Olympic medals and incidentally went to the same school that I did. I think I can relate to her as a South African woman. Her sporting achievements were really inspiring to me when I was a child. In the early days of my career, I’d also look up to Emma Pooley because she was also someone who came to the sport later in life and achieved so much in her career.
What keeps you motivated during difficult times?
I’m a Christian and my faith is a big part of my motivation in life and in cycling. Cycling is a tough sport because you can face a lot of setbacks along the way, including injuries that have the potential to hinder you reaching your season goals, and so my faith lets me see that there is a bigger purpose in life, that we have to accept certain things, and just try to move forward.
What would your advice be for younger riders?
It is so important to love what you do. You need to have passion for cycling to be able to sustain yourself in the sport, despite all the setbacks and disappointments that can arise. If you’re looking for immediate gratification, such as results, prize money or fame, that is not guaranteed. When you experience setbacks, you need to have a deeper purpose to look towards. It can be your faith, or your aim to inspire others, or your goal of becoming the best you can be. Motivation has to come from within, because that is what’s going to drive you and help you to get through the challenges and the difficult times.
What would you do if you weren’t a pro rider?
I probably would be a chemical engineer, perhaps working at a plant or maybe in the wine industry. I am very interested in business strategy, and I hope to combine all my experiences from cycling and everything that I’ve learned through my engineering studies to build a satisfying career once I retire from pro racing.
What’s your favourite coffee ride snack?
It has to be nice gooey tasty chocolate brownie, that’s a real guilty pleasure!
What’s your favourite coffee stop?
In the Girona area we’re pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to coffee shops. I like to change things up a bit, so I’ll stop at places such as La Comuna, or La Fabrica, or also La Maglia along the coast, which are really nice places to stop half way during rides.
What’s your spirit animal?
I don’t have a spirit animal, as I don’t really believe in spirits.
What is one thing you can’t live without on the road?
It’d have to be my phone, because it’s the way that I stay in contact with people that I love. And maintaining these connections, especially with my husband and my family, is really important.