Ashleigh Moolman Pasio celebrates after out-sprinting Cherise Taylor to claim the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge title. Photo:

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio’s victory in the women’s race at the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge on Sunday was just reward for Team Nashua Toyota’s investment in South African female road cycling talent over the past year.

Moolman Pasio out-sprinted defending champion, Cherise Taylor to clinch the coveted 97.4km race title in a time of 02 hours 43 minutes and 10 seconds with Nashua Toyota teammate, Joanna van de Winkel claiming the final podium place. This soon after Moolman Pasio won other high profile South African races, the Durban Amashova and the OFM Classic, both for the first time.

That Moolman Pasio claimed three of South Africa’s top titles following a six-month stint racing in Europe speaks volumes for Nashua Toyota’s ‘Think global, act global’ rider development strategy, which saw a number of the team’s members racing for the Belgian-based Lotto women’s professional team during the past nine months.

South Africans have always been geographically disadvantaged in road cycling. Europe is the hotbed of world road racing and prohibitive costs as well as the inability to adjust to foreign languages and cultures have been the undoing of many a talented South African.

Cherise Taylor (left) and Moolman Pasio share a laugh after the conclusion of the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge on Sunday. Photo: with a formalised rider exchange programme, set up by Nashua Toyota’s Roy Gershow, with support from Cycling South Africa, talented South African females, including Moolman Pasio and Van de Winkel, have been able to compete and improve in European races during 2011.

Other Nashua Toyota team members, Lynette Burger and Lizanne Naude also spent time racing for Lotto at various times during 2011. “You can’t expect to compete against – and beat – the world’s best at the Olympic Games and World Champs if you aren’t up to their standard.

“That’s why Nashua Toyota implemented this arrangement with Lotto, which is one of the world’s top-ranked professional teams with excellent infrastructure and support,” explained Burger, the Nashua Toyota team captain.

By giving South African racers the opportunity to compete in high-profile European races, Nashua Toyota and Cycling South Africa have effectively helped South Africa qualify two ­– and probably three ­– start places for the country at the 2012 road race at the London Olympics next year, due to riders being able to score International Cycling Union rankings points more frequently.

Moolman Pasio started 2011 ranked 286th in the world. She is now up to 37th. A significant improvement and probably the biggest rise of any Elite female racer in 2011.

“Like my other wins recently, that was no solo effort,” said Moolman Pasio. “Jo (van de Winkel) set it up beautifully. She rode hard to create the break of four early on, she drove the break with commitment and she took the initiative through the final few hundred metres and I just waited on Cherise’s wheel.

“When I saw Jo wasn’t going to get the win, I kicked hard to get around Cherise and just managed to edge her out on the line.”

There was moment of drama during the race when Moolman Pasio discovered that her rear wheel had buckled and was catching on the bicycle’s frame. With 30km remaining she changed bikes.

“I was relieved to see it was my bike and not me that wasn’t going well. It took a while to notice the problem with the wheel, but the bike change, my first ever in a race, was super quick, thanks to my very on-the-ball team manager, David Pieterse,” recalled Moolman Pasio.

It was Moolman Pasio’s biggest victory in South Africa, but while it was significant from a domestic perspective, it wasn’t her main goal in 2011.

“Success in European racing is far more significant in the big picture, but I must say that I am excited to have won a few big races over the past few weeks in South Africa. It’s great for our team and our sponsors who have invested in our development as riders.”

For Moolman Pasio, Sunday’s win completed a watershed year for the 25-year-old, who hails from Stellenbosch. In addition to the Durban Amashova, Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge and OFM Classic titles, she also won two stages and the overall at the LeCoq Sportif Tour de Boland in South Africa. And, in the last 10 days, she also won the African Championships road race title in Eritrea.

In Europe, her highlights included finishing second overall and winning the Queen of the Mountains title at the Tour de l’Ardeche, sixth overall and Queen of the Mountains winner at Iuretta Emakumeen Bira Tour (Women’s Tour of Spain), and 13th place overall at the Giro Donne (Women’s Tour of Italy).