Ashleigh Pasio gave the Momentum Toyota professional women’s road cycling team the ultimate reward for an early season of hard work, when she claimed both gold medals on offer at the 2013 Clover South African Road Cycling Championships in Nelspruit at the weekend.
After racing to a dominant victory in the Elite women’s 33km individual time trial last Thursday, Pasio (née Moolman) claimed the 112km road race title on Saturday, also with a show of dominance.
Because the national championships was an official International Cycling Union (UCI) event, Pasio was compelled to change her allegiance from her South African-based Momentum Toyota team and race for the Belgian-based Lotto Belisol team, the internationally registered team for which she has been signed to race in Europe for most of the year.
“I’m very happy with the time trial title. It’s my first. It wasn’t my best effort but it was good enough to take the win. I prefer shorter, more technical time trials and don’t feel I was adequately prepared for such a long out-and-back course,” said Pasio.
On Saturday, the 27-year-old Boland region resident wasted no time in the road race, using her superior climbing strength to split the field on the first of two big climbs. Her Lotto Belisol teammate, Sharon Laws, the current British road race champion, was on hand to assist and the pair raced positively throughout, forcing their rivals to adopt a defensive strategy.
“I wanted to defend my road title and with just two of us from our team in the race, I needed to make the first move and use the climb – which came early on – to minimise the number of title challengers,” explained Pasio.
Only Laws, Lise Olivier and An-Li Kachelhoffer (Best-Med ASG) were able to match Pasio’s pace on the ascent. After initially assisting with the pacing, Olivier and Kachelhoffer decided they’d have a better shot at the win if the chasing group caught the break and opted to sit on the back, forcing Laws and Pasio to pace themselves.
“Sharon sat on the front most of the time and kept the pace high enough so that the four riders chasing us wouldn’t be a threat. Then, when we got to the final big climb, I put in another hard effort and rode clear on my own, but was later joined by Sharon who, despite not feeling her best, rode across the gap to me. From then on it was a case of managing our advantage to the finish,” said Pasio, who cruised across the finish line first.
“It’s a very special honour to race in Europe in the South African champion’s jersey and that was my mission today. I wanted this title badly and I’m obviously delighted that I was able to achieve my goal. I have to thank Sharon for her assistance as my teammate. She was completely committed. I’m very motivated to race in Europe now. My form is coming good and my confidence is high.”
Because Laws isn’t a South African citizen, the silver medal went to third-placed finisher, Kachelhoffer with Olivier taking the bronze medal.
Next Sunday, Pasio and her Momentum Toyota team will attempt to defend the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour title that Pasio won last year. With over 35 000 participants, it’s the world’s largest cycle race and a highlight event on the South African calendar.
“We will once again race with the Veteran men, so it’s not a true women’s race, but it is a race we’d love to win again. It’s an important event for our sponsors who have been so supportive during the first part of this year,” said Pasio. “It will also be great to race in the event with the national champion stripes on my Momentum Toyota jersey.”
The Momentum Toyota team members have won all but one of the seven major races held in South Africa so far this year, confirming the team’s dominance on the domestic scene.
“It’s been a great start to the year for the team. We’ve raced hard and smart and the success has been because we race as a team with a purpose. And those really at the two most important elements of road racing,” smiled Pasio, who heads off to begin her European racing season on 20 March.