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Moolman-Pasio embraces virtual cycling amid lockdown

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio has embraced Zwift racing and riding as a way to boost her fitness during the road racing shutdown.

As she pedaled across the virtual finish line to win Monday’s Trofeo Bologna Zwift race, Asheligh Moolman-Pasio threw her arms into the air in her traditional victory salute.

No, it was not a WorldTour road race win, but the virtual victory carried importance for Moolman-Pasio. It was the first victory by a WorldTour road racer in one of the Zwift pro/am races. And, it was the product of a month of tinkering and practice on the virtual cycling platform.

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“Coming into the lockdown I could have let myself get really negative and let my life get difficult, but I decided I would make the most of it,” Moolman-Pasio told¬†VeloNews.¬†“I threw myself into Zwift and just embraced it for what it is. It grew on me and I immersed myself in the game and the community.”

Indeed, in the past 30 days Moolman-Pasio has logged 1,611 kilometers and 14,564 meters of elevation gain on the virtual cycling platform. She has launched her own weekly group ride for female riders, and become a regular on the London-Dynamo Saturday race ride.

She has set eye-popping numbers: During Monday’s race she averaged 5 watts per kilogram for the 41-minute effort. She was even flagged by Zwift for producing super-human wattage numbers during a VO2 interval session in mid-March, joining Belgian Thomas DeGendt as yet another pro rider to be stopped for being too strong.

The embracing of Zwift represents a 180-degree turn for Moolman-Pasio, who said she’s had access to the online platform since 2018 but rarely used it until now.

“I had that typical road pro mentality that if I can ride outdoors then why would I train on an indoor trainer?” Moolman-Pasio said. “Indoor racing it turns out is extremely hard because there is nowhere to hide. It’s just raw power.”

Moolman-Pasio lives just outside Girona in Northern Spain amid some of the best training grounds in Europe. In early March, Spain announced that the entire country would be placed on lockdown meaning even pro cyclists were forbidden from riding outdoors. Now, like millions of other people across Spain, Moolman-Pasio is confined to ride indoors.

Like many other WorldTour riders, Moolman-Pasio’s foray into Zwift has come amid the racing shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the virus spread across Europe throughout February, Moolman-Pasio saw more and more races on her schedule canceled. She was slated to begin her season at Strade Bianche, which was one of the first events canceled on the calendar.

At first she was dismayed by the racing shutdown, and eventually she decided to try and make the most of her time away from the WorldTour races.

“I made the decision to try and use this to work on my weaknesses because indoor training isn’t my favorite,” Moolman-Pasio said. “It’s been amazing to see how I’ve improved. I’m developing a weakness of mine which is learning to really push power and not just rely on my power-to-weight.”

During a recent power test, Moolman-Pasio said that her power at VO2 max had increased by 40 watts.

It was through her Zwift contacts that she was invited to race Monday’s race with the Rowe & King team, an elite Zwift race. Even though it was Moolman-Pasio’s first proper race, she overcame some of the pitfalls that first-time riders fall into, such as burning too much energy too soon.

The course, which featured two virtual climbs up to Bologna’s Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, catered to Moolman-Pasio’s strengths on long climbs. She pushed the pace on the first ascent, shredding the front group to just nine riders. She then attacked on the uphill section to the finish and rolled in alone.

Moolman-Pasio had extra advantage of having raced up the actual Madonna di San Luca climb twice before in real life.

“I attacked at the same place where I did in real life,” she said. “And it worked out.”