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ANNECY, France (VN) — For cycling fans who are bored by this year’s Tour de France, a more exciting viewing experience may lie within the women’s peloton, says South African rider Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. The 32-year-old believes women’s racing can gain attention through exciting, aggressive racing, because fans may be tired of the formulaic dynamics at the Tour.
“Men’s cycling is getting criticism for being boring and monotonous and repetitive,” Moolman-Pasio said. “Right now we have an opportunity to take advantage and show that we’re more exciting to watch.”
Moolman-Pasio spoke to VeloNews just hours before Tuesday’s La Course by Le Tour de France race from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand. The women’s event was held alongside the 10th stage of the Tour de France.
Indeed, the two races featured a contrasting style of racing. The Tour stage saw no change to the general classification, as the group of contenders crested the final climb together and then descended to the line.
By contrast, La Course saw a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat finale. Dutch riders Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) battled over the Col de la Colombiere and roared down the finish within seconds of each other. Van Vleuten mounted a charge in the final 50 meters to overtake her countrywoman and take the win.
That’s the type of excitement that Moolman-Pasio believes can win fans over to women’s racing.
“I feel that women’s cycling is somehow different than men’s cycling,” she said. “We need people who really believe in women’s cycling to begin pushing it forward.”
Perhaps Moolman-Pasio is such a person. Throughout 2018 she has raced with aggression on the various climbs featured in the UCI Women’s WorldTour. During La Course, Moolman-Pasio rode on the slopes of the Col de la Colombiere alongside van Vleuten and van der Breggen and eventually finished third, 1:22 behind van Vleuten. At April’s La Flèche Wallonne Féminine, Moolman-Pasio launched the decisive attack in the waning meters — her surge drew out van der Breggen, who won, while she coasted across the line in second.
During the recent Giro Rosa, Moolman-Pasio attacked relentlessly on multiple stages and rode herself to second overall, 4:23 behind van Vleuten. She may not have won the races, but her attacks injected excitement and action.
Moolman-Pasio’s runner-up result at the Giro is, in her eyes, the best result of her professional career. Yet she said the result failed to generate the level of media response she expected in her home nation. Moolman-Pasio became the first South African rider to finish on the podium at the Giro Rosa. The 10-day race is the longest in the Women’s WorldTour and holds grand tour status within the women’s peloton.
“This is the first grand tour podium for a South African — the first grand tour podium for a rider from Africa,” Moolman-Pasio said. “There’s been a lot of talk of [men’s team Dimension Data] and their plan of finishing on a podium at a grand tour in 2020. There’s a lot of focus on the men and the Tour de France. I’m pretty proud that I’ve been on the podium as a woman, and shown to South Africa what is possible for cyclists.”
Moolman-Pasio has used the Giro as her personal measuring stick since she first entered the sport’s top leagues in 2010. She finished 17th overall that first year, and in subsequent years she notched two top-10 finishes. The next step in her progression is to dethrone her two Dutch rivals, van der Breggen and van Vleuten, who still hold a slight edge over her in the major races.
Moolman-Pasio is unsure whether she will someday match the Dutchwomen, however. After all, they came up in a cycling system rich with history, talented coaches, and tradition. Moolman-Pasio, by contrast, said she has had to learn the lessons of cycling often on her own. South Africa has a growing tradition in men’s cycling, while the country’s collection of female pros is small.
Whether or not Moolman-Pasio ever beats the Dutch duo, she will continue to attack.
“I’m trying to close the gap to them,” she said. “For me it’s still important to make the race exciting, even if that means I finish second or third.”