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Moolman-Pasio: Zwift racing a bigger opportunity for women than Paris-Roubaix

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio says that Zwift racing's equal broadcast and media exposure places it ahead of women's road races as an opportunity to grow the sport.

It’s no secret that Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio has become a virtual cycling convert during the coronavirus shutdown.

From her villa in Northern Spain, the South African racer has won major events on Zwift against WorldTour and amateur riders alike. She has also organized weekly meetup rides with women across the globe for her Liv bike sponsor and Rocacorba cycling academy.

And after three months of racing Zwift, Moolman-Pasio believes that virtual cycling presents an opportunity for growth for women’s pro racing. In her eyes, it could be a bigger opportunity than even the recently announced women’s Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity for women’s cycling to have real equality with the men,” Moolman-Pasio said. “We’ve raced the same stages and had the same TV coverage, and I’ve seen how incredible it’s been for me to see the engagement I’ve gotten from fans, and the number of followers I’m getting every day because my racing is on TV shows you how we can highlight our races.

“I think the Zwift Tour for All is a bigger opportunity than Paris-Roubaix,” Moolman-Pasio said.

Moolman-Pasio was speaking to reporters after taking her third stage victory on the five-stage Zwift Tour for All; the stage finished with the climb up to the l’Alpe du Zwift. Moolman-Pasio absolutely crushed the field, crossing the line with a 48-second advantage on Ella Harris (Canyon-SRAM), with Sarah Gigante (Tibco-SVB) in third, more than two minutes in arrears.

The rest of the peloton crossed the line minutes down on the South African racer who is one of the top climbers on the planet.

One of the most outspoken riders in the women’s peloton, Moolman-Pasio has for years pushed for greater racing opportunities and media exposure for women’s cycling. That’s where she believes Zwift racing can help the pro peloton thrive.

The Tour for All was broadcast live across Eurosport and it was also streamed for free on the Global Cycling Network. Both networks broadcast every minute of both the men’s and the women’s professional racing.

That level of broadcast equality is unheard of in women’s pro road cycling, and Moolman-Pasio was quick to point out how important it was for women’s racing.

“In women’s [road] cycling there’s progress from year to year, but in terms of exposure it’s still not consistent,” Moolman-Pasio said. “One week the race is on Eurosport; the next week it’s streamed live on Facebook. How do you build a fanbase if fans don’t know where to find you? That’s not the case with men’s cycling where the fans know exactly where to find the sport. That’s a barrier for us, and a platform like Zwift presents an opportunity to build a fanbase that could then translate on the road.”

Like many other female pro riders, Moolman-Pasio said she was excited when the UCI revealed the revised 2020 racing calendar with a ladies Paris-Roubaix slated to take place on October 25. For years women’s cyclists and women’s cycling advocates have pushed promoter ASO to hold a female version of the iconic race.

Few details of the course have been revealed, and Moolman-Pasio said that the route will decide whether the event represents a true step forward for women’s cycling.

“My initial thought is that I’m super excited because Paris-Roubaix is something that the women’s peloton is hungry for, and we want to prove ourselves on a tough parcours,” Moolman-Pasio said. “I’m really hoping that if they’re going to do it that they give us a proper event and not just a token event like La Course is for the Tour de France.”

To combat the coronavirus’ spread Spain enacted a full lockdown for several weeks; pro cyclists were even forbidden from riding outdoors. Moolman-Pasio said she dove headfirst into virtual cycling and used the break from outdoor riding to try and improve weaknesses she had as a cyclist. Already one of the peloton’s top climbers, Moolman-Pasio said she worked on improving her power numbers on flat and hilly terrain.

She said the extra training paid off. Spain’s ban on cycling recently lifted and Moolman-Pasio was able to test herself on her favorite climb, the 10.7-kilometer ascent of Rococorba, which averages 7 percent.

Moolman-Pasio hit the climb on May 2 and recorded a personal best.

“I took three and a half minutes off of the QOM,” Moolman-Pasio said.