Aviva Women’s Tour – Channeling Adversity into Victory

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It was the queen stage. Stage three of the Aviva Women’s tour had a climb as steep as the Muur de Huy, as wall-like as you could get. We had one teammate, Clara, up the road but just as the race was heating up to take on the climb, we lost Stephanie to a crash. We had only started with 5 riders. It was just Lotta and I against all the big teams.

The peloton was in full lead out mode, racing full speed and then some toward the climb. A one woman lead-out isn’t a fair match against teams like Boels Dolmans with 6 riders but Lotta, on my front wheel, took me and put me on the back of the Boels Dolmans train. Now, it was just up to me.

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When you feel like you’re alone trying to make a difference, the task ahead can seem pointless. Even if you know you have the capability, there are so many uncontrollable elements and outside influences that can throw you off before you even begin. But adversity can be channelled into victory. So what if I was alone against all the big teams? Their lead riders still had to get to the finish line and we all had the same climb to ride over first.

I attacked right at the bottom. I didn’t wait to see what everyone else was going to do, I just went. Elisa was the only one that could follow but then Lizzie caught up. We smashed up the climb, catching the break and then leaving all but Amanda Spratt behind. As we rounded the final corner and hit the cobbles of Chesterfield, Lizzie found a small gap while I sprinted past Elisa to take second.

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Now sitting second on GC, we did exceptionally well on stage four to hold our position, especially when Marianne Vos won all the time bonuses at the sprint hot spots and the stage. On the final day, we really showed our team skills and not only managed to defend my 2nd place again but Lotta won the stage.

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Cervelo Bigla isn’t the biggest team on the race circuit but we never let that stop us from racing like we are. We don’t let what is perceived to be missing make us blind to what we have and what we have is a whole lot of heart, grit, and drive. That’s a spirit that channels whatever adversity we encounter into victory and it’s the same spirit that sets the Aviva Women’s Tour apart.

The Women’s Tour is setting the benchmark for women’s racing. So many complain about the viability of women’s cycling but the Women’s Tour has demonstrated once again that women’s cycling can be successful. They operated the race on a business model that took advantage of a proper marketing campaign and strategic planning that involved the community to run a markedly professional race. They too showed heart, grit, and drive and the quality of the racing, the community and spectator support, and total success of the tour leaves them with a winning reputation that not only demonstrates how viable women’s cycling can be but sets the standard of success.

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Where it all started: Discovering a talent

With only 10 weeks to go to Rio 2016, I found myself reflecting on my Road to London, and how far Carl and I have come from there. Sitting here reminiscing on these very fond memories, I thought I would start sharing some of the blog posts I wrote almost four years ago.

Discovering a talent

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It was during my studies at Stellenbosch University that I met the man of my dreams, my husband Carl Pasio. When we met, he was a serious triathlete and it was through him that I discovered my cycling talent.

I remember the day quite clearly. During our first University break, I joined Carl for a holiday at his home in Knysna. Carl comes from a very sporty family and on arriving at his home, it was not long before his Dad, Norman, had insisted we join him for an evening cycle.

Having only cycled socially before, I eagerly whipped on my running shorts, a pair of trainers and jumped onto my Mom’s hybrid bicycle, which I had borrowed for the holidays.

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Something unique about the Pasio family is their love for competition. We had hardly peddled out of the driveway, when Norman had turned on the pace and I found myself hanging on desperately to the Pasio pace line.

This was quite an intimidating experience to say the least, until Norman decided we should climb the hill to the top of the Heads just before returning home. On hitting the steep climb to the Heads viewpoint, suddenly I felt more in control.

In my running shorts and trainers (with no cleats) I held my own up the steep ascent and on arriving at the top, with the others breathing frantically; I felt a sense of achievement!

It was on this day that I heard Norman say to Carl, “you have found yourself a keeper. That girl can ride!”

Learning at Work

Early days riding for Toyota Cyclelab team in South Africa
Early days riding for Toyota Cyclelab team in South Africa

There are less than 100 days to the Olympics and that has made me think about the woman I want to be on the start line. I’m not the same person I was when I started cycling and it’s been the bike that has changed me the most. From thinking I could maybe be a cyclist, moving to Europe to ride pro, becoming an Olympian and all the crashes in between, it has been the challenges on the bike that have taught me the most about who I am and who I want to be.

When I started out in the women’s pro peloton, I had a lot to learn about cycling. I knew I had to be a student of the sport but, all too often, I thought that meant being quiet, going with the flow and just accepting whatever I was dealt. If I made a mistake, it would throw me. If I succeeded, I almost wouldn’t believe it. The ups and downs were unpredictable and I finally realised that I only had myself as an anchor.

Reflecting after a challenging Tour of Flanders
Reflecting after a challenging Tour of Flanders

That anchor was my self-confidence. It wasn’t my values, thoughts, or passion that were lacking, it was my confidence to stand up for my values, thoughts and passion. I was afraid to rock the boat and stand up for what I believed in but, the more self-confidence I gained on the bike, the steadier I became off the bike. If I failed, it was on my terms. I would learn and move on and I was okay with that. And so was every one else. Even if people disagreed, having the self-confidence to act according to my true beliefs meant at least I was respected.

It’s taken a lot of lessons, a lot of people, and a long personal journey but I know now that it’s not about being loud or liked, it’s about being true. That’s the woman I want to take to Rio. That’s the woman I want to show the world. That’s the woman I am on the bike.

Great motivation on the top tube of our Cervelo S3 bikes
Great motivation on the top tube of our Cervelo S3 bikes

Persistent Courage

“Never, never, never give up!”

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Getting back on the horse

That Winston Churchill quote was on a bookmark my mom gave. It wasn’t just the gift of the bookmark, it was when I received the bookmark that made Churchill’s words  so continuously inspiring

I was in hospital at the time recovering from a life threatening head injury. I was out riding my horse on a casual Sunday afternoon group ride. Since I had been away  on school holiday, my horse hadn’t been ridden in a while and he was feeling nervous around the presence of other horses. When a bird flew out of a bush and spooked him, off he galloped. I desperately gripped the reins but his mind was made up as he ran full tilt towards home. I decided to stay calm and ride it out; he eventually had to stop.

The last thing I remember was seeing the stables. No one really knows what happened from there but we think he took a corner too fast and stumbled on loose gravel. I came off head first and hit a concrete block…and I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Ten days later, I finally woke up in the ICU. I had been in a coma on full life support, suffered a collapsed lung, I had a broken basal skull bone and a pressure-release valve had been inserted in my head. The initial prognosis was bleak. The doctors said there would be brain damage. I was never going to be the same and I would never finish school.

Then came the bookmark with Churchill’s words and I took them, not just to heart, but to action. I finished school four months later with 7 distinctions and went on to study chemical engineering. But that wasn’t the hardest obstacle I had to overcome.

My dad insisted that, as soon as I was strong enough, I had to get back on the horse. The very same horse that had run away with me. The very same horse that left a scar of fear along with my physical injuries. The very same horse that changed my life.

Whenever I find myself in challenging situations, I think of my bookmark. I think of Churchill’s words and I think of that horse. I got back on that horse. I overcame my fear and I proved to myself that I am capable of overcoming whatever knocks me down. I learned that persistent courage has the ability to breakthrough whatever we think are limits.

Fighting back after crashing at Momentum 947 last year
Fighting back after crashing at Momentum 947 last year *photo credit: Erik Vermeulen

It took persistant courage to make a full recover from my head injury

It took persistent courage to get back on the horse and conquer my fear.

It takes persistent courage be on the start line amongst all the best women in the world and race for the win.

It takes persistent courage to overcome the obstacles and challenges that inevitably come along the way.

Fighting to overcome challenge, whether it’s getting back on the horse or winning a pro cycling race, can be scary and seemingly impossible but, with persistent courage limits are only the starting point of success.

Never. 

Never. 

Never give up.