Interview: Looking back and striving forward

Written by Sarah Bonner

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Ashleigh is the type of girl who is always busy.  If she isn’t cycling or at the gym, she is on her laptop or phone figuring out sponsorship, race calendars, or how to promote women’s cycling.  Even when she sits still, you can see her mind is always working.  As the interview started, Ashleigh was busy packing for another trip and milling about the house but when I ask about the Olympics, she stopped and sat down. “Everyone thinks I’m going to say it was amazing and everyone thinks it is.  It’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” she says.

Her blatant honesty took me by surprise because 2012 was Ashleigh’s most successful year as a professional cyclist. Claiming multiple stage wins in UCI tours, winning her National and Continental Championships, and making her Olympic debut, she rode her way to 18th in the world rankings. It’s even more impressive when you consider that just over two years ago she was ranked 292th.

As a leading member of the Lotto-Belisol Ladies Team, Ashleigh finished 2nd overall in the Tour de l’Ardèche, with two stage wins; 5th in the prestigious Flèche Wallonne World Cup; 10th overall in the Giro Donne; and 12th at World Championships. To top off an impressive year, the number one ranked female South African road cyclist also made her Olympic debut and finished 16th in the women’s road race after making much of the earlier racing on the Box Hill loop.

Not all sunshine and rainbows

Despite a palmares that many would be envious of, when it comes to the Olympics she can’t hide her disappointment. “I came in with high expectations and high goals. The aim was to go for a medal, even though it was the first games.”  Finishing on the podium “ wasn’t impossible,” she says, but admits that in order to win a medal “everything has to go perfect!”

“Last year at this time I was on a high, and so was South African women’s cycling, with the approaching Olympics. It was a big hype, of course, because the Olympics is such a big event.  Just qualifying is a challenge…everyone who qualifies has to go through challenges, but it was more than just personal and physical challenges, there were also challenges in SA team dynamics and the emotional stress of those challenges…To really be in it with a proper chance, you don’t need the sideline problems.”

Ashleigh praises each member of the Olympic team, especially their manager, for trying to keep spirits high but she admits the team struggled to pull together which left her unable to fully prepare for “the hugeness of the day.”  Although things didn’t go according to plan, now Moolman-Pasio acknowledges her progress and marks the Olympics as the highlight of her career. “I am an Olympian, and that in itself is an achievement.”

Sunny outlook

“In hindsight, it was a successful year,” Ashleigh says logically.  Although she still isn’t completely at peace with her Olympic experience, it isn’t stopping her from moving forward.  “I’m striving for a top ten,” she answers when asked about her seasonal goals.  In order to be ranked top ten in the world, “I will have a greater focus on world cup races,” she explains.  World Cup races have never been a focus on her racing calendar but says she is feeling positive and looking forward to new challenges. “I don’t aim to be mediocre,” she says, “I aim to be one of the best in the world.”

Her drive to succeed definitely comes deep from within.  It must come from her always-thinking mind I noticed when we began, and here it is again.  I can tell as we continue to speak she is contemplating how she will succeed, what she must do, and exactly what she will need because with Ashleigh it isn’t if she will succeed, it is when.

Thanks Sarah! Sarah is a freelance journalist, talented cook and cyclist! Read more of her excellent work at www.sarahkimbonner.wordpress.com.

 

 

Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge 2012

The 0.01% rule: listen to your body – more importantly listen to your heart!


479775_10151105503556507_1461167522_n-2Earlier this year I tweeted: “When the body says no and the mind says go, that is what it means to push through the pain barrier.” I’ve spoken before of when the mind takes over and the body is forced to listen and although this principle of pushing through the pain barrier in order to achieve your goals applies 99.9% of the time in professional sport. There comes a time when we need to listen to our bodies. This year’s Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge was a good example of when 0.01% rule applies.

With the London Olympic Games, the 2012 cycling season has been a very rewarding but also a very long season for me. My body has been asking me to rest for a while now, but after the 94.7 race, it demanded I do! I returned from African Continental Championships in Burkina Faso with a stomach bug, the first signs of over exhaustion. The stomach bug developed into a throat infection and after racing 94.7, I now have laryngitis, which has progressed to Bronchitis.

Lesson learnt: I should have listened to my body and should never have raced on Sunday. Being a stubborn athlete and the defending 94.7 Cycle Challenge Champion, of course I didn’t and now I’m paying the price.

On a positive note, I’m happy to have played a role in setting up my British teammate, Sharon Laws for the win! She has had a rough year being excluded from the Great Britain Olympic team, and her win on Sunday was a great way for her to end of the year and is the start of a great partnership for 2013. Sharon will be riding for my South African team, Momentum Toyota and my European team, Lotto Belisol next year. I’m very excited about next year and together I think we will achieve great things. I finished 4th on Sunday.

Learning to make the distinction between pushing through the pain barrier 99.9% of the time and protecting the body from irreversible damage 0.01% of the time is not easy. The mind is incredibly powerful, more powerful than any muscle in the body, and I can clearly remember the moment when I was forced to make the split second decision to defy my instinct and listen to my body.

The moment when Sharon attacked, my mind said: “go with her.” But this time my body said: “ABSOLUTLEY NO!”

The decision to listen to my body has been bugging me for the past few days because at first glance, it appears to be a sign of weakness. But after giving it some thought it all makes sense now. It’s like my heart was telling me to look after my future!

Now’s time for a much-needed break from cycling and I look forward to the 2013 season with Sharon, my Momentum Toyota and Lotto Belisol teams.

A big thanks to everyone who has followed and supported my career this year!

I dedicate 2012 to my loyal fans and supporters. Without every one of you; living my passion and pursuing my dreams would not be possible! From the bottom of my heart I thank you all for every message, every comment, every ‘like’, every tweet and most of all, for following my results and watching my racing!

Onwards and upwards 🙂

Double gold at African Continental Championships 2012

ouaga3Representing my country is always an honour, and this year’s African Continental Championships was no exception. The championships took place from 7 – 11 November in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso, a poor country even by West African standards, is a landlocked country in North, Western Africa situated next to Ghana and Ivory Coast amongst others.

Climate

Ouagadougou-BoboDioulassou-007Burkina Faso being situated in the Northern Hemisphere, technically speaking, the championships took place during the winter months. However, experiencing temperatures of over 35degree C every day while we were there, it became clear to us that Burkina Faso doesn’t experience the traditional four seasons we are all accustomed to.

Rather the country has primarily a tropical climate with two very distinct seasons, a rainy season and a dry season. We visited Burkina Faso during the dry season.

During the dry season, a hot dry wind from the Saharah blows, making racing and training conditions very challenging. No matter what time of the day, we always had to be prepared to withstand the hot, dry, dusty, windy conditions while riding our bikes; a challenge we as South Africans tackled head on.

Ouagadougou

ouaga1The championships took place in the capital city of Ouagadougou , pronounced as Wagadugu. Keeping in mind that Burkina Faso is world’s third poorest country, Ouagadougou is surprisingly upbeat and the people, despite their poor living conditions, are happy and friendly.

The main mode of transport in Ouaga (as the locals call it) is scooters and motorbikes. This meant that we fitted in perfectly cycling around on our bicycles amongst the many scooters and motorbikes.

Anyone from workmen to ladies dressed in beautiful dresses drive around on these scooters. And it was quite fascinating to see how the locals manage to transport just about anything on these two-wheeled automobiles, from fresh produce to building materials. You name, they can transport it.

Image-3-2Time Trial – Thursday 8 November

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The Time Trial took place on a 10.5km circuit just outside Ouagadougou city centre, which we did twice to make up a total race distance of 21km. The circuit was flat and fast, including few corners and many long stretches of road. The local police and traffic control did a great job of keeping the roads clear of scooters, goats and chickens; and the support from the local people along route was great.

I had a great time trial on the day and am very happy to have claimed my first African Continental Championships Time Trial title. An-Li Pretorius finished 2nd and Namibian, Vera Adrian finished third.

Road Race – Saturday 10 November

Image-2-1024x828The road race took place in the centre of Ouagadougou city on a 17km circuit which we did four times to constitute a total race distance of 68km. We started attacking early and I got away in the first 5km of the race. I was soon joined by my teammates, Lise Olivier and An-Li Pretorius.

The plan was for all three of us to get away, establish a good lead on the chasing riders and then race each other for the title. We worked well together as a team, but approaching the finish line it was each for their own. The race came down to a three-woman sprint and I’m very happy to have taken the title on the line. An-Li finished a close 2nd and Lise Olivier finished 3rd, giving South Africa gold, silver and bronze and valuable UCI points in the women’s elite road race.

All in all Team South Africa enjoyed a successful campaign at the African Continental Championships in Burkina Faso, claiming nine medals in total amongst the women, men and juniors.

2012 has been a year filled with many wonderful experiences and I’m happy I made the trip to Burkina Faso to experience a country not many know exists.