Ashleigh Moolman Interview: A Classics focus in 2014 after Flèche Wallonne podium
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Monday, December 2, 2013

Ashleigh Moolman Interview: A Classics focus in 2014 after Flèche Wallonne podium

by Ben Atkins at 6:18 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
South African retains African continental TT championship, is looking ahead to new challenges with Hitec Products

Ashleigh MoolmanAshleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol) is coming to the end of her best year to date, and preparing to join a new team in 2014. VeloNation caught up with the South African champion as she was setting off for Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, where she was aiming to defend her African Continental championship, in both the road race and time trial.

She was successful in the first of those two goal earlier today, , beating runner-up Wehazit Kidane (Eritrea) and third-placed Vera Adrian (Namibia) by over two minutes. The road race will follow later this week.

Looking back to twelve months ago, the 2012 season had ended with Moolman retaining her African road title, and improving on her silver medal from the previous year’s time trial. 2013 then began in similar fashion, with her holding onto her national road title, and once again jumping up a place to become South African time trial champion. [Note: both the African and South African time trial titles had been taken by Cherise Taylor Stander, the wife of the late Burry Stander, in 2012 – ed.]

Her arrival in Europe saw Moolman then become the first rider from Africa to finish on the podium of a World Cup race, at la Flèche Wallonne in April, but 2013 was not without its difficulties.

“I have had [a pretty good year]. I’m slowly progressing every year,” she said. “It’s been a pretty challenging year. Lots of people have said ‘oh, it’s been your most successful year,’ which it has been in a certain sense: podiuming at Flèche Wallonne, and winning Holland Hills Classic, and I’m way up in the rankings. But then the second half of the season was quite challenging for me, in crashing and injuries, which stopped me from finishing Bira, in Spain, and then a broken hand stopped me from finishing Route de France. That came at quite a bad time - you know, August - in terms of the World Champs.

“Then I was just sick at the World Champs, which was also not ideal,” she added. “So it wasn’t the best end to my season, but yeah, it was something to build on for next year.”

To race up the Mur de Huy at the end of Flèche Wallonne is tough enough for any rider, let alone one battling with a four-time winner - about to become a five-time winner - in Marianne Vos. To be carrying the weight of an entire continent on your shoulders should have made it even tougher, but Moolman managed to finish two places higher than the previous year and climb onto the podium.

Ashleigh Moolman Marianne Vos“That was pretty cool,” she smiled. “There were a lot of firsts. Africa is still a very much developing cycling nation, so there are lots of opportunities for many firsts. But yeah, it was pretty cool, being a sports ambassador for my country and continent, to get that podium. And I hope to continue to build on that.”

Her biggest one-day race victory of the season took many people by surprise, as she took the Boels Rentals Holland Hills Classic. Despite the hilly nature of the course, arriving at the finish with a group that included established fast finishers of the calibre of Lizzie Armitstead, Annemiek van Vleuten and Emma Johansson put Moolman a fair way down the list of favourites for victory, but the South African prevailed.

“I think it was a bit of a surprise, that sprint victory, to many people,” she admitted. “Even Annemiek came up to me afterwards and said ‘wow! You’re fast!’ So it took a lot of people by surprise. I’ve always known that I have a fairly decent sprint, but I’m not a classic, pure sprinter, so if it came to a group of 150 coming to the line I’m small and not as confident mashing it up there with the bigger girls.

“So I haven’t really tried my hand at that yet, but a smaller group - a breakaway group - I’m relatively fast,” she added. “I’m still learning the ropes, in terms of sprinting, but I think I’ve proven that I can do it if I put my mind to it.”

“The Giro has always been a dream, but my focus will be more on World Cups”

The Giro Rosa was another race that saw Moolman continue her steady improvement from previous years, with an eighth place behind winner Mara Abbott built on consistency in Italy’s hills and mountains.

“I was tenth last year, so it’s been a steady progression,” Moolman explained. “I was seventeenth in my first year [2010], then thirteenth in the second [2011], and then eighth in the fourth Giro, and you start to realise that, as you get closer to that top five, or the podium, that it’s such a small difference between the person who wins and the person who comes eighth. It’s just about continuing to work on that.

“But I’ve also learned this year that my real strength lies in the Classic style racing,” she continued. “Shorter power climbs, with maybe a sprint from a small group, or finishing on top of a climb with a small group. So next year I think my focus might shift.”

The commitment to the longest stage race of the women’s season takes a similar focus to to those of the men’s and, with the disorganisation of the calendar, to push for the Giro podium doesn’t make sense for Moolman right now.

“The Giro has always been a dream, and will probably always be the highlight of my year, but my focus will be more on World Cups, and one-day races,’ she explained. “Obviously, I’ll still be doing the tours, but the Giro won’t be a target for me next year. It’s just that, with the progression, as I go along, maybe one of these days it will.

“I’ve just realised as well, that the Giro takes a lot of proper focus,” she added. “Just like the men focus 100% on the Tour de France, it kind of takes that in women’s cycling as well, because it’s the only tour where we do the very long climbs, so it’s quite different to the rest of the racing.”

Currently - with the scrapping of the .HC classification after just one year - the highest ranking women’s Tours are rated at 2.1. This means that the three-day Elsy Jacobs race in Luxembourg carries the same points as a Giro victory, and neither carries as many as the biggest one-day races of the year.

“The only downfall is that the points associated with the Giro are minimal, in comparison to a lot of World Cups, for example,” said Moolman. “At this stage I don’t really see the value of focusing on one tour, but hopefully one day in the future I will be in the position when I’ll be able to do that.

“Winning the Giro nowadays gets you 60 points, and winning a World Cup is 100 points, so it doesn’t really seem to weigh up,” she explained. “The Giro is very prestigious to win, no matter what the points, but at this stage in my career points are quite important. Ranking is quite important in terms of qualification for Worlds and all these other kind of events, and in terms of rider value. The more points you have, the more valuable you are.

Moolman has cashed in some of her rider value this year with a move from Lotto-Belisol, where she has ridden since 2010, to the Hitec Products team. The new surroundings will see her ride under less pressure, as she will not be the team leader at every race, with a key teammate in fellow Flèche podium finisher Elisa Longo Borghini.

“I’ve had a great stint at Lotto, and I’m very, very grateful for the opportunities and the experience that I’ve had there. But after four years I think the time has come for a change, and to move on to some new challenges,” said Moolman. “If you don’t change anything then you don’t necessarily grow, so in order for some further growth I’m looking forward to going to Hitec.

“I will be riding alongside the likes of Elisa Longo Borghini, who’s a very strong and successful rider, so she’s someone to learn from. There should be new opportunities having the two of us in the team. We’ll obviously have slightly different goals, and we’ll support one another in some races.

“At Lotto I was always the strongest rider, especially in the tours and a lot of the World Cups,” she added. “Although that is wonderful, I think maybe being not the only option in a team might open some doors as well. So I’m looking forward to Hitec.”

With a World Cup podium under her belt, Moolman wasn’t short of options for 2014, but in the end the choice was an easy one for the 27-year-old South African.

“Why Hitec? I did have a few offers actually, and I just sat down and weighed it all up, and I just like the environment there, I respect ad like Elisa, and she requested that I came to the team,” she explained. “That was one of the reasons, and it was also that I like the management there, I actually know one of the directeurs quite well.

“So I think it’s going to be a happy move for me. It’s a nice environment, and I’m looking forward to it.”

While most riders from the European peloton are enjoying their holidays, and thinking about the steady build up for the 2014 season, many of those from the southern hemisphere are still racing. Moolman is no exception - winning the recent Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge - and has the extra commitment of an early December date with the African titles that she hopes to hold on to.

“I’m off to the African Continental champs,” she said. “It’s always at a bad time of year, but this year it’s particularly bad in that it’s very late. But in a way it’s also not such a bad thing because in I took a good break in October, after the European season, I’ve been fulfilling some local commitments here, with some local racing, I’ve built up a little bit of form again.

“The African Continental champs are very important, because it’s quite a lot of points for relatively little effort, which is quite important for South Africa as a country in terms of building up points. Particularly with next year being a Commonwealth Games year.”

With Moolman’s place at Lotto-Belisol taken by former time trial World champion Emma Pooley, the Belgian team will surely still be in the results in 2014. With the South African champion riding alongside Longo Borghini though, the Hitec Products team will certainly be one of those to beat.


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