Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio blog: Playing the odds at Fleche Wallonne

'We had one card to play... This was as high stakes as it gets'

Danger, danger, danger, danger… I could feel a prickle of panic rise up in my body as Canyon's lead-out into the Côte de Cherave unleashed a threatening breakaway. We weren't represented. Up until now the day had gone perfectly but, with 30km to go, that was rapidly changing.

We were down to two riders, Cecile and myself, having recently lost our other key player Marie in a crash. I had been lucky to avoid the stack but with only two pairs of legs and a 25-second gap no one wanted to close, the odds didn’t look good. Still, we had one card to play.

In the effort of her life, Cecille drove the pace on the front of the bunch. With barely any help from other riders, she rode herself into the ground, but managed to keep the gap steady and the break within striking distance. As we climbed up the Côte de Cherave for the last time, I passed Cecille and knew the rest was up to me.

We bounded onto the Mur de Huy. The breakaway was just in front of us, the catch timed perfectly, and I fed off the energy my team had put in to get me there. This was as high stakes as it gets. Go too early on the steep Mur and you can literally blow up in the last 100m and lose the race.

I was the first rider to make contact with the break, and as we all merged and split again it was Megan Guarnier, Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, and me. The climb got steeper as I took the lead. My legs were already screaming but so were the crowds so I listened to them.

The average gradient of the Mur is 9.6 per cent but there are parts up to 26 per cent. The steeper it is, the more each pedal stroke hurts but the steeper it is, the better it suits me.

We had planned exactly where I would attack. I had watched past videos of past winners. I had landmarked the brick building on the left as my signal. There comes a point where you have to push all the chips in and this was it.

Except I was boxed in. Pinned to the barriers and then stuck behind in second wheel, Boels did an excellent job of keeping me right where I couldn’t attack. I tried to go left, then right, then left. “Let me out,” I wanted to scream. Catching a sliver of space, I slammed my pedals and aggressively slipped through a small gap on the left. My attack point had come and gone and with only 150m to go, it was time for everyone to lay their cards on the table. Anna van der Breggen sprinted into first while I gave everything to proudly finish second.

I’d love to win but second at Flèche Wallonne is fantastic, especially after the team worked unbelievably well. Let me just say that I got up on the podium as an individual, but I wasn’t just up there as Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio; I was on the podium representing the 10-person kick-ass Cervelo-Bigla team (staff included) that finished second in a WorldTour race. Guess we played our cards right.

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is a professional bike racer for the Cervelo Bigla team. You can follow her adventures of racing the Women's WorldTour circuit right here on Cyclingnews and at her website Rocacorba Cycling.

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