Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio had her World Championship hopes scuppered by cramps that plagued her right up to the finish line of the elite women's road race. The South African had been one of the big favourites heading into Saturday's event, but was hampered by cramps when she tried to dig deep and was unable to follow attacks or make any serious attempts to win the race.
"I woke up feeling a bit nauseous and thought that maybe it was just nerves, but later on I was cramping. There was a moment when I thought I wouldn't finish because of the cramping," Moolman-Pasio said after the race, in which she finished 17th.
"I've never experienced that in my life before. I attacked at the bottom of the last climb and I was, like, 'Oh, shit.' My legs started almost cramping, so I thought, 'Calm down.' I was playing this game between trying to push it and then almost cramping and having to slow down, even right up until the sprint. I went for the sprint and everything started cramping. I don't know if there was something wrong with my stomach. You never know."
Moolman-Pasio has been one of the most consistent climbers this season for her Cervelo-Bigla team, pushing Mitchelton-Scott's Annemiek van Vleuten at the Giro Rosa and La Course over the summer, where the 32-year-old took second and third, respectively.
She was also there or thereabouts throughout the Classics earlier in the year, and came into Saturday's road race ranked fourth in the world, and the top non-Dutch rider. However, without a South African team to back her in Innsbruck, she had tried to keep a check on her expectations, but couldn't help but feel disappointed, too.
"It was a really difficult situation because after having a very consistent season and being highly ranked in the world, I came into the race as a 'favourite', but that’s not really fair because I didn't have a team. I've been realistic about that for the whole time leading up to the Worlds. Of course, I'd have loved a result, but it was going to be very difficult without a team. It was not my day for many reasons. I am disappointed, but you have to move on because you can kill yourself with the disappointment."
Had it been a more attritional race, Moolman-Pasio believes it would have suited her far better, but with the numbers stacked against her, it only compounded an already difficult situation.
"It turned out differently to how I expected, but then after Anna van der Breggen went, there were tactical moves going and I couldn't follow everything. It was difficult because nobody really chased. I suppose Italy had a rider [up ahead], and Australia had a rider, but there were teams that didn't, yet no one chased," she explained.
"The difficult thing about not having a team is that nobody was really controlling the race and it did end up being quite a tactical race. Normally, in a very 'climby' race, you think that it's going to come down to the strongest rider but at the end of the day there were a lot of riders that got away that weren't considered favourites, and that's why it was a tactical race.
"That made it a very difficult race for me because I didn't have a team to help control it. For a person like me, it would have been in my favour to have a team to control the race and bring it to a point that was my strength.
"Unfortunately, I thought it was all going to happen on the climb, and essentially it did for the 'Dutchies', but there were a lot of attacks after the climb on the final 'local' lap, which allowed riders who we never expected to get away and finish in the top 10."