Three races, three podiums, but if you really want to talk about winning we have to talk about my 17th place finish in San Sebastian.
Typically, the race did not go as planned but it did go perfectly. Off the back of two team podiums in Clasica Femenina Navarra and Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa, we had the momentum for a result; but, when the breakaway went early just after the Jaizkibel climb and I wasn't in a position to follow, I thought to myself, "well, that could be it." Fortunately, Pauliena, who we had decided would mark Lucy Kennedy, followed perfectly and gave us representation in the break. As I expected, that was the winning win and suddenly our team strategy to get me on the podium was rewritten.
"Where's Ash? Where's Ash!" Pauliena kept repeating into the radio. Lucy Kennedy had gone solo from the breakaway while I was in the peloton slipping further out of radio range. The radios eventually dropped signal completely so for the remainder of the race I couldn't hear what was happening up the road. I did know that I believed in Pauliena. I knew she would fight, dig deep, and make our team proud. I didn't need to be there, she was there.
I crossed the finish line in the bunch, in 17th place, desperately searching for clues to how the race had finished. I saw Lucy had claimed the win and I hoped Pauliena's hard effort of being in the break for the majority of the race had paid off.
"I'm so sorry," she immediately said to me when I saw her, but I was also hearing and seeing on the screens she had finished 3rd! "Don't apologise, we got third!" I excitedly replied. I was over the moon! Not only because we had claimed a third podium in back-to-back races, but that Pauliena had the success I had seen her work hard for all season long and truly deserved after a classy performance. As her teammate, I was incredibly happy but, as her race leader, I was bursting with pride.
I knew my role as team leader would be more about fortifying confidence than sprinting for the finish line as soon as I saw we would be a rider short for San Sebastian. I knew from my own experience how much of an impact even one person believing in you could make. A few words, a few minutes, just the idea of success was powerful and if I could lead from that position, we had more than a chance for a result. Being the best race leader I could be meant that we could all share in Pauliena's result.
Cycling looks like an individual sport but as we celebrated her podium, I could feel our team spirit, her gratitude towards each team member, and I knew I wouldn't remember my 17th place finish but I'd never forget Pauliena's 3rd.
Ashleigh-Moolman-Pasio is a world-class climber and the newest member of CCC-Liv (formerly Waowdeals). She has written a regular blog for Cyclingnews since 2016, touching on topics of gender equality in women’s and men’s professional cycling.