Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) finished second in the Giro d'Italia Femminile that finished in Cividale del Friuli on Sunday, becoming the first African rider to podium in a Grand Tour. The 32-year-old finished on the podium on three of the 10 stages as well, and was the last rider to be dropped by race winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) on the climb of the Monte Zoncolan.
Finishing a whole 4:12 behind Van Vleuten, a hint of disappointment could have been expected in Moolman-Pasio's voice. But the South African was upbeat when she spoke to Cyclingnews after the podium ceremony and said that she had no regrets looking back at the race as she had tried everything.
"I really gave it everything, even on the last day," Moolman-Pasio said. "I tried many times on the climb. I wanted a stage win at least, but unfortunately it was not to be. Annemiek was exceptionally strong in this Giro, but I am really proud of my second place, and I am really proud of my team. Every girl absolutely gave their best in the stage races this year, and I would not be able to be on the podium without my team."
Moolman-Pasio then continued with a surprising statement, putting a higher priority on the development of her teammates than on her own results.
"This tour is a really tough experience, it is a very emotional experience, every day it is very demanding, and we really have to give everything and do our best," Moolman-Pasio said. "To see the girls become stronger women is what is most important to me. Of course it is nice to win, but the personal development of each rider is more important.
"It is a very important goal for our team to develop young riders, and for me it is really special to see how the young riders become better riders and stronger people. I myself, through my cycling career, have developed a lot as a woman, I have become a stronger person physically and mentally. The life lessons that we learn in cycling are things that can help us through life, even beyond cycling, so that is the most important part of the sport for me."
But Moolman-Pasio readily admitted that the results themselves also held great importance to her, in particular the fact that she was the first African to finish a Grand Tour on the overall podium. [Chris Froome was born in Kenya and raised in South Africa, but always held British nationality and raced under a British license from 2008 - ed.]
"I am really proud of my overall result, and I am also really proud to be the first South African, and actually the first African, to be on a Grand Tour podium," Moolman-Pasio said. "We always talk about the men, and Team Dimension Data always talked about aiming for the first African Grand Tour podium, and I am very proud to be the first and to be a woman. Now we go to La Course and we will see what we can do there."
On the final stage, a strong break of 13 riders was up to three minutes ahead of the peloton for most of the day. Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) turned some heads when she decided to attack 30km from the finish when the breakaway was still about 2:30 ahead, a gap that not even the former world time trial champion could reasonably hope to bridge solo.
Speaking to Cyclingnews after the stage, Van Dijk explained that she had hoped for company on her chase, the intention being that she could function as a relais station for team leader Lucinda Brand on the climb and descent that finished the stage.
"The idea was that I could maybe get some girls with me and get ahead before the climb so that Lucinda could bridge it and attack on the descent towards me," Van Dijk said. "But actually, both did not happen, so I was all alone and felt a little bit alone. It was good training for the time trial, the whole Giro was good training for me. And we achieved more as a team than we could have expected, so we are really happy."
The UCI Women's WorldTour continues on Tuesday, July 18, with the one-day La Course by Le Tour de France. La Course covers 112.5 kilometres in the French Alps between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand with four classified climbs, including two category 1 climbs in the final 40 km.
Many of the Giro Rosa contenders will also line up for this race, and they are joined by the leader of the UCI Women's WorldTour, Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), and former road, cyclo-cross, and mountain bike world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM).