Ashleigh Moolman Pasio pulled on the rainbow jersey on her 35th birthday on Wednesday - or at least her avatar did - and while the new Esports World Champion sees a long-term future for herself in the virtual world, she still has unfinished business in the real one.
In fact, the South African feels that, despite a successful 11-year career in which she has consistently been one of the leading figures in the women’s peloton, there is still unfulfilled potential.
She has 41 wins to her name, but when you consider that less than half of them have come in Europe and none in the WorldTour or its previous incarnation, she is lacking that major victory among the sea of podiums and top 10s.
Part of the reason, she explained in the aftermath of her Esports Worlds win, was the UCI’s minimum bike weight, which forces her to have more bike than she really needs for her 5-foot-3-inch frame.
"I think it’s pretty outdated," she said of the rule, which doesn’t exist in virtual racing. "For a small rider like myself, it really does count against me."
That rule is here to stay but the other reason for the unfulfilled potential is about to be addressed. Moolman Pasio will move to the SD Worx team, currently known as Boels Dolmans, in 2021, joining the likes of world champion Anna van der Breggen and former world champion Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak.
The Dutch squad are renowned for their strength in depth and the way they use their numbers to race flexibly, which will come as a contrast to the outright leadership role she has had for the past two years at CCC-Liv, and before that at Bigla.
"The luxury of not being the only leader, and having a couple of riders that can win the race, does kind of take pressure off. It allows one the opportunity to race really freely," Moolman Pasio said.
"In previous years, my experience has been that I’m the sole leader for certain races, and although I handle pressure pretty well, it does mean that perhaps sometimes one doesn’t take the chance to lose, if that makes sense.
"Because you’re putting everything into the win, you maybe don’t risk losing. Sometimes taking the risk to lose means you win in a really impressive manner, because you’re not scared of losing."
Moolman Pasio has signed a two-year deal, and reiterated that they will be the final two years of her career. Motherhood is part of the plan - which is where racing from home starts to make more sense than being on the road for much of the year - and she’s determined to go out on a high.
"In terms of what I want to achieve on the road, I just want to use this two-year window as an opportunity to be the best cyclist I can possibly be," she said.
"I think often I’ve maybe not achieved those really big results in terms of WorldTour wins because I raced too cautiously, so I just want to go out there and really have fun, do my best, and yeah, I hope to eventually get a WorldTour win - that’d be a big goal for me."
Moolman Pasio has already started working with her new team, with a first team meeting conducted virtually and a social ride on Zwift to come on Thursday. She’ll meet her new coaches and teammates face-to-face in Spain in early January on a training camp ahead of what she hopes will be a "normal" season amid the ongoing pandemic.
"It's strange because normally we'd be on camp right now," she said. "I finished my season with Flanders then took a three-week break and got back into training, which has given me five or six weeks back on bike. I’ve been really excited for the new team - it really is a dream come true. It’s great opportunity to race alongside Anna and all the others.
"I’m looking forward to that and also to a somewhat normal season. I’m hoping the season can start as normal in February. The season re-start this year indicates it’ll be possible. It did run its course through to the Vuelta, so that was a good sign.
"I’m looking forward to that, but I’ll also have to find some time to wear that rainbow jersey in the virtual world where I can."
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