Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (South Africa) knows the powerful four-rider Dutch squad probably better than anyone else competing in the elite women's road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. At various points throughout her career she has been teammates with all of them and will use her knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses to her advantage as she pursues a medal in the event held on July 25.
"Interestingly enough, I know the Dutch team very well. I’ve been teammates with all of them; Annemiek van Vleuten on Bigla, Marianne Vos on CCC-Liv, and currently Anna van der Breggen and Demi Vollering on SD Worx," Moolman Pasio said.
"Of course, it does help. We got to know each other really well because when you race week-in and week-out together, you learn a lot about each other as riders; weaknesses and strengths.
"The same exists for them as well. They have insight into me as a rider, too. I see it as an advantage and I'll need to lean on every bit of knowledge and instinct to get a result."
There will be 67 athletes competing in the elite women's road race that include dominant nations in the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Each will field four riders, while all other nations will field between one to three riders in the road race.
Moolman Pasio will represent South Africa on a two-rider team with teammate Carla Oberholzer, who she will rely on as a support rider during the women's road race. Moolman Pasio believes the lower number of riders per team at the Olympic Games (compared to the World Championships) works in her favour.
"We have two spots. It influences tactics with two-rider teams in comparison to four-rider teams. If I have to be totally honest, the Olympic Games is better for me, if we think of things like statics; two-rider vs a four-rider team is a much smaller difference than a two-rider team vs a nine-rider team, which can often happen at the World Championships," she said.
"I’m quite happy that the team limit is four and that goes against what the general consensus of the stronger nations that are fighting for bigger six-rider teams and a bigger peloton. I can’t dispute that because cycling is a team sport and a better reflection of how we usually operate in normal races.
"As a smaller nation like South Africa, that isn’t as developed as the bigger nations like Holland and Italy, [smaller teams] helps me as an established member of the peloton. I’m always at a disadvantage when I start against a nine-rider team at the World Championships, for example. The reality is that the responsibility will rely on the bigger cycling nations, and on the Dutch, as the team to beat here in Tokyo."
The elite women's 137km road race will start from Musashinonomori Park and end at the Fuji International Speedway. The women's course will not go over Mt. Fuji like the men's but will include climbs over Donushi Road and Kagosaka Pass, and there will be 2,692 metres of elevation gain. Moolman Pasio expects a race of attrition over the mid-race climbs followed a Classics-style punchy race closer toward the speedway.
"Tokyo doesn’t have one particular point that you can say the race will happen. There are a couple of points in the race where things could happen. There are 2,500-metres of elevation gain but obviously not Mt Fuji or the other steep final climb the men have," she said.
"Our gradual long climb out of Tokyo will take its toll and it will be a race of attrition during that early part. It will be selective in and of it self, the peloton will get smaller and smaller and then on the latter part of that climb, we have a pass, drop down to the lake and enter the speedway, which is similar to a Classics-style race with short punchy climbs and more technical.
"I think it will be an exciting race, and not one that you can predict easily. It will reveal itself. In the final part of the race, I will be on my own, but I’m not afraid of that."
Moolman Pasio has been a contender in mountainous stage races and Spring Classics for the better part of a decade. She recently secured her first stage win at the Giro d'Italia Donne on the queen stage 9 to the summit of Monte Matajur. Her trade team SD Worx swept the top three spots in the overall classification with Anna van der Breggen securing her fourth title, Moolman was second and Vollering third overall.
Moolman Pasio heads into the elite women's road race with confidence and she will give her best effort to secure a medal for South Africa.
"I’m going out there to give it my absolute best, to race my race, and at the end of the day, whatever the result might be, I want to feel satisfied with what I gave. Hopefully that results in a medal, and that would be a dream come true," she said.
Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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