Moolman-Pasio wins elite women's inaugural Esport World Championships

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) won the inaugural ESport World Championships in a thrilling two-up sprint to the finish line against Sarah Gigante (Australia) at the top of Zwift’s steep KOM ascent on the virtual world of Watopia. The pair broke away in the closing metres of the 900-metre ascent finishing ahead of Cecilia Hansen (Sweden) and Lauren Stephens (USA).

"It was really awesome. I wasn’t a fan of virtual training before the lockdown, but lockdown really converted me. To win the virtual world champion jersey - I’m super proud," Moolman-Pasio said.

"I was feeling confident. My coach, and my new director Danny Stam [SD Worx manager], both of them said to me, 'don’t kill yourself,' but as a competitive person, it's very difficult not to go all out. During this part of the season, I have been doing quite a bit of Vo2 max work, and on this Zwift course, so I knew what was coming and I felt confident on that last climb.

"I know that virtual cycling, and esports, is something quite new but I think it will become a big thing. I'm proud to be the first-ever esports world champion. Of course, there will be some that say it’s not the same and it’s not as impressive, but in time more and more will convert, and they will enjoy it. I think the younger generation is really behind esport, so there’s plenty more to come in the esports world, and I’m very proud to be part of that movement."

There were 54 women on the virtual start line for the inaugural Esport World Championships, including double road and time trial world champion Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), former world champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands), and former Zwift Academy winners Tanja Erath (Germany) and Ella Harris (New Zealand). Also on the start line were Annika Langvad (Denmark), 14-time Paralympic gold winner Sarah Storey (Great Britain), Lisa Brennauer (Germany), climber Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (South Africa), and virtual Tour de France winner Lauren Stephens (USA).

The women’s and men’s fields raced 50km on the Figure-8 Reverse course on the fictional Zwift island of Watopia. The total elevation gained was 483 metres with a total of four climbs, two times up each of the Zwift KOM reverse (2.5km at 1.8 per cent) and the Zwift KOM (0.9km at 5 per cent), with the finish located at the top of the second time up the KOM.

The only power-ups available to use during the inaugural event were the Aero powerup and the Lightweight powerup. Aero makes you more aerodynamic for a 15-second spell, useful for a sprint or attack, while Lightweight reduces your weight by 10 per cent for 15 seconds, which will come in handy on the climbs.

The live streaming started for the women’s race when they were roughly 17km into the racing, but a 30-strong front group had established itself with Stephens, Erath, Moolman-Pasio, Langvad, Sarah Gigante (Australia) and Shayna Powless and Kristin Faulkner, (USA), Georgia Simmerling (Canada), Hannah Ludwig (Germany), and Cecilia Hansen (Sweden).

Surprisingly, the Dutch team of Van der Breggen, Van Vleuten, and Wild, along with Brennauer and Storey, had lost contact with the main field early on and remained in the chase group over a minute behind.

The first proper attack out of the front group came from Dani Christmas (Great Britain), at close to 5w/kg with 19km to go. She had four compatriots in the main field behind with Anna Henderson, Louis Bates, Megan Barker and Elinor Barker. The move didn’t last long and she was back in the bunch a kilometre later.

Jacquie Godbe (USA) used her featherweight to surge ahead of the field at the start of the KOM, forcing the field to up the pace on the lower slopes, but no one was dropped. Kristen Kulchinsky (USA) was the next to attack further up the climb, followed by her teammate Courtney Nelson over the top.

Back together on the descent, inside 10km to go, the field raced along Ocean Boulevard followed by a gravel section and the non-categorised shallow hill, where many riders used their featherweight power-up to stay with the field ahead of the final climb.

Godbe made another attack followed by Moolman-Pasio inside 2km to go, but the field hit the base of the Zwift KOM, a short distance at 0.9km but with a 5 per cent gradient, together. 

It wasn’t long before the powerups were used, the first was Christie Tracy (USA), who gained a four-second gap on the field, pushing 5w/kg. Moolman-Pasio surged with an attack of 10w/kg followed by Gigante at 8w/kg, and the pair took off with 300 metres to go.

Moolman-Pasio put in another dig on the climb but Gigante sat on her wheel and wasn’t able to come around Moolman-Pasio, with the South African rider taking the inaugural ESport world title on her birthday, while Hansen pipped Stephens to take the bronze medal.

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Brief Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) 1:13:27
2Sarah Gigante (Australia)
3Cecilia Hansen (Sweden) 0:00:01
4Lauren Stephens (USA)
5Jacquie Godbe (USA)
6Annika Langvad (Denmark)
7Laura Matsen Ko (USA) 0:00:02
8Emma Belforth (Sweden)
9Kristen Kulchinsky (USA) 0:00:05
10Bre Vine (Australia) 0:00:06

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