If you told Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio last year she'd be winning a bike race up Mont Ventoux her response would have likely been a confused one. She probably would have also expected to not be talking about her victory via video link, beamed into the homes of journalists moments after stepping off her turbo.
The South African CCC-Liv rider put on a masterclass as she dispensed with the entire field and finally the yellow jersey of Sarah Gigante (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) up the mythical French climb on stage five of the virtual Tour de France.
Moolman-Pasio says she'd written off any chance of achieving the same feat in real-life, of a women's Tour de France that wasn't contested by pixellated versions of themselves. Until this year that is, with the coronavirus break seeming to have pushed the cause close to making the leap from virtual reality, to reality.
"Well, it sounds like it's in the pipeline," Moolman-Pasio says of a women's Tour de France."I must say, if I'm totally honest, I'm really surprised at how ASO has really embraced the opportunity that the virtual world presents. Until this year I suppose I would have felt like I'd kind of written off the Tour de France. That if there was an opportunity we'd have to create it for ourselves. But I must say I'm quite blown away and surprised in the way that ASO and the Tour de France have embraced us, the women, in this Tour de France."
It's even in the smallest ways that Moolman-Pasio is noticing changes that nevertheless have significance.
"Even their Twitter feed, they're including us, which they've never done before. So usually, for example, with the La Course races, there's always been a La Course Twitter feed and there's never been any interaction between the Tour de France social media and the La Course social media. So to actually get exposure on all their platforms, I think, is pretty amazing.
"And I've no doubt that it has a lot to do with the fact that Zwift has placed a huge priority on equality and so I think that's just evidence that when you have one brand that's powerful, especially in this time, and they place a priority on women's sport, that really gives us a huge leg up. I think it's a great opportunity for women's cycling."
One big change for women's cycling in 2020 is the first-ever Paris-Roubaix for the female peloton. This is another thing that Moolman-Pasio says came out of the blue.
"That came as a huge surprise to be honest, it's not something I was expecting any time soon, nevermind this year," she said. "I must say hats off to our UCI President, I think he played a huge role in putting pressure on ASO to do a Paris-Roubaix for us, so I think the women's peloton is definitely hungry for the challenge."
While everything looks to be heading in the right direction, there is still a long way to go, with world champion Annemiek van Vleuten publicly criticising this year's La Course route, saying the 96km parcours featuring just one category three climb is hardly a WorldTour level race.
"For sure we're going to relish the challenge and do our absolute best to make the most of it. I'm on the race schedule to do that," Moolman-Pasio continues on the subject of Paris-Roubaix. "Of course, at the moment I don't really know exactly what to expect, I know it's a really tough race and totally different to the Tour of Flanders...I'm really looking forward to the challenge."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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