Ashleigh Moolman on Rio, Rio and Rio!

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So word on the street is that you’re on your way to your 2nd Olympics, how does that feel? 

The Olympic Games is a very special event to me, it’s something that I have always dreamed and aspired to take part in since I was a child. It was a dream come true to represent South Africa in the London Olympic Games, although it was quite an overwhelming experience. I’d only ever represented South Africa once before at the end of 2011 at the World Championships in Copenhagen and then went straight into the Olympic Games. The World Championships are big for people that are interested in cycling but when it comes to the Olympics it’s a different level, it’s a whole country that are behind the athletes. I think that’s what makes the Olympics so special to me, it’s more about unifying people through sport than necessarily performing. All countries come together and it’s just one big festival of sport.

We noticed that you recently visited Rio with your husband, what were you guys up to? 

We went to Rio to do a course recon and to get a feeling for Rio itself, the climate and what we can expect. It was good to ride on the course and familiarise ourselves with the city. It’s quite chaotic, traffic is a big issue and there’s a lot of energy there. Of course when the Olympics arrive it’s going to be 10 times busier so it’s good to sometimes mentally prepare yourself for what to expect. It’s important when aiming for a result in any event to be able to visualise the course and to have seen and experienced it.

You’re currently in great form with a podium finish in the overall GC at the Women’s Tour. How was that for you? Are you happy with your form and training in the run up to Rio? 

It’s no secret that I had a really tough start to the season with a lot of bad luck, injuries, illness and misfortunes of any kind, so I’m really happy that things are coming together now. It was tough to get through the challenges at the beginning of the season but it was also a good mental exercise. I’m really happy with where I am at the minute having just come off a really good training block. I won the Auensteiner Radsporttage race in Germany and went onto the Aviva Women’s Tour where I took a good result, all of which is being used in preparation for the games. I’ve had some fun and experimented a little bit with different racing styles and I feel like I’m in a good place going forward with the rest of the season.

Last season you made history being the first South African rider to finish within the top 10 overall UCI world rankings, pretty much guaranteeing you a place on the Olympic squad. Has that put more pressure on you this season?

After finishing the London Olympic Games and being quite overwhelmed, I realised if I want to stand a chance at performing at an Olympic Games that it’s a four year process. I made the conscious decision when I crossed the finish line in London that I wanted to really plan ahead and to use the full four year period to build up to the next games.

That’s essentially why my husband and I have made the commitment to base ourselves for at least 7 months of the year in Europe and for me to race here week in and week out. This has been a huge factor in allowing me to grow and strengthen year to year, with the intention always to eventually crack the top 10 work ranking.

In the year preceding the Olympic Games I couldn’t have asked for anything better. In order to take the pressure off a little bit this year, I made the decision to race as much as possible in 2015 because that’s when the points started to come for the Olympics. I didn’t want to feel pressure during the first part of the season, although I didn’t intend on having as much bad luck! Even with all that bad luck that I’ve never dropped out of the top 10 rankings.

What is the current situation with the South African Olympic selection? There are always some pretty controversial reports on Olympic selection criteria. What are your thoughts on the selection process? 

In South Africa it’s relatively uncomplicated because we still are a country thats a developing cycling nation and a lot of depth is still needed for its development. I don’t envy any selectors when it comes to the Olympics!

They’re only going to really release the team mid July and I’m still not sure who will fill that position. The two riders that are contesting that spot are both taking part in the Giro so I think it will eventually come down to that. I suppose the stand out one is An-Li Pretorius who is the current National Champion.

Although by country ranking we have qualified three riders, there is a clause in the Olympic selection criteria for individuals that haven’t qualified by country ranking. They subtract places away from the country ranking so we have lost a spot and are now sending two riders.

What have you taken from London 2012 to Rio 2016? Is there anything that you learnt first time around that you have done / will do differently this time around? 

The London Games were a very overwhelming experience, I think the biggest factor for me was that I’d only ever raced once representing South Africa. London was next level, the support for the women’s road race was incredible. I hadn’t had the chance to mentally prepare or process how huge the event was going to be. Even down to the restrictions on you as an athlete, the Olympic Village is virtually a glorified prison! There was so much security to get in and out and it was so difficult to see family members and even my husband before the race. My husband is a huge part of my career so it was quite difficult.

This time round I feel a lot better prepared, I’ve got a lot more experience in the bank. I’ve taken part in lots of events with huge crowds and learned to block out the noise. 

With just over 30 days until the Olympics begin, have you changed your training in anyway? A little bit more time on Rocacorba maybe? 

I haven’t really changed training too much, it’s good to keep routine and consistency. I have another South African coach, Dr Jeroen Swart, who is involved in the scientific part of my training which along with my husband Carl has been a great combination. I’m also making sure I don’t overdo it in terms of racing.

With training aspects it’s always easy to control your fatigue on a day to day basis but when racing it’s not always that easy with all of the travelling and other stresses. Other than that it’s just good old hard training, consistency, altitude and yes a little bit more time on Rocacorba! It shares many similarities with the Olympic climbs.

Last but not least, we have you down as one of the pre race favourites. Who do you think are your main competition? 

The Rio course is quite a selective course, it is hard. There are quite a few riders that I see as contenders; Kasia Niewiadoma comes first to mind, along with Elisa Longo Borghini and Megan Guarnier. Of course Lizzie Armitstead has been very vocal that it is a goal for her and she is a girl with match temperaments so of course she will be a main contender. I can’t rule Marianne Vos out either, as she is defending champion.

By Emily Brammeier