Ashleigh looks past Olympic blues
Ashleigh is the type of girl who is always busy. If she isn't cycling or at the gym, she is on her laptop or phone figuring out sponsorship, race calendars, or how to promote women's cycling.
Even when she sits still, you can see her mind is always working. As the interview started, Ashleigh was busy packing for another trip and milling about the house but when I ask about the Olympics, she stopped and sat down. “Everyone thinks I'm going to say it was amazing and everyone thinks it is. It's not all sunshine and rainbows,” she says.
Her blatant honesty took me by surprise because 2012 was Ashleigh's most successful year as a professional cyclist. Claiming multiple stage wins in UCI tours, winning her National and Continental Championships, and making her Olympic debut, she rode her way to 18th in the world rankings. It's even more impressive when you consider that just over two years ago she was ranked 292th.
As a leading member of the Lotto-Belisol Ladies Team, Ashleigh finished second overall in the Tour de l'Ardèche, with two stage wins; fifth in the prestigious Flèche Wallonne World Cup; 10th overall in the Giro Donne; and 12th at World Championships. To top off an impressive year, the number-one ranked female South African road cyclist also made her Olympic debut and finished 16th in the women's road race after making much of the earlier racing on the Box Hill loop.
Despite a palmarès that many would be envious of, when it comes to the Olympics she can't hide her disappointment. "I came in with high expectations and high goals. The aim was to go for a medal, even though it was the first games.
"Last year at this time I was on a high, and so was South African women's cycling, with the approaching Olympics. It was big hype, of course, because the Olympics is such a big event. Just qualifying is a challenge...everyone who qualifies has to go through challenges, but it was more than just personal and physical challenges, there were also challenges in SA team dynamics and the emotional stress of those challenges...
"To really be in it with a proper chance, you don't need the sideline problems."
Ashleigh praised each member of the Olympic team, especially their manager, for trying to keep spirits high but she admits the team struggled to pull together, which left her unable to fully prepare for "the hugeness of the day". Although things didn't go according to plan, she acknowledges her progress and marks the Olympics as the highlight of her career. "I am an Olympian, and that in itself is an achievement."
"In hindsight, it was a successful year," Ashleigh says logically. Although she still isn't completely at peace with her Olympic experience, it isn't stopping her from moving forward. "I'm striving for the top ten," she answers when asked about her seasonal goals. In order to be ranked in the top ten in the world, she will have to have a greater focus on World Cup races, she explains. While World Cup races have never been a focus on her racing calendar, she is feeling positive and looking forward to new challenges. "I don't aim to be mediocre - I aim to be one of the best in the world."
Ashleigh is currently training in South Africa but will return to Europe for the 2013 season. To find out more about Ashleigh, visit ashleighcycling.com.
By Sarah Bonner