Ashleigh Moolman Pasio has mostly been riding from home this year - but one devoted fan has been intently watching her every move.
"Luna is very supportive of my esports!" says the South African with a smile. She is speaking via Zoom from her home - and cuddling her spaniel puppy, who has been thrilled to have her at home for the majority of 2020.
"She is my biggest fan. She's the most chill person in the house when I'm riding - she finds a comfy spot on the couch and patiently waits for me to finish."
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Moolman Pasio has fulfilled the prediction of her husband Carl, a competitive triathlete, who told her soon after they met that she could be a world champion cyclist.
The 35-year-old ends a very unusual sporting year as the esports world champion, a discipline she never imagined she would go into. In fact, she tried Zwift out as a training technique a few years back, and it didn't work for her at all.
After all, she has made a career as a hugely talented road cyclist, winning bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and finishing on the podium at a clutch of prestigious races, including the 2018 Giro, the 2016 Women's Tour, and consistently at the Emakumeen Euskal Bira. She is also a six-time national champion - a title she currently holds.
But when Europe began to lock down because of Covid, she was left with some choices to make - should she go home to South Africa to escape the restrictions or stay at her home in Spain, even though she wasn't able to train in the beautiful outdoor setting of Girona she was used to? With an indoor training set-up left over from that previous trial, she stayed put.
"Now I was thrown into the deep end," she admits. "You either become negative and end up sitting on the couch and let the year completely fall through your fingers, or get your mind right and let's give this a go. Initially, the Olympic Games was quite a big motivation, because that was still going to happen [when Spain locked down in March].
I was never really an indoor cycling fan because I've always found indoor cycling that much harder! I'm a numbers-oriented person, I'm a perfectionist when it comes to that, so I found it really hard to maintain the same numbers in indoor training as I could on the road. I had a conversation with my coach and he said to me that it is reality that indoor training is that much harder, especially initially, before you've adjusted your threshold power - let's be smart about how we do your training, instead of doing it all in one go, let's do double sessions. He was really helpful and supportive.
"The first interval session I did was quite a negative experience! This is so hard! How am I going to do this? And then the next day I joined a group ride with some other pros on Zwift, and the world started opening up to me."
As a chemical engineer by training before coming to cycling later on, Moolman Pasio likes to work with data. Indeed, that was how she got into professional cycling - on the suggestion of her now-husband, as a university student she approached teams to see if they would take her on. Unwilling to take on such a novice with no real resume, one acknowledged her persistence by allowing her to take a power test - and the results were so impressive that within minutes of submitting the data they phoned to sign her up.
And as she kept trying with indoor cycling during lockdown - and enjoyed the completely new social aspect of training - she found her numbers improving.
"First week [training indoors] I had terrible DOMS, my legs were really sore," she counts off. "Second week they were just as sore! Third week I took a little bit of an easier week and fourth week I really felt an adjustment. I saw my numbers improving and I was able to hold similar numbers to on the road. My body was adjusting. The social aspect of it also made it that much more worthwhile and entertaining.
"During what was one of the hardest lockdowns in the world, here in Spain, my training became more social than it had ever been before."
Moolman Pasio wasn't entirely sure about entering Zwift races, even though the performance tests were showing how well she was doing on the courses.
"It was super-intimidating at the beginning," she admits. "There was an established league and I was invited to guest-ride on another team, and they had to really persuade me. The watts per kilograms that they were averaging were something that seemed impossible to me."

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio happy with 'smooth' win after previous technical issues

She won her first Zwift race - and found that her experience as a road racer helped her navigate the course.
"What's interesting is it finished up a climb in Zwift that I'd raced in real life before. It's amazing what they've done in terms of imitating how realistic it is. In real life I knew this one corner that was really steep was a perfect place for an attack, I did that in real life, and I did that in the game as well - that's where I got away and I won the race solo."
And next year, she'll be back on the road, aiming for the Olympics - and also hopes to defend her virtual crown.
"I'm still a road cyclist first and foremost. That is my priority, and the Olympic Games are a huge priority. I have acknowledged that esports and training on a platform like Zwift does complement preparations for the road, so I do see a way in which they can go hand in hand. Now things have changed a little bit. I'm the esports world champion - I'm more eager to race online as well.
"I'd made it quite public I'd signed a two-year contract with SD Worx and it's the last two-year contract I'll be signing - the reality is I'm not getting any younger and I would like to start a family, so although my road career might be coming to an end, my esports career has only just started!"
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