Flèche Wallonne post-race podium interviews - Elisa Longo Borghini and Ashleigh Moolman

Elisa Longo Borghini before the Flèche Wallonne - Sarah Connolly

Last week I went to the Flèche Wallonne with Hitec Products UCK, and I was lucky enough to be able to interview Hitec's Elisa Longo Borghini, who came second, and Lotto Belisol's Ashleigh Moolman who came third, just after the race, when they'd sprinted neck-and-neck behind winner Marianne Vos.

Elisa Longo Borghini

Elisa Longo Borghini is a 21-year-old Italian, whose second-place at Flèche Wallonne is culmination of an excellent Spring Classics season that has included winning the Trofeo Alfredo Binda World Cup, and coming fourth in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. We spoke while we were waiting for the men's race to finish, at the top of the Mur de Huy.

PdC: Congratulations Elisa! How was the race? Did it go according to plan?

Elisa: The plan was to make the race hard and then I had to be there at the final, so everything had to be decided on the Mur, and I just waited for that.

We wanted to get into the breakaway because every team was in there except us, and when we saw we weren’t there, we wanted to close the gap, or to jump onto the breakaway. In the end we caught it, and I’m very thankful to my team today, because they worked really well and I was very pleased and really wanted to give back to them with a good result – and I hope I did!

PdC: Oh, seeing how happy they were for you at the end, you definitely did!

Elisa: Yeah, it’s a really good ambience in Hitec. We know that everybody has the spirit of sacrifice inside them, and we are really close to each other – and I’m glad for that, and I’m also really happy when I have to work for one of my team-mates, because it was such a great feeling when you know you did your job and your team-mates reach their goal.

PdC: We didn’t know what was happening in the car – we heard Tatiana Guderzo of Cipollini-Giordana had escaped just before Huy, but we didn’t know much more – can you describe the end of the race?

Elisa: In the end Tatiana tried and she did a really good attempt, because she got about 15-20 seconds, and in that moment I did believe she would come to the Mur alone. But then I saw Greenedge and lululemon organising for pulling up the speed and pulling up the pace, I understood that it was impossible for her. But she made a really good attempt.

The last kilometres were really fast, we came into the Mur, and Tiffany [Cromwell of ORICA-AIS] was pulling on the first part of the Mur, and in the end we were six [riders]. Vos started the sprint, she immediately got two metres, so it was more a sprint between two, Moolman and me, than a sprint between three! (laughs)

PdC: It was an amazing experience to ride up the Mur in the car – what’s it like to ride, with all the people?

Elisa: It’s really nice. The only thing I can say is when you are breathing hard, it is not nice to smell the sausages (laughing) but it’s a really nice feeling, because you hear your name from the people who are cheering you, and this makes you even more determined to go hard and go to the finish-line.

PdC: So what does this mean for the World Cup rankings?

Elisa: I actually don’t know yet! It would be amazing to be top 5 at the end of the season.

PdC: And are you riding the next round of the World Cup, in Chong Ming Island?

Elisa: I am! But that’s a race for Chloe, I’m going to race for her.

To find out more about Elisa, make sure you follow her website and twitter - and you can read my interviews with her right her on Podium Café, just before the Trofeo Binda, where we talked about her fantastic 2012 season, and again after her win. And to follow Team Hitec, check out their website, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter.

***

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio

Ashleigh Moolman, after coming third in La Flèche Wallonne

Ashleigh Moolman, just after finishing the Flèche Wallonne - Sarah Connolly

Elisa had outsprinted Ashleigh Moolman of Lotto Belisol for second, and won by half a tire-width. This is Moolman’s third season racing in Europe as one of the new generation of South African women riders in the peloton, and throughout her time here, she’s been well-known for her lovely websites sharing her stories and her enthusiasm for the cycling life, and her upbeat twitter.

I spoke to Ashleigh as she waited in the podium enclosure for the ceremony, and we had a quick chat about the race and the 2013 season from her perspective.


PdC: Third place at the Flèche Wallonne! How does that feel?

Ashleigh: It’s almost like a victory to me! Obviously I was going for the win. I was a little bit disappointed, because it was so close between Elisa and me for second, but the third place is like a win for me, being on the podium is really like a victory – it really is a first for South Africa and Africa, and as proud South African and African ambassador, I feel really proud of myself.

PdC: First African rider on the World Cup podium! That’s beautiful! And Lotto’s been having a really great season so far this year, haven’t you?

Ashleigh: Yeah, we have a lovely team this year. We’re clicking – we’re really bonding well together, and we have a nice mix of girls and some strength – and it’s just wonderful to see riders like Marijn [de Vries] come out of her shell – she had a hard time last year, so it’s nice to see someone like that happy and getting some good results.

PdC: Her results at the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup and Energiewacht Tour ITT have been brilliant – she’s showing what she can do!

Ashleigh: It’s wonderful to see how that how that’s changing her, she’s just feeling so self-confident and it’s really beautiful to see. We really have a nice mix of girls, like Carlee Taylor, and our little young Celine Van Severen today - she was great, she finished 27th which is really wonderful, she’s really young - so we have a nice mix.

PdC: You had a horrible time at the first World Cup of the year, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

Ashleigh: I think maybe I was a bit over-excited at Binda, and the weather… I thought maybe this time I would get ahead, and I had this vision [when she was in the breakaways] that maybe people would cross over and I’d be in a good move – but I think the wind had really got the better of a lot of people at the end, it was just a case of no matter what you wore, you got wet to your core, and I really think I got a bit of hypothermia!

[At this point we stop to watch the finish of the men’s race up the Mur for the final time on the tv screen in the podium enclusure]

PdC: How does it feel, watching that on tv, after you’ve just ridden it yourself?

Ashleigh: It’s wonderful! Flèche Wallonne really is my favourite World Cup. Having all the people here, it really makes sense to have a men’s race and a women’s race on the same day, all the support, and I think we complement each other in terms of racing.

PdC:
And your result - I’m so happy for you!

Ashleigh: As I said, it really feels like a bit of a victory for me, and hopefully things get better. I haven’t been racing all that long in Europe, so it’s all about confidence for me now. What really inspires me is the positive influence I can have, back home in South Africa.

PdC: You’ve always had that, with your twitter, and your blogging and your sites, you’ve always been a good ambassador for the sport. I’m sure you don’t tweet when you’re feeling down, but you always seem to have those happy thoughts.

Ashleigh: That’s something I really strive to do – to see the positive in every situation – there is always something positive, and I think that comes from my first year as a professional in Europe, when I broke my collarbone three times in the space of twelve months, and the only way to try and get through something like that is to try and see the positive in everything, that things happens for a reason, and there is a positive spin for everything, so that’s where it all started [laughs]

PdC:
Can you describe the race from your point of view? When you knew you felt good, and how the end-game was for you.

Ashleigh: It was slightly different this year, with the two big loops and the Mur halfway through. ORICA-AIS were very aggressive today, and it was a case of patience today – just trying to stay patient, to save everything for the last Mur. Marianne attacked literally as it started to flatten off, just 100m to the finish. She’s got such a fast kick, it’s really hard to respond.

I’m slightly disappointed in that I probably should have gone harder on the steep bits, put Marianne under pressure. The first time up the Mur, I did drop her on a steep bit, but it was just my head – I didn’t want to go too hard and blow. And so I’ve learned, and maybe next year…!

You can read Ashleigh’s blog about the race on her website – and you should follow her there and on her twitter – and follow her team Lotto-Belisol’s website and twitter, and like them on facebook.

***

Big thanks to Ash and Elisa for their time – and to Karl Lima, the Hitec manager, for giving me the chance to spend the race with his team. More of my stories and photos of the Flèche Wallonne are here on the Café - part 1, preparing for the race, and part 2, following the race in the team care, and after.

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