Hill, 24, was discovered by Ralph when the latter needed a partner for last year’s Trans Baviaans, which is a 24-hour mountain-bike marathon race that covers 230km from Willowmore.
“She found me when she went down a list of people who were available to race with her. Every person she chose said they could either not go, were sick or busy,” said Hill.
“I think I was fourth of fifth on the list. Vanessa Bell eventually gave her my number and when I saw this I was like ‘What! Theresa Ralph wants to race with me?’ It was crazy. I couldn’t believe she saw potential in me.”
That was the first time the two raced together, and they did it well.
“Racing for 10 hours and 41 minutes straight really builds a lot of character between two people.”
Regardless of their 19-year age difference, Hill felt they were an excellent fit.
“We complement each other on opposite sides of the spectrum. Theresa is like a diesel engine; she can go and go and go.
“In return, I’m able to assist her with handling skills. I studied at Brevard College in North Carolina, America, and we lived in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest where I raced downhill, slalom and cross country in mud, snow and sand. That has given me this amazing skill and tool to help me go faster without pedalling.”
Hill said that was how she taught Ralph, who in turn would teach her by putting her in the red zone while they rode and showing her how to manage leg speed.
“It really feels good to be able to give her something. Racing with someone who is quite a lot stronger than you, you always feel like you’re the nail in a sense.”
Ralph agreed that they were a good fit, saying that she had experience behind her with multiple stage races under her belt, but at the same time could learn from Hill.
“Sarah is quite new on the stage-racing front, but she has me to guide her. She is a strong rider and I can learn from her wonderful technical skills. I love following her down singletrack as it really makes me a lot faster. I also learn from her lines and body position.”
The Galileo Risk pair went on to take overall victory in the women’s race at last month’s joBerg2c mountain-bike stage race.
“It was wonderful, we really got to know each in a non-verbal way too. When you race you are often talking to each other without having to say anything,” Hill said.
“I had her follow me on every technical descent and the amount she improved was outstanding. She leads by example in one sense and I do in another. Both of us are open to learn and that has brought us together and made us a really good fit.”
Hill gave some insights into women’s racing, saying that riding with another lady was very special and she did it for the learning experience and to enjoy adventures together.
“I find that a lot of couples pair up to race in the mixed category and a lot of professionals chase prize money. Are they picking events because they love it or because of the potential to win tons of money?
“I’ve learnt every life skill I have from riding and racing. The best example is how to make decisions under pressure or how to handle a fall. You have to get up and keep going – there’s no one to pick you up. It’s just you and your partner versus the country.”
Hill felt that experiencing it with a woman was very different as their abilities were more matched.
“It’s a great opportunity for women to pair up, be empowered and feel that they are more than mothers or working-class women. They’re not trying to prove anything to anyone. It’s just two ladies having an experience and going on an adventure.”
“What you go through emotionally in a stage race is tough. I feel like women understand each other. In the middle of a joBerg2c stage I burst into tears because my legs were so sore. The way Theresa handled it felt like she was a mother to me and I don’t think I could ever bond with a man like I did with her.”
Hill felt that people often picked partners based on whether they were dating or married to them and not because of their racing style.
She said there was something very powerful between two women getting together and challenging themselves.
“If we get a flat tyre or our chain breaks, we fix it. It’s a great way to feel accountable and it’s very special for women to be on bikes.”
Hill said she hoped to continue growing her relationship with Ralph and to build towards a fantastic first Cape Epic next year.