Sarah Hill overcame several challenges to win the final Trailseeker event of the year in Cullinan, Gauteng, today.
The Galileo Risk rider finished the 70km mountain-bike marathon in 2:48:26 ahead of Johandri Leicester (2:52:58) and Faye Darby (3:09:28).
Hill said having just finished what she viewed as the biggest stage race of the year – Wines2Whales – last weekend, her body was “absolutely exhausted” going into the Trailseeker.
“I knew I was [heading] to this race but all my training and build-up was for Wines2Whales,” she said.
“We are at the end of our season and you can ask any of the pros that we need time off, especially with the kind off demands we have [on us] to race so many events in a year.”
She said a big challenge was ensuring she recovered both physically and mentally in time for the Trailseeker.
“I find that the more races I do, the harder it is to fight for places because your body just says ‘I am tired and I need a break’. Luckily, my coach John Wakefield really helped me as I [prepared] for this race.”
Another hurdle for Hill was realising during the race that the course was not really suited to her strengths.
“I had to come to terms with the fact that this was going to be a hectic time-trial. My strength lies in the very, very technical parts of racing such as the downhills and technical rocky uphills.”
She said the route consisted of 15% single-track and 85% of either road or gravel sections.
“When we got to the first road area I realised ‘this is exactly what I am not good at’ and you kind of feel that stress of ‘am I going to get caught if I go too early?’.”
She added that due to being young and a fairly new competitor in the elite field of cycling she started to doubt herself and her moves in the race. In the end she overcame this by staying consistent and telling herself “I am strong enough to pull away and I have done this before”.
“My partner Theresa [Ralph] has made me suffer behind her for so long and in so many events leading up to this moment. So, playing on those experiences I had from previous races made it easier for me to sit in that burning position and not hold back.”
Hill said she was delighted with her win even though she missed having all the other pro women with her at the start.
“It was a bit weird being there [the start of the race] not really knowing anybody and [without] the usual company that I am used to.”
She said the win did not come easily. She had to put in a lot of hard work, but thanks to her consistency she was rewarded with the victory.
“[At the start] I felt like I had a huge target on my back. It is always intimidating starting a race where people know you are a potential winner.”
As the women’s field started, everyone stayed behind her. “There was the odd occasion of one or two ladies coming to help in the front but this did not last very long,” she said.
According to Hill, the group broke up at around 5km into race. She said as soon as more corners were encountered she accelerated to help break the group up further.
The first climb was quite technical and since it was a long race Hill said she did not want to burn all her matches too early.
“Leicester managed to stay with me up the very first climb, which was still very early in the race. She was holding on nicely and even came ahead of me in the beginning, but with the first technical descent I just decided I needed to let the brakes go and came around her to build up a gap.”
At that point Hill felt she needed to accelerate to increase her lead.
“My teammate Theresa really helped me prepare for this race and she said if I want to kind of have a chance I need to find that moment and just embrace it. So that is exactly what I did and it worked.”
Hill, who hails from Johannesburg, said even though she knew most of the other pro women cyclists such as Samantha Sanders, Amy McDougall and Robyn de Groot were not going to be at the final Trailseeker event, she did not come to the race thinking it would be easy.
“I did [however] come with the goal of ‘this is my opportunity to do it and my best chance of the year to win a Trailseeker’.”
She added that 2018 had been her first year on the circuit and she really wanted to thank all the pro women, especially Sanders, McDougall, De Groot, Ralph and Venessa Bell for making her a stronger cyclist.
“These girls have supported and taught me so much this year. I could not have done it [win a Trailseeker] without them.
“We are such good friends and the competition among us is so positive. We make each other faster with every race and I look forward to seeing them again.”
“Theresa and I are also doing the Cape Epic next year. So we are training super hard and we are really looking forward to giving the Cape Epic a good go!”