Sarah Hill Interview: From paddles to pedals and now a shot at the international circuit

This week we managed to pin down South African rider Sarah Hill to talk about her sporting background and journey into a professional ride with a global team.

sarah hill in a gravel race

Firstly, congrats on the international signing! This didn’t happen overnight however, right? Can you give us a brief background of how it all came about?

Thank you so much! Yes this is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. Something I’ve been working towards for years though! I am thrilled to be able to finally have a chance to consistently race on the international circuit and, in more than one discipline, which is amazing. 

During high school, I was a high-performance rower. We would train almost 10 times a week in-season and I absolutely loved it. In my final year, our coach recommended we jump onto mountain bikes for some cross-training. We would ride once or twice a month on a Friday after school. I quickly realized that although I wasn’t the strongest rower, I was definitely the most agile cyclist. When provincial rowing trials came around, I asked my coach if he thought I would ever be a great rower and he responded honestly, saying ‘no.’ He suggested I try a different sport because he could see my passion for training and racing. So I chose mountain biking… 

I spent six months riding and racing all the mountain bike races I could. Switched out my takkies for cleats, upgraded my helmet and really started embracing the sport. I began at Thaba Trails in JHB South and quickly dived into the Barberton Marathon. Due to me already being 18, I was automatically slotted into the elite category! I used all my results and created a huge motivation for my applications to Universities in the USA. With the help of Carol Austin, we managed to get me into Lees McRae College, in North Carolina. I started in August 2012 with my BA Psychology. I quickly realized that the amount of snow in the tiny town of Banner Elk was a bit too much for me, and opted to transfer to a University further south called Brevard College. I fell in love with the Pisgah National Forest and my fellow classmates. There was something so special about that place that I didn’t want to leave! Subsequently starting my second degree, my BSc Exercise Science. 

sarah hill in a mountain bike race in stellenbosch
Sarah in action at Coetzenburg in 2020.

The Collegiate Cycling Program is outstanding in the USA. They provided me with the opportunity to race all disciplines… track, road, criteriums, team time trials, cyclocross, Marathon, cross country, enduro, cross country, slalom, team relay, and downhill! I loved them all, but found a particular interest in the Omnium Category (Cross Country, Short Track, Slalom, and Downhill). I wanted to win the D1 Category at Collegiate National Champs, and spent so much time focusing on being a versatile athlete that could shift bikes and still perform. All the while committing to the dynamic cyclist dream, our head coach at the time was heavily involved with Giant USA. Through him, I got to know the Liv Cycling USA brand ambassadors who would often come into town with their demo fleet. I would grab every opportunity I could to ride their bikes, and in the end, managed to buy a cross country and trail bike through them. I loved everything the brand stood for, and I think that is what planted the seed. 

When I touched down in South Africa after graduating in December 2016, I already knew I wanted to go back to the USA, I just didn’t know when, or how. I wanted to pursue a career in the cycling industry, and I began taking my training and racing more seriously. Now that I had great handling skills, my confidence on the bike was there, it was just the fitness aspect that I needed to focus on. I decided to write a motivation for Liv Cycling South Africa, because I loved the brand and noticed they didn’t have any “professional females” on the RSA Circuit. They were interested in my journey, and I am so grateful that they saw potential in me (just like the USA University did). It was a risk for both places to invest so heavily in me, but I took the opportunity with both hands and just kept chasing my dreams. During this time, I also began coaching and after a couple years I was picked up by The Threshold Coaching, and we now coach athletes all over the world. 

In August 2017, Theresa Ralph sent me a message asking me if I’d like to race Transbaviaans with her. I nearly fell off my bike when I realized it was THE Theresa Ralph (now my best friend and ultimate teammate). Of course I replied YES! And then went and quickly googled what this “Transbaviaans” race was. Needless to say I nearly had a heart attack when I realized I just said yes to a 230km race. When I asked what position we were going to aim for, she responded “we are going to win!” Man, I was so afraid, but inspired at the time! We went out and I raced my heart out, T supported me through the entire race, and we finished up the first women in a time of 10hr39min. The longest I had EVER been on a bicycle.

Her sponsor, Galileo Risk liked our partnership and with some motivation, I officially joined Theresa forming the Galieo Risk Cycling Team in 2018. It gave me so much purpose to now belong to a cycling team. I embraced every second of it and came into Transbaviaans the following year breaking the women’s record with Theresa with a time of 8hr58min. After that race, something clicked in my mindset, and I finally believed that I was actually capable of being something in this sport. 2019 was my breakthrough year. Again, racing alongside Theresa, we were hot on the heels of our competition, and won three massive stage races (African Leaders Jersey at the UCI ABSA Cape Epic, JoBerg2C Elite Women’s Category, and the UCI Cape Pioneer Stage Race). I felt the passion brew inside of me, and when I qualified to race at World Marathon Champs in Switzerland I was jumping out of my skin with excitement. I had dreamed of racing abroad, and this was my chance! Finishing up in 26th place at my first world champs at my first attempt of 3000m climbing in 75km was incredibly motivating. I absolutely could not wait for what was to come. Covid was definitely not on the list haha!!

Tell us a bit more about the Team Liv ethos and why you are such a fan of the brand and team?

Liv is the only comprehensive cycling brand dedicated solely to women. In everything they do, they put women first. —- need I say more!? This brand went above and beyond to invest in my future. From the demo days in the USA to the community they created around the female riders. They provided all kinds of support, something I have never seen or experienced with any other brand. It made me want to get involved and Liv the lifestyle. I was inspired by this brand to be the best version of myself through everything they stood for. Our community is global, wherever I traveled in the world, there was a Liv Ambassador there to be my tour guide through the local trails. We are a global family and I absolutely love it! There were years where we were approached by different cycling brands, but they could never offer the same level of global connection like Liv does.

What are your goals for the year and how are you dealing with the uncertainty around racing and traveling?

Currently I am focusing on two aspects of my training. A huge foundation for the upcoming gravel races, and then sharpening in preparation for the two World Cup XCO races in May. With the two disciplines being on opposite ends of the scale, it made me and my coach get quite creative with our preparation. With my British passport, I should be allowed access to Europe, it’s just the USA we are waiting for. Holding thumbs the travel ban lifts any day now!

Has your training changed much since signing with the team?

I have had a huge motivation increase since being signed with Liv Factory Racing. I knew I needed to step up my training, especially because my calendar now included 100+mile events! We have slowly increased the load in comparison to previous years, but other than that not much has changed. I have noticed personally how my dedication to my training is unbreakable… so if it rains and I have to ride 5hrs, I do it, and do it with a smile on my face haha! Currently I am at the end of my base block, slowly transitioning into Build Blocks. We don’t want to peak completely in May, as there are still many more races to come! World Gravel and Marathon Champs are on the cards, as well as the ABSA Cape Epic in October. So it’s a balancing act to prepare the body to perform at the right time. 

You’ll be racing various disciplines right? What are you most looking forward to?

Yes! Short Track, Cross Country, Marathon, Marathon Stage and Gravel — I would say that I am extremely intrigued by the Gravel scene in the USA. It is MASSIVE! Something that I am learning about and focusing a lot of my training into right now. I am excited to dip my toes into a new discipline! To be honest, when I look at the above discipline, my heart flutters at the idea of all of them. Just having this opportunity to race at an international level for every single one makes me jump with excitement. I will be traveling the world with new teammates who will become my family away from home. I couldn’t feel more ready for this at this stage of my life. I absolutely cannot wait.

All the best for the new adventures!

Thank you so much. @sarahhillrsa

| IMAGES: Facebook |

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