Sarah Hill during the FNB W2W. Photo: Sportograf

Sarah Hill will be partnered by Danielle Strydom for the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales as her usual Galileo Risk teammate, Theresa Ralph is unable to take part. We caught up with the women from up-country to find out how their preparation for one of the Western Cape’s best loved stage races is progressing.


FNB Wines2Whales: Sarah, it’s been a while since you’ve raced with anyone other than Theresa Ralph in an elite women’s team. What is it going to be like racing with Danielle?

Sarah Hill: It has been years since I’ve raced with another woman! It’s a little daunting, as I don’t think I could have as close of a relationship with anyone other than Theresa. We have both grown and matured together as professional athletes in this country, and T has been right next to me through my rapid development in this sport. Saying that, I am really excited to open up a new opportunity for Danielle to race with me at the FNB Wines2Whales. I have learned so much over the past couple of years, that having the opportunity to pay it forward; to an up and coming South African female mountain biker is a chance I could never say no to. I have assisted Danielle quite a few times over the past couple of years, whether it’s with her studying in the USA or meetings with sponsors to help her reach her cycling dreams. Here I have found myself in a position to once again open the door, and I know I would have loved the opportunity at her age! I understand how hard it is to be an individual racing on the South African circuit. Living in a country where stage racing dominates often makes all the other pros link up, leaving you a little stranded!


I am stoked to link up with another ‘youngster’. I am often seen as the small fish amongst all the other professional women, and now there are two of us! Danielle has a very similar riding style to me. She is technically brilliant with a good explosive kick, which will be fun. I am used to Theresa and I joining forces from opposite sides of the scale in terms of strengths on the bike, so it will be interesting linking up with a… well… mini me! Plus, she has long brown hair and a big smile, talk about twinning!


As we come to the end of a fantastic year for Galileo Risk, I am looking forward to racing hard and being a part of the growth in South Africa’s talent. The more insight, experience, and knowledge I can pass on to Danielle, the more tools she will have to thrive in this sport going into next year. I see so much potential in her, and really hope she loves the experience as much as I will!


FNB W2W: Danielle, we don’t get to see a lot of you in the Western Cape. What are you looking forward to most about racing Wines2Whales and how do you think the trails of Elgin will suit you coming from altitude in Gauteng?

Danielle Strydom: Yes, as much as I love the Western Cape, I unfortunately don’t get many chances to visit, however that’s part of the reason why I am so excited to be racing the FNB Wines2Whales! The province is known for its amazing mountain biking trails with their spectacular scenery and I know that the FNB W2W will carry us through the cream-of-the-crop, cherry-picked ones. I cannot wait! It will be my first W2W, but from what I hear from past riders and locals, I’d say that the routes and trails will suit my riding style as I love singletracks and the challenges of climbing. Coming from high altitude (Potchefstroom, North West) I think that I will be able to use this to my advantage riding close to sea level.


FNB W2W: What is the dynamic like, racing with someone you have never teamed up with before? What advice would you give amateur riders in the same situation ahead of W2W?

SH: The dynamic between two women is always a fun one to look at. With so many personalities out there, it’s easy to see how some partnerships may be more difficult than others. Racing with someone new gives you a chance to be open to joining forces. All of us have our own ‘super power’, and it’s important to acknowledge and respect what your partner is bringing to the table. You might not know each other super well, but you have an understanding of their strengths on the bike, and their enthusiasm for the sport. You want to go into a race with the same purpose. What are you both wanting to achieve out of the event, and how will you handle the situations when things may not go according to plan? It’s an opportunity to make a new friend, race as a new team, and find a way to combine your individual strengths to be the fastest you can be together. I absolutely love the process of getting to know someone while racing. I believe your true character comes out and the passion for the sport fuels the two of you to push as hard as you can while soaking in the entire experience.


My Advice:

  • Stay Open and positive.
  • Respect your teammate’s strengths and try use them to make you a faster team.
  • Stay close while racing, always look out for your partner!
  • Communication is key. Check in with them often to see how they are feeling.
  • Make a joke every now and then, point at the view, laugh to ease any tension. They are just as nervous as you are!
  • High five them on every finish line and compliment their strong points during the race. Without it you two wouldn’t have been as fast.
  • Embrace the change, and enjoy your own personal growth while adapting to a new personality and partnership.


DS: We have the advantage of having raced against each other in previous races and based off of that, we both could agree that we have similar riding styles which will be greatly to our benefit. Instead of partners challenging each other I think that the two of us will complement each other more and encourage each other’s stronger points whilst helping with the weaker points as well.


For other riders teaming up for the first time, my advice would be to have an honest conversation before the race and during the race about your strengths and weaknesses. That way you will be able to figure out who should be the leader and who should be the follower on specific sections of the race and also to understand when your partner needs a helping hand and vice versa. There is no shame in being weaker in some areas and stronger in others, not everyone is the same and clearing up these differences will be so important during the race to prevent possible frustrations and bonks.


FNB W2W: It looks like the 2019 W2W Chardonnay race could feature the most competitive elite women’s field in the event’s 11-year history. Who do you see as your main rivals?

SH: Wow! Would you look at that women’s field! (Ariane Lüthi & Samara Sheppard, Candice Lill & Adelheid Morath, Barbara Benko & Mariske Strauss, Robyn de Groot & Amy McDougall, Jennie Stenerhag & Nadine Rieder, Katie Lennard & Laura Stark, and Alice Pirard & Sabine Spitz) I am so excited to be on the start line with these women. Not only are they an inspiration, but they are all globally leaving their mark at every race they show up to. I have learned so much from each of them, and believe I am where I am because of how much each of them believed in me. We all talk about how we are going to grow the women’s fields in South Africa, and Danielle and I are examples of how their efforts have worked. From encouragement, to on the bike advice, training sessions or pre-riding courses; we have built a tight female community in this country that I am honoured to be a part of.


Okay, so enough admiring them! If I were to look at where Danielle and I are at this point in the year, I would say that we will be biting at the heels of whoever falls off the back of this bunch. These women are all phenomenal climbers, and there will be times where we may be a bit off the pace, but will quickly catch back on during the technical sections of the course. We are very good through the explosive singletrack, and I think that will be our super power at this year’s FNB W2W! We will give it all we’ve got on the long climbs, work together to pull us on pace, and then enjoy (hopefully) catching some teams on the descents. We are a young team and extremely enthusiastic, so really anything is possible!


DS: If I wasn’t already nervous before, I am now!


Being that I am still the ‘baby’ in the group I honestly just want to race as well as I can and to learn as much as I can from Sarah. She’s had such an awesome year thus far and I know that she’ll be teaching me a lot about what it takes to be brushing elbows with the best of the best upfront. Obviously, everyone is an opponent, but until the whistle goes off for the start one cannot say who’s the biggest target just yet. Deciding on who to chase is so dependent on the day (i.e. how you feel), how your partner feels and also how the competition also feels on race day. The women that will be standing on the start line are seriously the best of the best and so my objective will be to race as hard as I can to stay amongst the pros. Also, one competes to win, so that will always be the biggest carrot.