by Coul Hill
It truly can be a great experience to spend quality time with people you barely know. This last weekend—a great weekend of racing—was just that for me. Though I’d met a few of the International Christian Cycling Tucson Spoke guys last June at Bike the Bluff (Arizona State Championship Road Race), it was a very brief “hey we both look cool in the same jersey, praise be to Jesus” sort of conversation; since then, it’s been Strava kudos, and that’s it. Until, of course, I saw the Valley of the Sun Stage Race on the USAC calendar and I happened to notice how well it lined up with our school’s early spring break. Those of you that know me know that’s about all it takes: when my race itch gets twitching, I start scratching. Racing in February? Absolutely! There I was, leaving on a jet plane to stay with Buzz, Gary, Michael, and Ken.
Now, I’m a brand new Cat 2, coming to Arizona – where there is no winter – to compete in a stage race in a field of 79 Cat 2 guys (many of which who will be next year’s pros), without TT equipment, and criteriums (although I love ‘em) are not my strongest discipline; although I like to dream big and aim high, I wasn’t planning on coming away with upgrade points just yet. This one was for the experience, the Cat 2 experience, to start my race season early and knock the cobwebs out of my race brain – this was to get me focused.
The time trial was fast, really fast. I like TTs because it’s me against the clock and it’s all about finding that zone where I’m oblivious to the pain, power is maxed, and the podium is the legitimate focus. That’s fun. I ended up 52/79 in the TT without a TT bike, aero bars, or any TT gear, but I’m totally stoked that I was able to show up regular roadie style and whoop 27 experienced Cat 2s. Next stage race/TT: this guy will gear up for the TT.
Coul crushing his time trial
Man I love road races. This is where my pipe dreams come alive. If you ever tell me I can’t do it in a road race, I’ll turn around and show you I can. I absolutely love going out there and grinding it all down to nothing – and I prefer to do it off the front. This field was a bit intimidating though… I’m looking around at the start and there are seventy-some beasts on bikes looking lean and proudly displaying and discussing the fact that their race season started three months ago. I started off in the middle and stayed with the pack, but got dropped at the very top of the climb at the end of the first lap (to be expected given that I’m still over 200 pounds, but I’m working on that), but I caught the pack about a half a lap later. The next two laps the same thing happened: I stayed with the pack until just before the crest of the climb, and then I was off the back, but I caught the pack three times – that took some serious grinding I must say. That’s my beast mode, the goal is GO. On the fifth lap I was not able to catch back up with the pack after being dropped a fourth time, but a group of five other OTB riders did latch on to me as I passed and they looked to start a pace line. Their idea of a pace line included slowing me down several miles per hour and they had already resigned themselves to not catching back up as they were encouraging me to “save some for tomorrow,” but that’s not my style. I go hard until there’s nothing left, then I keep going. So, I did the pace line with them for a few miles through the headwind and I dropped them on the top of the climb of that lap. Then, I pounded out my 6th and final lap solo and came in 54th with a time of four hours and seven minutes for ninety-five and a half miles (with my cool down I got in an even century on the day).
Then the criterium – my weak point in any stage race or omnium. I have to admit, I get scared on those corners and I freeze up and fall back. I start out in the front and I get super sketched out by the proximity of all the other riders and the bumping, tapping, grinding, tire rubbing, etc. On the back side of this course dudes were bunny hopping up and over the sidewalk to advance and to avoid wrecks – I can barely see (I’m supposed to wear glasses) so everything in front of me is a blur of jostling colors – all I can think about at that point is not being in a pile-up (or causing one). Simply put: I’m the cowardly lion in criteriums, but I hate that and I want to overcome that fear. I like crits, I think they’re fun and I love the idea of them, I just have not mastered them and my cornering skills are sub-par. At least I know what I need to work on. So I rolled tight with these boys for 12 of 50 minutes before I got dropped, then I hung on till almost 30 before they lapped me and I was pulled from the race (that is fairly standard in crits, lapped riders typically get pulled for safety reasons).
Coul getting comfortable in the corners
I didn’t hit the podium, I didn’t earn any upgrade points. I didn’t get to finish the criterium. But, the weekend was a total success for me. I got my first three races of the year under my belt in February and I did it with the best in the country in my category, and it was my first outing as a Cat 2, AND I beat a lot of them in two out three of the races. This weekend made me stronger, it honed my focus, and it highlighted for me what I need to address before I line up in Seattle in March. This was my pre-season race weekend and it was a blast.
On top of all that, I was truly blessed to spend the weekend in great company with new friends that I’m super thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know. For me it’s always a great blessing to share my testimony because it forces me to remember two things: the incredible body of work God has done in my life so far and that He’s not done with me yet. As I sat there at the dinner table that first night I found myself trying to temper my testimony because in the front of my mind I realized that if I’d just met someone and they were telling me this same story that I was telling, I don’t think I’d be able to believe it! God is great. Many of the conversations that I was truly blessed to have with these Christian gentlemen brought me to a few crucial realizations of my own (personally, I love epiphanies because that’s usually when life makes some kind of drastic change – it’s like the apex of the roller coaster: time to hold on!). One of those epiphanies for me was this simple fact: I am, now at this point in my life, living my dream. I dreamed this years ago, that I’d be a college graduate with a teaching job, traveling to bike races all over the country, married with children – not the whole nine, I got the whole thirty-six! My second crucial epiphany came with the realization that I must not resign myself to outside expectations of my perceived limitations of me. To put it another way, if God can do what He has done with me thus far, then truly I cannot fathom what He has planned. Where so much around me in my busy life is screaming for me to quit, slow down, accept my position, etc. I recognize that the Lord’s drive within me will take me where He wants me (but I must remember there is no “destination” here, it is the journey, the how that He is interested in with me). Today I turn thirty-three years old and I am confident and rejuvenated to say that I’m going to keep going hard, hone my focus for the Lord, and trust in the knowledge and faith I have that one day soon (still maybe years away) all of who and what I am will culminate into something beautiful, sustainable, and honoring to Him. For now, I am in the refining process, and although it hurts, I GET to be a part of the incredible testimony He is writing and I GET to call it MY LIFE.
I must thank my sponsors, The Spoke Shop, Chalet Market, Chiropractic Health Associates, Hammer Nutrition, Schwalbe Tires, and PowerTap CycleOPS.
Without Dean Cromwell, Sarah, and all of the Spoke Shop staff, there’s no way I’d be able to keep rolling, I love you guys!
I really enjoy the fact that my spine and neck are ALWAYS properly aligned on race day, and the only way that happens is with the awesome work of CHA; Paul Berger and Body Mechanix with the sports massage are the best in the business and that’s no aside.
I am very grateful for the Hammer sponsorship—I love being an ambassador for y’all, the best part (aside from the best fueling and supplements in the industry) is giving away stickers and temporary tattoos to the kids after the kids’ race… what a blast!
Schwalbe Tires are looking to be a god-send sponsor-wise. I’ve never ridden them before this weekend, but MAN am I impressed. These tires are LIGHT, FAST, DURABLE, and they grip well even when pumped up over 130 PSI. I’m a believer and proudly sponsored by Schwalbe Tires. I will get your banner on the podium this year!
PowerTap and CycleOPS are also a new sponsor to MY arsenal – ones which I have not yet begun to utilize, but I am very excited to start using PowerTap in my training and CycleOPS in my warm up as I know that these two will greatly improve my output and my standings.
I must also recognize my wife, and thank her for her steadfastness and support. I love you too. Our six kids are great too: Ezekiel, Rose, and Hannah are already well infected with the bike racing bug (there’s no cure, just more races), and I do enjoy every opportunity to mountain bike with Nate and Isaac. Abbi, I sure do miss you and hope and pray that the day comes soon where we can reconcile and enjoy time together again.
Key takeaways and lessons learned from the Valley of the Sun Stage Race: don’t over eat the day/night before a race, be more intentional about pre-race nutrition, have a more purposefully designed and intentional warm-up for all stages, somehow get access to a TT bike for time trials, get crit and cornering practice to build race-day courage, monitor power for training, IC3 Tucson is excellent, some aliens speak English with a German accent, Don Russell is the coolest USAC referee, and Jesus loves me.
God bless y’all, thanks for reading!