Hill Airmen race against pros

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BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah — Four Team Hill Airmen were recently chosen to compete with professional bicycle racers during an event, Aug. 2.

Master Sgts. Alex Duarte, Matthew Train, Jeff Bernard, and Mike Nuckols, all riders for the Air Force Cycling Team, Utah Region, participated in Stage 3 of the Tour of Utah. The course itself, an individual time trial, is a 5.6-mile uphill path stretching from halfway up Big Cottonwood Canyon and finishing at Brighton Ski Resort.

Hill AFB and the Tour of Utah partnered this year with the four Airmen representing the Air Force in Stage 3, while Stage 5 passed through the base Aug. 4. The four riders are advocates for the Air Force team and frequently represent their service during community riding events, said Train, 388th Maintenance Group.

The Tour of Utah is one of the top professional cycling stage races in North America.

The course was “very painful with a gradual increase [of 5.5%],” said Bernard, 419th Fighter Wing. But, it was a “really good ride though, nothing too difficult.”

To prepare for this race and others, the team meets twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays to do 25- and 30-mile courses, as well as longer mountain rides on the weekends. Duarte, 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who recently completed long rides in Canada and Iowa has already pedaled 3,000 miles this year, attesting to the dedication of the team’s members.

Duarte and his team members felt it was a great privilege to be selected. “Some of these guys just got done with Tour de France,” he said. “Just being able to be with them on the same course, seeing them fly by is an honor.”

Balancing work and cycling can be hard, admits Duarte. “My wife is military too; we have two little ones so I get off work, jump on my bike, come home, and play dad.” But the families of the Airmen understand how important cycling is as it provides “stress relief” and helps with “team building” as the members develop a sense of “camaraderie,” said Train.

Before the race, Train said the team’s goal was to “push as hard as we can and see how we stack up against the pros.” Nuckols, 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who finished in 28 minutes 31 seconds, first amongst the Hill competitors, felt this goal was met. He crossed the finish line knowing he had “given it everything he had.”

“We care about the community and we are glad that the community is willing to embrace us and accept us out here,” said Nuckols. “It makes us feel super proud.”