Cycling phenom Caleb Barville wins Maui’s Cycle to the Sun

  • Photo (2): Caleb Barville at the top of Maui's Haleakala to win Saturday's Cycle to the Sun Race in a time of 2:50:28.
  • Matthew Thayer/Maui News Cycle to the Sun winner Caleb Barville, 18, celebrates last Saturday at the summit of Haleakala

With just 300 yards to go atop Maui’s Haleakala, Caleb Barville knew it was now or never.

Barville had been battling Chase King for much of the race at Saturday’s 36-mile, epic hill climb up the massive 10,000-foot mountain known as Cycle to the Sun. But toward the top, King began an all-out sprint for the finish.

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“I was really just breathing super hard and gasping for air as we were on a 16% grade with maybe 300 yards to the finish line,” said Barville over the phone while doing hill repeats on Alii Drive’s Bypass Road. “Then Chase finally tried to start a sprint for the win so I had to put out the hardest effort ever at 10,000-feet elevation to try and get a little gap from him.”

That final hard effort made it all worthwhile as Barville — an 18-year-old Kailua-Kona resident — was able to grind out a 20 second lead from King to capture gold at one of the state’s most prestigious hill climb events in a blazing time of 2 hours, 50-minutes and 28.51 seconds.

“I feel pretty stoked,” Barville said. “I couldn’t really think about it at the time as it just hurt too much. But now thinking back, I am super happy. I remember having to try to sit up and put my hands up just for a second while crossing the finish line – it was all I could do before falling back down into my handlebars. It was really crazy. There were a bunch of people at the finish line with bells and cheering and it made me feel really honored that I could be part of that event and be the top guy on the podium.”

King — a 19-year-old cycling standout from Corte Madera, California — finished in second with a stellar time of 2:50:48, with former Big Island resident, Chris Gregory, claiming third with a time of 2:57:07.

While his victory possibly made Barville one of the youngest winners in Cycle to the Sun history, he was not the first from the Big Island. Last year, Kailua-Kona’s Tawnie McDonald became the first female to win the women’s division with her time of 3:41:58. And in 2014, Kailua-Kona’s Maxfield La Fortune paved the way with his winning time of 2:47:43.

On the women’s side, Susannah Breed of Pleasant Hill, California, took top honors with her time of 3:34:45. Kihei, Maui, resident, Christine Holland was next in 3:47:54, with Kailua-Kona’s Winona Chen rounding out the podium with her time of 3:53:42.

The race

Maui’s Cycle to the Sun comes with the reputation of being one of the most talked about hill climb races in the state — a grueling 36-mile uphill grind from the quaint town of Paia located at sea level, to the summit of Maui’s Haleakala that towers at just more than 10,000 feet.

Saturday’s event attracted more than 200 cyclists from around the globe ready to test their fitness and of course, earn King and Queen of the Mountain bragging rights.

While most first-timers typically compete with the ultimate goal and motivation to just finish such a daunting feat, Barville had other plans and decided to elicit the help of Chase King just before the start.

“I remember looking through the start list with Penn Henderson while we were at Nationals in Maryland and saw that Chase got 10th place last year and that he was doing a lot of training on Strava,” Barville said. “So right before the start we made a plan to just drop everybody. I was like ‘okay dude, we are probably going to be the top guys so lets just start off super hard and keep going.’ I knew that he still had that top end where he could recover fast after a hard effort. And, he said okay.”

Barville’s plan worked to perfection as he and King worked together to tire out the group from the beginning — a tactic where riders repeatedly break away from the group before letting them catch back up.

Soon the windy and steep course, continuous elevation gain, and constant attacks began to take its toll as riders began dropping “like flies” dwindling down the group to six riders, then to three — the third rider being Chris Gregory.

“If Chase hadn’t been there, I would’ve just done a break away from the start on my own,” he said. “But since he was there, I decided to treat it like I would a big junior national elite race. So he and I kept exchanging positions and attacking the group.

“Then at 7,000 feet, Chris fell back and it was just me and Chase. We were both going for time so we still kept a hard pace and kept exchanging places. It was funny because we were passing each other back and forth going like 5 mph. We were both just horribly exhausted from the effort. Two miles from the finish, Chase just sat on my wheel. I kept trying to break him off but he wouldn’t let me. Then finally he tried to start a sprint at 300 yards out — and then that’s when I went for it. I felt pretty stoked to win it.”

While Barville is still wrapped in the euphoria of winning Maui’s Cycle to the Sun race, he doesn’t feel that it’s the icing on his cake just yet.

“I think the icing would be winning a race on the mainland,” he said. “I’m doing a hill climb race in Washington called the Mt. Baker Hill Climb on Sept. 8 and there will be like 200 competitors. But before that I’ll be doing a six-day stage race in Canada (July 15-21) called the Tour de l’Abitibi. It’s pretty much the Tour de France for junior cyclists. The best riders in the world will be there. Winning Canada would be cool but I know it probably wouldn’t be possible.”

Barville continues to build upon his admirable resume and be the highlight of Big Island’s cycling community due to his impressive results for the 2019 year.

The Kealakehe High School graduate began the year on fire with a big win at the Hawaii Cycling Club’s Prologue Individual Time Trial to finish the 10-mile event in a speedy time of 21:59. He then decided to organize the Big Island Hill Climb Racing Series — a weekly competitive cycling race series of ten events featuring some of Kona’s most deceptively steep hill climbs with gradients ranging between 7 and 16%. He won them all before setting a jaw-dropping 40K bike course record in a time of 53:37 at Lavaman Waikoloa on March 31.

He then pedaled his way to become the 2019 state champion by crushing everyone at Oahu’s Malaekahana 40K State Time Trial Championships on May 5th (54:18), followed by another win at Kauai’s Pedal to the Meadow 15.75-mile hill climb cycling race on May 25th (1:03:14).

Barville put Hawaii on the map by competing against some of the best junior cyclists in the world at the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships on June 20-23 in Hagerstown, Maryland, and narrowly missed a podium third place by a hair to take fourth in the 20K Individual Time Trial (26:22). However, bad luck hit Barville hard in the competitive road race where he did not finish after losing both of his contact lens.

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And with his win at Maui’s Cycle to the Sun race, there’s no stopping what Barville is destined to do on two wheels.

“It’s been a really cool experience and racing has taught me a lot about what I need to do to improve. Winning on Maui showed me that my fitness level is where I want it to be. And it makes me feel more motivated to do well in future.”

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