by Jen See with Images by Christopher See
When Georgia Gould received her bronze medal at the Olympics this summer, she took it off, ready to put it in her bag like any other medal. Then, she stopped. “When you get on the podium at a lot of different races, you get a medal,” said Gould. “Oh, I have this little medal, and I take it off, and I put it in my bag. It wasn’t until after the podium ceremony and I realized, like, that was the Olympic medal.”
Gould won a bronze medal at the London Olympics. She also took third at the world championship race. It was one of her best seasons to date, but she is not done yet. Mountain Flyer caught up with Gould recently to hear all about her bronze medal summer. She told us about what it was like to finish third at the Olympics, her plans for the cyclocross season, why it is awesome to have boys as fans, and what happens next after winning an Olympic medal.
The Olympic medal came as a surprise for Gould after her Olympic race did not start off especially auspiciously. “I totally had the crappiest start,” she said. In less than a minute of racing, she went from a good position to back around twentieth. The front group quickly disappeared into the distance, much to her frustration.
“They’re not like, oh, you had a crappy start? Oh, well, we’ll totally wait for you,” said Gould laughing. “Oh, Georgia’s not here? Oh hang on, everyone, sit up for a second.” She thought her hopes of a good result were finished. “I was like, oh, there goes my Olympic race. Well, that sucks. Good job, Georgia!”
But Gould was not done. She put her head down and worked her way through the field. “Well, there’s only one thing to do, and that’s ride as hard as you can and pass as many people as you can,” she remembers thinking. Gould rode steadily and after a long chase, she caught the lead two riders, Julie Bresset and Sabine Spitz. “So then, I had a little bit of hope. Maybe my Olympic dream is not dashed!”
Bike racing is always a roller coaster ride. Just as Gould made the catch to Bresset and Spitz, Gould’s luck turned again. Spitz crashed, and Bresset proved quick to take advantage of the opportunity. “Sabine crashed right in front of me. So then, it was like, okay, there goes the gold medal, because I knew there was no way. [For] Julie, that was the perfect opportunity to attack.” Bresset rode away and never looked back. Spitz and Gould battled briefly, but Spitz proved the stronger, and with two laps to go, that was the race.
In those final two laps, Gould rode with fingers and toes crossed against bad luck. “I was taking zero risks, I was riding the downhills super slow,” she said. “I don’t really race so defensively like that. Just get third place!” Bad luck had marred two top finishes already during the world cup series for Gould. She did not want to repeat that experience at the Olympics. “The last two laps, I was thinking, something is going to happen, something is going to happen. What is it going to be? Am I going to crash? Am I going to flat?”
Fortunately for Gould nothing bad happened. She crossed the line safely in third to win the bronze medal. “I felt like I won that race. I’ve never been so happy for third place ever,” she said. Standing on the podium in London was surreal. “You’re like, holy crap! I’m on the podium at the Olympics!”
The Olympic race is just one day, all or nothing, and everyone shows up with their best form. “No one is like, oh, I’m just training through the Olympics,” said Gould, laughing. Bad luck can derail even the best riders’ hopes. “It’s very satisfying to have everything pay off. I tried to ride well, and I had that little bit of luck and everything on my side. It was awesome it all came together.”
With the Olympic year behind her, Gould is looking forward to racing cross. “Cross I do because I love it and it’s fun,” she said. She will race the USGP races and is leaving the door open to the Louisville World Championship. She rode Cross Vegas during Interbike and finished eleventh. Then in Fort Collins, she finished second behind Katie Compton on both days.
Gould has always loved cyclocross. Before she turned professional and became the kind of person who receives bikes from sponsors, Gould never had a road bike. “I used to have a cross bike instead of a road bike,” she said. Gould simply did not lust after road bikes, and she was perfectly happy to train on the road with her cross bike. To this day, she rides the road bike in mountain bike shoes and pedals.
“I’ve never ever had road shoes. Ever in my life,” she said. “Whenever I watch people in their road shoes walking around the coffee shop, I’m like ha ha...”
Growing support for women’s racing on the cyclocross circuit also heightens Gould’s enthusiasm for hitting the cross circuit. In 2007, Gould circulated a petition calling for equal prize money for women. “Honestly, a lot of people didn’t know before that. I didn’t know, until I did a race, and I got the prize money and I heard what the guys were getting,” she said. Since then, things have improved on the prize money front and the USGP series typically offers equal payouts. To Gould, it shows that people are starting to see value in women’s racing.
“I think it’s really great, because we have some of the best women in the world. American women, every medal in the Olympics for cycling in the U.S. was a woman,” she said. “We have such talented women. I think it’s good, things are changing, and people are starting to see how awesome we are!”
Slowly but surely, it’s becoming about being a good bike racer not just about being a good woman bike racer, she believes. Gould now receives fan mail from young boys who look up to her as a role model. Not only do girls want to ride like she does, boys do too. “Women can be role models for men, too. For boys, too. I’m so excited that these boys are growing up and seeing that,” she said. “To see women as people, just other people, and not be like, oh men and women are so different. People can do cool things.”
“For me to have a ten-year-old boy thinking I’m so cool,” she emphasized. “that’s awesome. Because you know, I’m like, I’m so awesome, hurry up and tell me how awesome I am, before you’re faster than me!”
Though she loves the vibe of cross racing, Gould strikes a balance between cross and her main objectives next mountain bike season. “I’m not saying that I’m going to be 100% in Louisville for Worlds,” she said. “You just never know, when you get to that point in the season.” The world championship race is in early February. The mountain bike world cup does not start until May next year, but Gould has also raced with very few breaks since last March.
In the past, Gould has cut short her cross season to prepare for mountain bike racing, and it is possible she will do it again this year. “You can’t do both at 100%,” she said. “You just can’t expect that of yourself to be riding 100% year-round.” The difficulty is not only staying fit and injury-free. “It’s mentally [hard] to put that pressure on yourself and to hold yourself to that standard for every race all year round.”
Gould has an Olympic medal now, but she is still hungry for world cup success. “It’s funny, because people are like, do you have any motivation now? Are you just going to retire? I’m like, you do know I didn’t win, right? You do know I only finished third?” Gould is happy to have won a medal, but she would definitely have preferred to win. And she is still chasing her first World Cup win.
Her third place finishes at the Olympic and Worlds have given Gould confidence that she can finally win a World cup race and even contend for a World title. “I would really like to win a World Cup before I retire,” she said. Gould came close on two occasions this past season, but bad luck derailed her chances. And while she did not have especially good form for Worlds, she finished on the podium. “To be like, not really riding great and still finish on the podium at Worlds, I’m definitely hungry for that.”
For now, it’s cross season. Gould is also looking forward to her first trip to the Iceman mountain bike race in November. In it’s 23rd edition, the 29-mile point-to-point race runs from Kalkaska to Traverse City, Michigan. “That’s something that’s been on my radar for a while,” she said. Usually, there is a conflict with the cross schedule. “This year, I’m like, I’m doing Iceman. I’ve always wanted to do it, so this year, I’m doing it.”
Then, it’s back to the World Cup circuit, where Gould will try to bring home a victory and better this year’s big third place finishes. “Everyone’s like, you got third place! And I’m like, you know how many races I’ve finished third place in that nobody cares about? A lot. The race I finished third in that everyone cares about? One.” The lesson? If you’re going to get third, make sure it is at the Olympics just like Georgia Gould.