MBA Feature: Georgia On Our Minds
Georgia Gould has been a force to be reckoned with in cross-country racing since her first National Championship in 2006. This past season proved to be a bit of a roller-coaster ride for her. From the lows of two near misses at World Cups, including possibly the most heartbreaking flat tire we’ve ever seen, to the highs of her fifth National Championship and bronze medals at both the UCI World Championships and the Olympic Games in London, Georgia has had quite a run. We caught up with Georgia to make sense of it all during her seemingly nonexistent off-season, which is packed with racing?and winning?national-level cyclocross events.
When was the first time you rode a mountain bike?
I moved out to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1999. That was the summer after my first year of college. That’s where I discovered mountain biking.
How did you decide to enter your first mountain bike race?
I had been riding a lot with my boyfriend, who’s my husband now. There was a local race, and I just wanted to try. I ended up entering the beginner race and won. So then I upgraded and won the first Sport race. Then I upgraded to Expert. I raced Expert for a year or so regionally, and then did a couple national-level races. I did pretty well, so I decided that I didn’t want to be looking back on that time of my life and wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried to race pro.
I decided that if I was really going to do this, I should get a coach and take it seriously. I did that and raced the entire National series that year. I found myself getting top 10 finishes, and at the end of that season, Team Luna Chix got in touch and offered me a spot on the team.
Was there added pressure racing for the biggest team in women’s racing?
They were very clear that I was coming on as a developmental rider and said they weren’t expecting me to win races. That being said, the Luna Chix Team is the best women’s team in the world, so I just didn’t want to screw it up! The team, both the riders and staff, were super supportive. I wouldn’t say that there was any more pressure from anyone else than I was putting on myself.
Did joining the Luna Chix team change your training, traveling or lifestyle in general?
Not really at first. I wasn’t racing the World Cups that first year. They want- ed me to focus on the National series and not spread myself too thin, which was great and was exactly what I needed to do.
So after focusing on the National series, I ended up winning the National Championship that year. It was the only race I won! [Laughs.] But I guess they say if you are only going to win one race, that’s the one!
I continued to improve, and with another season under my belt, I had a very strong 2007. I won all the National series races, got second at Nationals and had some podiums at World Cups.
Your first National Championship in 2006 was a surprise result at the time. Lining up for that race, did you think you could win? Or was that win as surprising to you as it was to others?
I had never won a national-level race before. I had never even been on the podium! It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could win. It was something that I hoped that on my best day I could do. Coming into it, I thought a top five would be amazing; I didn’t have the pressure of thinking that I needed to, or really could, win it.
The reason it was even more surprising to me was because I wasn’t feeling especially good that day. I was trying just as hard as I always had, except I was winning this time. That was a really important thing for me to realize. Before then, I just thought all of those people winning races must be trying twice as hard and digging twice as deep as I was.
So fast-forwarding to this past season, you laid out some specific goals you wanted to achieve in 2012: defend your National title, win a World Cup, medal at World Championships and go to the Olympics. Could you pinpoint any one of these goals as the most important to you in the big picture?
The type of racer that I am, I usually don’t put all my eggs in one basket. But, obviously, the Olympics were a huge goal. Some people do well focusing on one specific thing, but for me, it’s too much pressure. What happens if you flat? Or you crash? Or you get sick that day? I just like to try to be consistent over the entire season.
Coming into an Olympic year with big goals, did you change anything about your training, race schedule or lifestyle to prepare?
No. It’s really tempting to try, though. It’s the Olympics, so you’re thinking, ?What can I change to get that extra percentage or be more focused?’ But, I stepped back and realized that would be the completely wrong approach. ?Everything is going well, and I’m going to change it before the biggest race?’ What’s been working for me in the past is what’s going to continue to work for me. It was more about refining what I had already been doing.
You’ve landed on plenty of World Cup podiums and have been one of the most consistent racers overall, but it seems that the one thing that has eluded you is a World Cup win.
After a near miss in Mont-Sainte-Anne, getting caught by Catharine Pendrel on the last lap, the next World Cup round in Windham, New York, you appear to be on a mission. You’re set for the win when you puncture on the last lap and get passed by two team- mates, Catharine Pendrel and Katerina Nash, on the final straight. We feel that your teammates would’ve been bigger champions if they had sat up in those final meters. How do you weigh in on that situation?
There was no perfect way to end that race. What are the chances that it comes down to 15 meters from the finish getting passed, and by your teammates? Catherine was going to sit up, and she was yelling, ?Come on!’ She didn’t really know what to do, but I was thinking, ?Absolutely not. This is a race, and I will not have my first World Cup win because you gave it to me.’ That’s not how I want to win at all. I’m 100 percent sure of that.
I think Katerina really understood that it was a race, and it was awful, but anything other than sprinting would have made things worse than they already were. I really appreciated that. I didn’t want to feel like I had an asterisk next to my win because my really nice teammates sat up. I think it ended the best way that it could have. I want to earn my win.
If the roles were reversed and you were one of the chasing riders, would you have done the same?
It’s hard. I know for me, I would rather have a race be raced all the way to the finish. Bad luck is part of racing. If I got a flat tire on the first lap, I wouldn’t expect my teammates to wait up for me. The weirdness of it is more the timing of when it happened, that I almost rode it in. If there hadn’t been that one little hill that I had to get off and run, I would’ve made it. But, I don’t know, I’m not as concerned with that race as everyone else seems to be. [Laughs.]
You won your fifth National Championship this year, your fourth in cross-country. Having won the two previous National titles and racing primarily World Cup events this year, did you feel confident that you could defend your title coming into the race?
I definitely had more confidence, but at the same time way more pressure, because it’s not really news when I win a cross-country race in the U.S. anymore. It’s only news if I don’t! When you get to the point where you have won a bunch of races and you’re a favorite, that’s a lot more pressure than on someone who has never won a race.
I had been racing the same people who were there all season long and consistently beating them, but at the same time, I know what happened the day I won my first National Championship, so I never come into a race like, ?Oh yeah, no problem! Just another day at the office!’ I never count anybody out, and I know that especially at those big, one-day races, anybody could have ?the day’ that day.
What does it mean to you to wear the stars and stripes throughout the year?
It’s a huge honor. No matter how many times I’ve won the National Championships, being able to wear the jersey is really cool, and it doesn’t get old. Every time it’s special.
Despite some difficult World Cup races, you came out strong in the World Championships and won the bronze medal, achieving another one of your goals. After your two near misses, was it a bit redeeming for you to get that result?
I had been on the podium in some World Cup races, but I was definitely pleased with getting bronze at Worlds, because I felt like I didn’t have the ideal preparation for that race; I wasn’t feeling awesome on that day.
I’m very proud of that, but if anything, it sort of made me hungrier for World Cups and the Worlds next year. It was sort of the same as the first year I won a National Championship; you get a little glimpse of what you’re capable of.
Back in 2008, you represented the United States in Beijing and finished eighth. How did making your second Olympic team feel compared to the first time around?
The first time around, I didn’t know how cool the Olympics were. Of course it was still a great honor to represent my country, but once I got to Beijing, I thought, ?Oh man, I am so glad I didn’t know how cool this was. I would’ve been way more concerned with qualifying!’ So having already been, I was much more stressed out to make the team for London.
How does the Olympic experience differ from a normal World Cup race?
Nobody is training through the Olympics. At World Cups or Worlds, people can say, ?This isn’t my focus’ or ?That’s not my goal.’ If you’re going to the Olympics, that’s your goal.
How does being an Olympic medalist differ from being a World Championship medalist?
Well, nobody outside cycling really cares about World Championships?or pretty much any other race that I’ve ever done. [Laughs.] The Olympics are something that no matter how little someone knows about your sport, they know that if you won a medal at the Olympics, you must be good.
I’ve finished third in a lot of races, but for some reason, third place at the Olympics is a much bigger deal. When I took my medal to the welcome home thing they had for me and let the kids hold it?it’s not every kid, but some get this spark. To see how much it really impacts and inspires people to try mountain biking, or try any sport, that’s really what I’m most proud of.
While you’ve been racking up results for years, your performance in 2012 really put you in the spot- light. Where do you see yourself in the timeline of your career?
There were people that asked me if I was going to retire after I got my bronze medal, and I was like, ?You do know I didn’t win that race, right?’ For me, my results at the Olympics and Worlds motivated me for next year.
I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of years left racing, because there are other things that I would like to do, like have a family, and I don’t think that’s sustainable being a World Cup racer who’s based in North America. But, I’m still chasing that World Cup win. I’m not greedy. I don’t need to win all of them, but one would be nice!
Do you hope to compete for a spot in your third Olympic Games?
Yeah, it’s kind of exhausting to think about planning that right now, because I haven’t really had an off-season after these Olympics. I don’t plan that far out. I go month by month. I’m not going to keep doing it if all of a sudden I’m miserable and not having any fun. That’s not the recipe for success. It’s a long time away, but yeah, if I’m still rid- ing well and I’m still competitive, then absolutely.
What are your goals for the 2013 season?
For 2013, I would like to win a World Cup! [Laughs.] Then, sort of the same goals I have every year: medal at Worlds and defend my National Championship. That’s never a side note sort of thing; it’s always a big goal.