THROWBACK THURSDAY: THE TALE OF TIM GOULD, THE GIANT SLAYER

A legend's story from the golden era of mountain biking.

The NORBA circuit was where Tim Gould made his name in the U.S. and underlined his legend status in the sport.
Photo: Mountain Bike Action

THE TALE OF TIM GOULD, THE GIANT SLAYER

By Steve Thomas

For those of us of a certain age, those who are old enough to remember the thrills and pains of rattling around on suspension-free bikes, the name of Tim Gould is somewhat mythical—and it was so on both sides of the Atlantic. Tim was indeed the global poster boy and idol of early British mountain biking, yet also so mild, so humble and slightly reclusive in nature; hence, he remained a giant of the sport that few really know much about, and that’s the way he likes it.

These days, Tim is a postman in his native Matlock in the Derbyshire Peak District, and he is still as unaware of his significance as ever. We caught up with him for a brief chat about where it all began and where it’s taken his life: “My dad was a semi-professional rider [an independent] when he was younger and was keen to get cycling again when his children became old enough to go on decent rides.”

After starting out with the local cycling club, Tim soon realized that offroad was where his talents lie, and yet there were no mountain bikes back then. “As a second-year junior I was selected for the World Cyclocross Championships in France. I just finished in the top 10, and Great Britain was the first team, although no medals were presented for that category.”

Even so, making a career riding off-road (or even on road) for a British rider was a long shot during that pre-state-assisted era. “There were a lot of gradual steps towards it becoming a career—joining a sponsored club and getting help with clothes and traveling expenses, and also becoming part of the national cyclocross squad and getting help with equipment. There were quite a few years of doing all the training a professional would but without the salary, which was before Cycles Peugeot UK came in to sponsor myself and David Baker.”

By the late 1980s, the rebellious and unsanctioned sport of mountain biking was gaining some “long-shot” attention in the UK, and the Peugeot duo entered the fray, and effectively upscaled things to a whole other level. “The first MTB race I did was a Mountain Bike Club race in Peebles, Scotland. We were new to the scene and did not know all the details of tire choice, pressures, etcetera—stuff that we would know if it was a cyclocross.” He immediately knew this kind of racing was his thing.
“But, by this time I had won the 3 Peaks Cyclocross a few times and knew that I was suited to longer off-road events, and so it was like a dream coming true to be able to do endurance off-road events more often.”

 

Even before the ‘90s arrived, Euro pioneers Tim Gould (L) and David Baker brought their winning ways to America in 1989. The Brit duo would remain competitive into the next decade.

As a brand, Peugeot was a major player in Europe at that time, although their bikes were a few strokes behind those of the opposition. “The first races we did were on stock Peugeot bikes. We had adapted them a bit; for example, we quickly realized that the Biopace chainrings were of no benefit to racers. The bikes were a bit behind the American brands, like Specialized and Gary Fisher for example, brands that were starting to make a name for themselves.”

Under the management of Simon Burney, the Peugeot team, led by Gould and Baker, soon started to make inroads into Europe and then the U.S., with Tim taking World Cup victories and podium slots on a regular basis. “Looking back, the biggest moment was probably winning the first mountain bike cross-country World Cup in Bassano, Italy. At the time it was just another race and another win, but the World Cups have since become the most important thing—besides the Olympics and World Championships.”

During the mid-’90s Tim was in full flight and traded his racing colors to those of the red, white and black of the U.S. Schwinn team. Then, on one fateful night, an undercurrent that had been building inside suddenly turned on him, and his career was flung into the balance. “If I could have my time again, I would try not to be sectioned [under the Mental Health Act] just when I was at the top of my game. From what I know now, I would be able to have an earlier intervention to prevent a mental-health crisis.” Throughout that dark period Tim raced on, even if medication meant he would often be at the back of the race—a tough cross to carry: “Cycling did provide a means/incentive to get better, but the crisis took 18 months to get fully better.”

 

The timing of this also impacted another dream of his: “It would also have benefited me if mountain biking had been introduced to the Olympics earlier than it was!” Tim did once again ride high and out of the depths, but sadly the great golden era of mountain biking and funding became somewhat jaded, as was Tim himself. “As I came into my mid-30s, the mountain biking boom was coming to an end, and there was a lack of sponsorship at the same time as you start to slow down and get beaten by youngsters.”

There were no Monaco lifestyles, flash cars and millions in reserve for the greats of that era [or not for 99 percent of them], and as humbly as ever, Tim slipped quietly into retirement, working in a couple of local bike shops, and then turning his pedals to a postal bike, which 20 years on he still does for a living. That said, the story of Tim Gould, and the roller coaster he rode, did not stop there: “I stopped riding until my mid-40s, and then as my children got older, [free] time came back to me. I was 50 by the time I got fit again, and I decided to ride the 3 Peaks again. I really enjoyed that and won the over-50s class in a record time.”

Returning to his racing origins sparked something deep inside him. “In some ways, it was just like old times—same faces on the start grid, only looking a little more craggy. I bought another bike and became over-50’s British cyclocross champion. Then I became the British 50+ MTB champ and came second in the World MTB 50+ champs in Andorra.” Sadly, the revival of Tim Gould was cut short by health issues: “Since then, I have had atrial fibrillation and had to slow down a bit to just go out for fun.”

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