Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Fastest Learner - Georgia Gould stepped up big time in 2007

At first glance, Georgia Gould's rise to cycling success reads like the same story often repeated in the world of women's professional bike racing. A formerly unathletic woman finds the joy of cycling in her 20s and quickly discovers a deep vein of untapped talent. After some years of solid training and coaching direction, the woman rises to the upper echelon of the elite ranks.

But Gould's rise from novice to mountain bike hero has set a new standard for speed. Now 27, Gould is a former smoker who never raised a finger in the name of athletic competition before her junior year of college, when she started running while studying abroad in Africa. Just three years ago, Gould was a first-year elite racer who crisscrossed the country, racing and living out of her boyfriend's Chevy van. In 2006, Gould won the national championship in her first season as a full-time pro. In 2007, she became a World Cup podium contender in her first stab at racing at the international level.

"I never thought success would come this soon, I'm just going to see where it takes me," Gould told VeloNews in 2006.

Her abilities took her many places in 2007. Gould was in Argentina in March, where she won the Pan American championships. In April she was in California at North America's season opener, the Sea Otter Classic, a race she also won. She traveled Europe and Canada throughout the summer on the World Cup series, where she grabbed her first-ever podium finish and wound up in 7th place in the overall. She was in Scotland for the 2007 UCI world championships, where she finished 9th as the top American. She was in Beijing on September 22 for the Olympic test event - she finished fourth. Most recently, Gould was in Portland, Oregon, where she won the 2007 U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series.

Gould's rise to the top has been impressively quick.

photo: Fred Dreier (file photo)

Like the country's other cross-country racers, Gould hopes her talent takes her to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. With two spots available for American women, Gould is on the extra short list to go. She needs a top-three finish at one of the European World Cups to punch her ticket.

"I don't think there's any secret to get there. I'm really going to be targeting those races," Gould said.

The Perfect Season
Only a small collection of fans were on hand to see Gould win the 2007 National Mountain Bike Series finals, held August 11 in Snowmass, Colorado. But the paltry crowd was treated to a small piece of American mountain bike history, as Gould became only the second woman in history to sweep the NMBS (formerly NORBA) series. American great Juli Furtado swept the NORBA series in 1993, the same year she came one race away from sweeping the World Cup.

But while Furtado came into the 1993 season having wrapped up the NORBA overall and taken five World Cup wins over the previous two seasons, Gould entered 2007 never having won a NMBS cross-country, short-track or World Cup race. Her victory at the series opener in Phoenix on March 31 was her first-ever NMBS victory.

But Gould followed that win up with a string of crushing victories in Santa Ynez and Fontana, California. She climbed away from the women's field in Deer Valley, California on June 16, and at the Sugar Mountain NMBS on July 28.

"I don't think everyone goes into the races thinking Georgia is going to win," said Subaru-Gary Fisher rider Heather Irmiger. "But she wins by such huge margins that we're all racing for second. It's pretty unbelievable."

Gould's only hiccup came at the 2007 USA Cycling national championships at Mount Snow, Vermont. After weeks of heavy rainfall soaked Mount Snow's trails, the women's race churned the soil into slick peanut butter after the opening lap. The muck was to the benefit of Californian Mary McConneloug, who used her superior mud-riding skills to slip away. As the defending U.S. champ, Gould was not pleased with losing her jersey, but admitted she had given it her all.

"On a course like this it's about who makes the least amount of mistakes," Gould said. "I definitely had a few near misses and a few good saves. Mary made the least amount of mistakes."

Save for nationals, the entire domestic women's field spent the year chasing in vain after Gould, who usually shot off the front from the gun. But it was Gould's Luna teammates Katerina Nash and Shonny Vanlandingham who generally were the closest riders to Gould's wheel.

Not surprisingly, Gould, Nash and Vanlandingham finished 1-2-3 in the final NMBS overall standings for cross-country and short track, with Nash taking the short-track title ahead of Gould. After taking the series win in Snowmass, Gould couldn't help reflect on her season of success.

"I am kind of amazed," she said. "I wanted to be a little more consistent this year. I wanted to be a regular podium contender."

The question is what will Georgia Gould want to be next year.

No comments: