Luna's Georgia Gould is on her way to competing in her second Olympic Games. The American will race the elite women's cross country mountain bike race on August 11.
"I'm excited and honored to be able to represent my country at the Olympics again. I feel like I'm in a better position this year, knowing what to expect the second time around and having four more years of training under my belt," Gould told Cyclingnews. "I'm coming into this next Olympics much more prepared than I was last time."
In 2008 in Beijing, China, Gould finished in eighth place. It wasn't as high of placing as she had hoped, but she was coming off a severe case of heat stroke and has learned a lot in the intervening four years.
"The biggest thing is knowing how overwhelming the Olympics are, no matter how many times you've been there," said Gould. "The whole hubbub around it - it takes forever to do anything. For example, you can think you are going to go ride the course for an hour, and then it takes all day. Just knowing to expect will help. I feel like I'm in a little better spot for handling all that this time."
Going faster and faster
Gould, who won the US cross country national championships earlier this month, has been steadily ramping up her fitness all season. She almost won the last two World Cups in Mont-Sainte-Anne and Windham, New York, and while those losses, especially the second one due to a last minute flat tire, were heartbreaking, they were, nonetheless, confidence inspiring.
"This spring helped me a lot. The World Cup races are great to do to gauge how you are doing against the same field you'll have at the Olympics. So those are always the goal races, even the ones that aren't the qualifiers.
"The thing I have to take away from the last few weeks is that I am riding strong right now and I have good fitness. I'm riding well technically. I had different issues in each of the [last two World Cup] races, but I feel like everything else is where it needs to be. Stuff happens in races and that's part of racing.
"Really, there wasn't a ton of things to do differently. It's not like I made some huge mistake. Looking back, it's not like I would have done something differently. I feel like it's a question of keeping at it, being persistent and having good luck. It was better than feeling good and wondering why I sucked."
After winning nationals in Sun Valley, Gould stayed there for a week to train. She chose not to head immediately home to Colorado, but to spend some time staying at her dad's house in Idaho, where she had once lived.
Then it was time to head back to Colorado and now, she is in France for the final World Cup this weekend in Val d'Isere. And she is hungry for that elusive first World Cup win.
"I'm so glad after those last two races that I have three more chances," said Gould, referring to the World Cup, the Olympics and the world championships as the remaining major events of the season. "The worst, most frustrating thing would be to have to wait until next year if it had been the end of the season."
"I feel like I'm heading in the right direction, and I can still build some more. I hope to get more training in and keeping going in the direction I'm going in. The last few months I've been ramping up. Everything changes every year, and it's hard to say if this is the best one. Every year you figure out more stuff and learn from past mistakes as you hone it in. This year, I got some stuff squared away in terms of preparation for World Cups and knowing what kind of training works well for me."
Following the French World Cup, Gould and her American Olympic teammates will head to Germany for one week to train. They arrive in London on the Monday before the Olympic mountain bike race. Staying in Germany means being in a similar time zone and in the European culture plus less total travel back and forth from home before the Olympics.
Gould said she will have plenty of time to train on the Olympic mountain bike course in Hadleigh Park in the days leading up to the event. "It's open from 10 to 3 from Tuesday through Friday. I won't be there for that long every day."
She's already spent plenty of time on it and knows what to expect. "I've been to every opportunity to ride the course, so I've made the effort to get in all the recon that I could in advance on the course."
Fasten your seat belts for a great Olympic MTB race
Women's elite mountain biking has been extremely exciting this year with several riders winning World Cups and many more capable of winning a medal.
"It's not like how it was back when Gunn-Rita [Dahle Flesjaa] was winning everything. It's anybody's game and that's what will make this women's race so exciting," said Gould. "There are more than five people who could legitimately win the race."
She predicts that the race will stay together more than usual. "There are no super long climbs. There is no one section of the course that is super defining. The way it went last year [in July at the test event where she finished second], smaller groups stayed together. I think it will be an exciting race."
Gould predicts that wind will be a factor given the open, relatively treeless course. "On one of the training days, it was really windy, and I was getting blown around literally on one of those drop-offs. There are a few places where drafting could be useful if it's very windy."
Ironically, Gould's toughest competition could come from her own Luna teammates: world champion Catharine Pendrel and Katerina Nash are medal-winning favorites, too, although several other racers could step onto the podium such as Irina Kalentieva, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa and Julie Bresset, to name a few.
While Gould is hoping to ride herself toward a gold medal, she knows an exciting Olympic race would be good for the sport of mountain biking. "The tighter the racing, the more interesting to watch. It's better than long gaps between people. I think it will be a good race."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full Olympic coverage!