A year ago, American mountain biker Georgia Gould was approaching what would be a magical day at the Olympic Games in London, where she would win a bronze medal in the cross country mountain bike race. It was the highlight of an excellent season. Unfortunately for the Luna rider, 2013 is not going nearly as well.
"I know I've been having a rough season. It's challenging, but it's part of the whole thing," said Gould to Cyclingnews. "As much as it's frustrating and disappointing, I have to remember that it's what makes you really appreciate it when everything is going well and smooth. If it always comes so easily, you don't appreciate it. I hope I'm paying my dues a bit right now."
2013 was the year Gould was hoping for a first career World Cup win - that hasn't happened yet, although a few rounds remain. The world championships are another goal. So far, she has been struggling to match the placings she has had in previous years at both national and international races.
At the US Mountain Bike Nationals at the Bear Creek Resort in Pennsylvania this weekend, the challenging season continued. In the cross country race, a flat tire on lap one put her near the back of the elite women's field. In an impressive show of determination, she continued racing after a visit to the tech zone, and worked her way back up to sixth place from almost last. It was a good ride, but not good enough to defend her 2012 US cross country national title.
"For me, there is always someone who finishes last. It's not how I want to do it, but I respect everyone who finishes the race, no matter how they do, so I can't be like, 'screw this, I'm not on the podium'. I have to finish," said Gould.
"Though at one point, someone told me it was six minutes to the lead, and I was like 'ooh, maybe don't tell me that.' I'm disappointed because I think it could have been a good battle, but it's part of racing."
Then in Sunday's short track national championship, Gould didn't seem to have the legs to match winner Lea Davison (Specialized) or runner-up Chloe Woodruff (Crankbrothers). She finished third.
So what might have caused Gould to struggle so much this year so far? She did go almost directly into the 'cross season after a demanding Olympic year. Then there wasn't much time before it was mountain bike season again.
"I bought a house and moved and remodeled it during cross season," said Gould of another possible factor. "I was a little ambitious only taking three weeks off and thinking I could win a World Cup this year. I was kind of forcing it. I had to stop and take stock. I needed to focus and take time."
Gould' season is far from over after US Mountain Bike Nationals. In fact, the night of the short track race, she was flying to Spain en route to Andorra, where the next round of the UCI World Cup is happening this weekend.
"I'm trying the eliminator, and that's on Thursday, so I'm hoping to get there right away," said Gould, who has only done two other eliminators - the very first one at the Dalby World Cup a few years ago and the Worlds last year.
"I was immediately eliminated," she said of her past eliminator race experiences, "but I've heard that the eliminator will be more mandatory next year. I need to get some experience and see how to work it into my pre-race thing. Of course, I'll do Worlds again this year."
After the Andorra World Cup, Gould will skip the Catamount Classic, the final round of the Pro XCT in Vermont. She had not been contesting the national series this year. Then it's off to Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec for the next World Cup before the Worlds in South Africa in September.
"Going to Catamount too would be too much travel," she said. "If everything was going well, I might be able to swing it, but it's a challenging time, and I need to be selfish and focus on getting it together. I know it will be a great race for women's cycling. I'm disappointed I won't be able to be there, but Catharine [Pendrel] and Teal [Stetson-Lee] will be there for a Luna presence."
As for 'cross season, Gould is making no definite plans yet.
"There is no USGP this year, so I'll have more flexiblity in the schedule. I'll miss the USGP, but there will still be some great racing. I'll see how I feel at the end of the season. I'm trying to not plan too far in advance."
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.