For the second time in three years, Luna’s Georgia Gould ended her season as the winner of the Iceman Cometh Challenge, the 29-mile point-to-point mountain bike race that celebrated its 25th anniversary Saturday in Traverse City, Michigan.
Gould also won the Iceman Challenge in 2012, coming off her best season to date, a season that brought bronze medals at the Olympic Games and world championships, as well as four World Cup podium appearances.
However Gould has struggled since then, failing to crack the top 10 at an international event since that 2012 world championship race.
Her 2013 season was, in her words, “sucky,” while 2014 was not without its struggles, with sub-par international results, but a bit of salvation as well, with top-five finishes at four of the seven domestic Pro XCT events. Specifically, second-place at the national cross-country championship in July, just 15 seconds behind Lea Davison (Specialized), and a pair of wins the following day in the Super-D and short-track cross-country races, served as confirmation to Gould that, at age 34, she’s still got a bit of fire left in the stove.
Gould said that after taking most of the fall of 2013 off, she’d committed to racing the Iceman back in March, determined to return to what she said is quite possibly “the most fun bike race… ever.”
“Personally, for me, when I first heard people talking about the Iceman, it was always about the awesomeness of the event, more than just about the race,” Gould said. “There’s not much singletrack, but it’s really fun. It’s a point-to-point, which is a refreshing change from what I usually do, which is the World Cup standard 15-minute lap with steep climbs, and steep descents. This race is the total opposite — every hill you can see the top of. It’s fast, you’re in the big ring the whole time. There is a fair amount of singletrack, and also fun doubletrack. I was surprised the first time I raced it, by how much I liked the course.”
On Saturday, in cold, wet, and muddy conditions, Gould rode the majority of the 29-mile race alone to beat Canadian Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) by over three minutes; American Kelli Emmett (Liv) finished third, 1:21 behind Batty.
“It was pretty muddy this year, which added another element,” Gould said. “Because it is so fast and so flat, it can be a very tactical race. I remember that from 2012, everyone sat on my wheel, no one wanted to work, and it was hard to get away. There is no long, sustained climb, so you have to be patient and know when to make your move. At the beginning, I told myself to sit in, and to be patient.
“Then it whittled down to five or six of us, and we started to catch some of the guys. We went through a muddy section, and I was in the lead, and after we were through it, I had opened up a small gap. There was still about 30km to go, and I thought, ‘if I go now, I can ride my own pace, and I don’t have to worry about all the messing around. I can ride my own tempo, and save a little in case anyone catches me.’ Of course, as you get towards the finish, you start going for it a little more.”
Gould crossed the finish line in 2:12:55, to the cheers of a raucous crowd, a confetti cannon, and, a little later, a $6,000 check for the first-place finisher. She estimated she rode the final 90 minutes on her own.
All totaled, more than 5,400 participants took part in last weekend’s Iceman race, which rides through Michigan’s Pere Marquette State Forest. Prize money was on offer to the top five finishers in every amateur category.
“It was an awesome way end the season,” she said. “It is such an awesome community. I couldn’t believe the number of people at the finish line, considering it was 35 degrees out, sleeting and snowing. It’s amazing, all the people who race in the morning, and then come back out there for the pro finish. Afterwards, there was a fantastic party, with a great band. Everyone was having so much fun. It is the most fun bike race… ever. I’ll be back next year. Nothing else is confirmed for 2015, but I’ll be back at the Iceman.”
In the men’s race, Sheboygan, Wisconsin resident Brian Matter (KS Energy Services-Team Wisconsin) won his fourth Iceman title, giving him the most in the event’s 25-year history. Matter won in 1:56:54, four seconds ahead of defending champion Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox Racing), with Derek Zandstra, also of Scott-3Rox Racing, third, one second behind Kabush.
Gould, whose contract with Luna runs through the 2016 season, said she’s more or less done racing for the year, though she expects to race the national cyclocross championship in Austin in January.
“This fall I have been doing whatever I feel like,” she said. “I haven’t been training specifically for cyclocross, at all. I have been riding, but not training. I needed a mental break, as much as anything. I’m riding, but I am not looking at a training schedule.”
In the week before Iceman, Gould raced three days of UCI cyclocross at the Cincy3 Cyclocross Festival, finishing fifth, then eighth, then third in the Pan-American Continental Cyclocross Championship, behind Compton and Meredith Miller (Noosa).
Though she’s never won a national title, Gould has finished second three times behind 10-time winner Katie Compton. Her best result this fall was at the September 20 Trek CXC Cup in Wisoconsin, where she finished second to Compton.
“I always feel obligated to go to nationals, that’ll be my next race,” Gould said.