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The middle of October is the thick of cyclocross season. If you're new to the sport, picture this: Riders on road bikes with knobby tires race around a circuit covering grass, sand, mud, road, and the occasional singletrack—with barriers thrown in for good measure. For an insider's perspective on cyclocross, Mountain caught up with Georgia Gould of Team Luna Chix. The pro cyclist won the 2010 US national mountain bike championship, and races cyclocross in the off-season. After the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross series stop, The New Belguim Cup, in her hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, she's ranked second among elite women. (Catch her in the mud-splattered video recap of the event above.)
Why did you start racing cyclocross?
It mostly started as a way to keep fitness through the winter, as well as get more race experience. If you race mountain bikes in the summer and then cyclocross in the fall, you get two seasons in one year. When I first started racing mountain bikes, I felt like I didn't have as much experience as the women I was racing against. They had already been racing for 6-plus years.
You're primarily an XC mountain bike racer. What's the difference between mountain biking and cyclocross?
In cyclocross the race is so much shorter. In a mountain bike race it's you versus the course, rather than you versus other people. In a mountain bike race it gets strung out and it's more about fitness. You're rarely with someone else the entire race. In cyclocross, the race is shorter and doesn't have the elevation change, so the racing stays a little bit tighter.
What are your goals with cyclocross?
It's really hard because the cyclocross and mountain bike seasons are both getting longer. Mountain biking is starting earlier in the spring and cyclocross is starting earlier in the fall, so you can't really do both 100 percent. I've had to make a decision to make mountain biking more of my focus. I still want to do well in cyclocross, but it's more for fun without all of the pressure. I still train hard and want to win every race I enter, but this is the time of year that I want to do other things also. I don't put the same pressure on myself as I do with mountain biking. The energy and crowd support in cyclocross races definitely attracts me though. I find myself wanting to do as many races as I can.
It seems like cyclocross is celebrated for its gross conditions. Does that change your race tactics?
Based on the time of the year, you're attracting the type of the people that are thinking: "It's cold and wet and muddy and I have to carry my bike while running. Great!" It really attracts the type of people that are into that challenge.
It doesn't really change my race tactics. In the mud it becomes a less tactical race. You can't just sit in and wait. It becomes a question of how many mistakes are you making, and how well do you shake them off. Handling skills become much more of a factor in those types of races.
I raced in the USGP in Fort Collins. The crowd during the pro races reminded me of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
That's what cyclocross really has going for it right now. People are fired up to watch it and fired up to race it. The heckling is awesome. People are trying to get you to give a high five while you're barely making it up a hill. The energy is really incredible. I think the crowds were great for all of the categories, not just the pros. It allows all of the different categories to get a feel for the crowd support. I think it's exciting to watch every category race, whether it's the kids or a category 2/3 race or master's. You can see people leaving it all out there on the course. —Sydney Fox
For more on Georgia Gould, check out her website or follow her on Twitter. The US Gran Prix of Cyclocross has two more races this season, The Derby City Cup (Louisville, KY; Nov. 12–13) and The Deschutes Brewery Cup (Bend, OR; Dec. 10–11).