The Woman Who Changed Mountain Bike Racing
You might know of Georgia Gould as the bronze medalist in mountain biking at the 2012 Olympics in London. Or you might know her as the woman who launched the “Gould Formula”, a 2007 proposal to award equal pay to the top five men and women in UCI cyclocross races. Or, lately, you might just know her as the woman who just flew by you at Kingdom Trails. After several years of living in the mountain bike mecca of Fort Collins, Colorado, Georgia and her husband Dusty LaBarr decided to relocate to East Burke in 2018 where they live with their son Jude and their daughter Quinn.
What was the catalyst that made you decide to move from Colorado to East Burke?
I decided to move after the birth of my daughter Quinn, three years ago. My family and my husband’s family are both from the East Coast and we wanted to be within a day’s drive of them. We made the decision to relocate in late 2017 and moved here in April of 2018.
How often had you ridden Kingdom Trails before then?
I had never ridden any of the Kingdom Trails but that was certainly part of the appeal. My husband had been looking at places with trails in upstate New York, but I had heard that Kingdom Trails was awesome. He thought the area might be out of our price range but it was actually cheaper than some other places we were looking at. We came up in January of 2018. There was four feet of snow on the ground so we couldn’t really see the trails but we thought it looked like we could live here. We made the leap of faith and stayed in New Hampshire for a while and then found our house.
Do you make use of the trails in the winter? I know your family tree has a skiing branch.
My stepmother Abbi Fisher, an alpine ski racer, competed in two Olympics and won World Cup medals in slalom and giant slalom. I grew up downhill skiing. I didn’t do much of it during my biking career but I’ve picked it up again since I moved here. That was another reason for us to choose this area. Easy access to four season outdoor recreation was a big draw.
How does the caliber of riders here compare to Colorado?
Certainly, cycling in general and mountain biking in particular are very popular in Colorado. The combination of the location, the proximity to a big airport and mild winters makes it a great place for professional cyclists to live and train and that’s what drew us there originally. In the East. there aren’t as many serious racers; it’s more recreational or lifestyle, and people riding for fun which is how racers get started. It feels like I’m coming full circle. I wish there was more racing close by, but I’m always happy to just get out and ride my bike.
What’s your favorite mountain bike trail in Vermont and why?
There are so many good trails. I really like J-Bar and Moose Alley at Kingdom Trails. They are fun, have a variety of different terrain, and are the style of riding I enjoy. I’m not big on jumps and built features. I like natural trails with roots and rocks, rather than the built stuff like bike park features which is more popular these days. I’m getting old and I like to keep my wheels on the ground.
Do you have a favorite gravel ride?
The gravel riding here is just amazing. There are so many different loops I haven’t had the opportunity to explore. There is a great loop that goes around Burke Mountain through the town of Victory and has some class four roads. It even goes through a bird sanctuary. It has some climbing and some flats and it’s really beautiful. I think it’s part of the course for Rasputista.
Aside from Rasputista, did you have any other races planned before the onset of Covid-19?
Rasputista has been on my list, but I just gave birth three weeks ago so that has limited my training. Circumburke was cancelled in 2019 but I did it in 2018. I’ve done a UCI race at Catamount Family Center and last summer I did a shortened version of the VT3 in Craftsbury that was a lot of fun because I really love trail races. I’m interested in doing anything local. I’m more interested in mountain bike races than gravel races, although I’ve done some gravel ones. I haven’t really had the chance to do cyclocross racing because there isn’t much locally and with a three-year-old and a three-week-old, I don’t want to do much driving. I did two Vermont cyclocross races two years ago and one in Boston last year. I’ll travel if I can. It depends on how ambitious my husband is feeling and how things are going.
Was their one situation or event that prompted you to advocate for equal pay for women?
In 2007, I was at the podium ceremony for a cyclocross race, sitting with the other women in the top three and the guys from the top three. The guy who won said it was a pretty awesome payday, but since I only got $250 I just said it was good. He said that $2,500 was more than good and that’s how I learned he had earned ten times the prize money I had. I went back and looked at the UCI regulations and saw that the women’s prize purse minimums were ten times less than the men’s. I put together an on-line petition and got about 3,000 people to sign and presented it to the full UCI and each of the commissions, rather than just cyclocross. I never heard back, but the first thing that happened as a result of the petition was people became aware. Just as I hadn’t been aware [of the disparity], a lot of others weren’t, and they were surprised and outraged. Just raising awareness meant that a lot of the race promoters in the U.S. made their prizes equal for men and women. We didn’t change the rules but it was a great first step.
In 2011, I was contacted by UCI asking if I would be on an athlete advisory commission so I realized I hadn’t pissed them off too much. In 2013, I got a spot on the mountain bike commission and one of the first issues I brought up was making the prizes the same for men and women. In mountain biking, the disparity wasn’t as great with women making maybe $520 when men made $600. I thought that would be a great first step and it was one of the first things I brought up. I was the only woman on the commission but when I said we should have equal prize money, they all agreed. I was expecting more of a fight.
Mountain biking became the first UCI discipline to have equal prize money in all races. There has been progress in cyclocross and hopefully road and other disciplines. I hope that mountain biking can provide a template so the others can follow suit. For me it was a question of doing something to move in the right direction but not knowing if I was going to get any traction. You never know what will happen. Sometimes you just have to be the person in the room. I wasn’t a pioneer. I just said something. It’s not like I was working tirelessly but sometimes just saying something is enough.
Both you and Lea Davison (also a London 2012 Olympian) are now in VT. Do you work/ride/play together? Are you involved with Little Bellas?
I’ve seen Lea a couple of times since I’ve moved here. She’s been to some events here in the Kingdom and I saw her at the Catamount UCI race. I’ve gotten to ride with her in those instances but she’s still racing full-time so that’s the extent of how much I’ve seen her. When I was racing and living in Colorado, I helped out at some Little Bellas events but not so much since I’ve been here.
Who are your role models and heroes in mountain biking?
When I started riding, I didn’t really know anything about racing and once I started racing I was so new to the sport that I was just figuring out who the people were as I went along. Luna was the big team and I remember seeing all the names on that team and being in awe and intimidated. I remember lining up next to Shonny VanLandingham at a race and having her say “you’re having a really good season” and being amazed that she knew who I was. I ended up being her teammate. I was nervous about being on an all-women’s team, thinking it might be stressful and super competitive but I was impressed at how willing they were to share advice and how much it wasn’t the way I had feared. I was so impressed that these women who were so talented were so down to earth and willing to help me as a new up and coming rider.
What’s your fitness routine and how has that changed since pregnancy?
When I was pregnant with my daughter Quinn it was the end of the 2016 season so I sort of went right from full-time racing to pregnancy. That was a really big change. I hadn’t not trained in so long that it was actually really hard to turn off the habit of feeling I had to be training, and getting back to doing whatever I felt like and what felt good. Not having to go out and do a workout or follow a schedule was very freeing. I definitely let go some of that type A of having to be training for something and it was nice to know that I didn’t have to ride; I could do yoga or whatever. I wasn’t trying to be the fittest pregnant lady. Not having a competition was a relief. I stopped riding a month or a month and half before my due date but that was because I wasn’t that comfortable on my race bike.
This pregnancy I rode a lot more but I think it’s because it’s a bigger bike with different geometry. I rode up until my due date and it felt good. Now I’m not training other than for local races. I’m not getting paid to race my bike anymore and I can do what I want. I swam a lot when I was pregnant with my daughter but this time it wasn’t an option since the pools were closed so riding was my only exercise option. I didn’t feel comfortable walking or hiking; that just didn’t work for me. Riding was really something I could do up until I had my baby and I started back up a couple of days ago. This time it will be quicker getting back to the fitness I had before the pregnancy.
Do you still keep bees and chickens?
I got two hives last year but neither made it through the winter. I’m still trying to figure out whether there’s something special you have to do here because winter is more severe. We have chickens which is a fun thing when you have kids. Finding a little present in the nest every day is fun for my daughter.
What do you and your husband do for work and for pleasure?
My husband does property management so he has a pretty flexible schedule and I do logistics for the Rally Cycling team which was able to start in-person racing in August. They race in Europe and the U.S. and they are constantly traveling. I can do that on my own time and on my kids’ schedules and I can do it from anywhere. For play, we live right on Kingdom Trails; one trail crosses our property. Running, riding, skiing, it’s all pretty accessible here.
We’re really happy with the move. This a great place to raise kids with a little slower pace of life and a strong sense of community. I’ve been impressed with how friendly our neighbors are. We’re wishing we moved sooner. We like having a little more space and we’ve got raspberries and a big garden. It’s a really nice lifestyle. —Phyl Newbeck