Bronze medalist Georgia Gould of the United States celebrates after crossing… (Robert Ghement )
BENFLEET, England — — Toward the end of a recent World Cup mountain bike race, Georgia Gould was leading until her leg cramped up and she was overtaken. In another Cup race, she had a flat tire, allowing two riders behind her to speed past and leave her in their dust.
On Saturday in the London Olympics, Gould, of Fort Collins, Colo., was determined that no last-minute problem was going to knock her out of the third-place position she had maintained through most of the 4.7-kilometer race.
"I definitely had that in mind. I didn't want to take any risks on the last lap," said Gould, the bronze medal securely around her neck. "I still can't believe nothing happened in the last lap."
Julie Bresset of France led from the start of the course to finish first at 1 hour 30 minutes 52 seconds, 1:02 ahead of Sabine Spitz of Germany, the gold medalist in Beijing. Gould finished at 1:32.
It was the first time an American woman had medaled in mountain biking since 1996, the first year that it was an Olympic event.
Although there would be no mishaps this time for Gould, Bresset, 23, would prove unbeatable. "I used technique and decided to go ahead quite soon," Bresset said.
After ending the first lap in ninth place, Gould rose to fourth by the second time around. Soon, though, she was in third, where she was "feeling comfortable" until Spitz crashed on some rocks on a steep part of the course called Deane's Drop. Spitz was not injured, nor was her bike broken, and she was able to continue. But the path was too narrow for Gould to get through, slowing her down as she awaited Spitz's recovery.
"It was just that little bit that Julie needed to just punch it," Gould said of Bresset opening up her lead. "That's where she got the gap. It was back and forth a bit with Sabine. She got the better of me."
Lea Davison, 29, of Jericho, Vt., finished 11th in the 30-rider field.
Davison said she could hear the announcer calling the race and heard that Gould was in third. She was thrilled her teammate maintained her position to the end.
"She really deserves it after a lot of bad luck in the World Cups this summer," Davison said. "She's proved that she can be up there, and she did it on a big day."