Ali Goulet: From snowboards to ‘cross bikes
Ali Goulet trades the baggy outerwear of professional snowboarding to the leader’s skinsuit of the masters 35+ USGP series.
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Ali Goulet’s name might not ring a bell with cycling fans, but it just might if you were following snowboard culture back in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Goulet’s name, however, is quickly becoming familiar to the two-wheeled crowd, largely because he’s turning into one of the top cyclocross racers in the country. You might also recall his role in that now-infamous “hotdog handoff” to Alex Howes at the final stage of the Tour of Utah.
Goulet is the current leader of the masters 35+ US Gran Prix of Cyclocross series. Not only is leading the series, but he is dominating it with four wins and two podium finishes. He also won his first cyclocross state championship in Utah this year, beating Cannondale-Monavie’s Bart Gillespie.
Goulet didn’t just sprout up overnight to become an elite level cyclist — he’s been at it since the 1980s — but in some respects he has. In 2007, he surprised many with his 12th place finish at the elite cyclocross national championship in Kansas. That day he was the 85th to start but he had the strength and skill to navigate his way through 73 of the nation’s most determined ‘crossers.
Jump back to Goulet’s early days as a young skateboarder from Vermont. His mom dragged him along to Italy, where he lived about five miles from the nearest town. He used a bike to travel that distance so that he could skateboard and he eventually adopted a new two-wheeled interest.
He moved back to Northeastern Vermont where he made some new friends that were into mountain bike racing. He won the first mountain bike race that he entered and continued to win thereafter.
“At first it was problem for me,” he recalled. “Because when you are a young kid and you win all the time it’s hard to be happy with third or fifth. It took me a while before I would finish races if I was out of the top five.”
Goulet mostly raced in New England, doing an occasional NORBA event, but went so far as to win the junior race at the Grundig World Cup in Vail, Colorado, in 1991. In addition to his obvious talent on two wheels, his winter hobby would eventually steer him away from his summer pursuits.
Goulet’s winters were dedicated to snowboarding since he was 11 years old and his summers were spent mountain biking. After he graduated high school, however, he chose to pursue the snowboard lifestyle and he moved to Vail in 1993.
“Before that it was working at the bike shop,” said Goulet. “And at the end of the year you owe the shop money from all the parts you needed and you’re not working enough because you’re trying to ride your bike and race.”
Goulet found it easier to balance work with snowboarding, but just as he excelled at mountain biking, he flourished in the snowboard scene.
“All the right things fell into place and by the end of 1994 I was already filming for a local Colorado film company and I’d gotten some sponsors,” said Goulet.
Before he knew it, he had video parts for Snowboarder TV on ESPN, a feature created by Snowboarder magazine. The same producer of Snowboard TV contributed footage of Goulet to Fall Line Films for their video, RPM, a snowboard video with a strong cult following back in the day.
For 11 years, Goulet pursued his snowboard career, picking up top-level sponsorship and international media coverage along the way. By 1995 he found himself on the cover of Snowboarder. His fame was based not only on his snowboarding ability, but for his love for music and his rally car obsession. Goulet landed a 16-page interview in Transworld Snowboarding in 1999 and Snowboarder nominated him as the fifth best rider of the year in 2000 based on contest results and video and magazine exposure.
Goulet’s snowboard and binding sponsors created pro models that were named after him and toted graphics that were representative of his lifestyle. Most notably, he was the star rider for the Technine Binding Company with his very own signature model binding. Goulet also starred in several Kingpin Productions films, which were a direct competitor to the popular Mack Dawg Productions videos.
Back to bikes
Boarding, however, is not without its risks and Goulet tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in 2001. Riding a bike was part of his rehab.
“I discovered how much I loved it again and after the rehab I decided I wanted to race bikes again,” he said. “That’s how I got into ’cross. It was fall and there was no more mountain bike racing so I got into this cyclocross thing which I had always sort of known about but I had never experienced it before 2002.”
It didn’t take long for Goulet to get into the rhythm of the sport. He quickly went from being one of the world’s top pro snowboarders to an up-and-coming bike racer. The following summer, Goulet began racing mountain bikes again and soon rediscovered his old form.
“I raced locally as an expert and went from finishing eighth to winning local races to winning the NORBA expert category, and in the same year I won the 25-29 expert national championships.”
Goulet eventually upgraded to the pro mountain bike category and could be seen at top-level NORBA races with a small set of speakers in his jersey pockets that bumped his favorite beats. As music inspired his snowboard career, he naturally incorporated that element into his rediscovered cycling hobby.
“I’ve always been musically driven,” said Goulet. “So when I was getting back into mountain biking I started carrying this speaker with me. And then when I started racing — for me it was a benefit to have music and to be entertained for the two-and-a-half hour race. So regardless of the fact it weighed a pound I always carried that stereo when I started to race. It was passable in mountain biking. I tried it in a road race and got yelled at by an official but everyone else enjoyed it.”
When Goulet found that he was better suited for cyclocross than he was for mountain biking, he began to give it more attention. Before he knew it he was one of the top ’cross racers in Utah, where he lives now in Salt Lake City with his wife and 17-month old son.
“When I turned 35 I wanted to race the USGP and do my best to try to win it over all. I wanted to have one year to try it and if it didn’t work out, oh well,” he said. “Then I need to get back to taking care of the kid — trying not to be so selfish.”
With the help of friends and sponsors, Goulet has been able to keep his equipment expenses relatively low, but he’s still paying his dues to chase the USGP series. Some of the support comes from his current team, The Church of the Big Ring, which is a new online site for bike-related topics, but he has to balance racing, training and work as the Bell Sports rep in Utah.
Coming into the best cyclocross preparation of his career to date, Goulet is on track to make a good showing at the final USGP races in Portland, Oregon this weekend and the masters 35+ national championships in Bend a week later.
Goulet is currently USA Cycling’s top ranked 30-39 male, but he says there are a lot of guys that are off the radar that can do well at nationals. He’s one of the favorites, “but if you get a guy like Brandon Dwight,” he says, who hasn’t racked up a comparable number of USAC points, you never know. Dwight won the 2008 masters 35-39 cyclocross national championships and is expected to defend his title.
Despite a successful bid at the masters 35+ USGP series title, Goulet does not plan to repeat his efforts next year.
“I’m going to race elite next year but I’m not going to race the USGP series,” he says.
Obviously, any talented rider wants to measure-up to the benchmark set by elite racers, but it’s a difficult task without a fully funded team and the dual responsibilities of work and family. No matter what, though, Goulet’s love of the sport remains strong and you can expect to see him riding through mud and hurdling barriers for years to come.