June 25, 2005 – Spend nine years as an Israeli commando and secret policeman in one of the most dangerous areas of the world and you quickly learn to handle pain, and become fearless and independent – traits that have helped Vancouver’s Leah Goldstein become virtually unbeatable in the top bike races in Western Canada and the USA this year.
Riding on her own, without the help of any teammates, the 36-year-old has won an incredible nine of her first 11 races in 2005, including a dominant five minute victory over Alison Sydor at the Westside Cycling Classic last weekend. Now, Goldstein is aiming at winning her first BC Superweek race, July 15-24.
“Leah has been unbelievable this year,” exclaims her coach, Sara Neil. “The big teams in the US have been ganging up on her and they still can’t stop her. No one can beat her on the hills or in time trials. It’s amazing what she’s done after suffering such a serious injury last year.”
Goldstein broke her right hand last July when she hit a pothole in a high-speed descent on a cold, rainy day during a race in Pennsylvania. It ended her season and her chance of making the Israeli Olympic team. Doctors didn’t set the break properly and when she returned to Vancouver she needed another operation to correct the problem.
“They put screws in it and there was a lot of pain” she recalls. “It still bothers me a lot when it’s cold. It was fairly warm at Mt. Hood (Oregon) this month but I still had to wear ski gloves to reduce the discomfort. All the girls were laughing at me but it worked. I still won.”
Lighter and fitter than ever and at an age where she should be on the down side of her long career, Goldstein is racing better than ever, thanks to the discipline and focus she developed in the Israeli armed forces.
“My mom was 7 months pregnant when she moved to Vancouver in 1969,” explains Goldstein. “So I always joke that I was made in Israel and born in Canada. I’ve always felt I belong to both countries. I went back to Israel to do my two years of military service at 18 and wound up staying for nine years.”
She was a commando before transferring to the secret police services where she did detective and anti-terrorism work and eventually became an instructor. She still returns to Israel each winter to work as a commando and police trainer. It supplements her income and gives her the financial freedom to follow her real passion, bike racing.
“When I started, I remember a coach once asking me if I thought I could handle the pressure of racing,” she recalls. “I thought “˜mentally I’ve already proven I can handle more than you’ll ever face in your life.” She quickly made the Canadian National team and raced in the women’s Tour de France in 1999. Always the loyal soldier, she was a domestique, doing the hard work to get high profile teammates like Alison Sydor in position to win each stage. Back in BC she raced on her own and started winning more
“I keep a race diary and write everything down,” she says. “I keep track and compare my performance in races from year to year. I must be doing something right. I can honestly say I’m always faster than the year before. When that stops I’ll know it’s time to pack it in.”
First, there’s the unfinished business of picking up her first BC Superweek title and she’s planning to race in the Tour de Delta, July 15, 16, 17, the Tour de Gastown, July 20 and the Tour de White Rock, July 22, 23, 24. She’s raced nearly every event each year but has never been better than second.
“The BC Superweek courses are harder for me,” she explains. “There’s not much climbing and they’re hard courses to get away on. The only way I can win is to breakaway or bunny-hop a crash. You’re either a sprinter or a climber depending on body type or genetics. I don’t think you can ever really change. To win a crit. I have to use my head. That’s something that’s become easier for me. I’m a smarter rider now, more relaxed and I don’t panic. I always try to remember it’s just fun. I’m not getting paid a million bucks to win so, what’s the pressure?
The Israelis wanted me to race in the European championships in July but that would mean I’d miss BC Superweek and I don’t want to do that. I’m enjoying this year too much. I might race in the World Championships in October but I’d also like to maybe just end my season in August and then come back a higher level next year. We’ll see.”
For more BC Superweek information visit our website at www.bcsuperweek.com