Altitude, attitude prevail in road race France's Longo-Ciprelli, disliked by peers, takes mountainous route to gold

Atlanta Olympics

July 22, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- She didn't train in the Southern heat, she didn't have a sponsor, and she didn't even get a free plane ticket to the Centennial Summer Olympics.

But yesterday, Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli of France came down from the mountain and rode off with the gold medal in the women's road race.

The cantankerous 37-year-old cycling star, who might be the most disliked rider on the circuit, showed that a lot of training in the Rocky Mountains can go a long way in Atlanta's heat. Racing past strip malls, gas stations, churches and mansions, she won the eight-lap, 64.87-mile race in 2 hours, 36 minutes, 13 seconds.

Claiming the silver, 25 seconds behind Longo-Ciprelli, was Imelda Chiappa of Italy. Canada's Clara Hughes, another six seconds back, gained the bronze.

The vaunted Americans, who were touted as medal favorites, didn't even come close to the podium. Jeanne Golay was 29th, Linda Brenneman was 36th and Alison Dunlap was 37th.

For Longo-Ciprelli, the victory enabled her to wipe away more than a decade of Olympic frustration. The five-time road racing world champion hadn't won an Olympic gold in three previous tries.

"This means a lot to me," she said. "This year, not many people trusted me."

She was the cycling champ without a sponsor, the woman whose cycling federation refused to pick up the fare on her Olympic plane ticket because she traveled and trained independently from the team.

But Longo-Ciprelli always has ridden alone, her tactics and training putting off rivals as well as teammates.

"She has been less than friendly to most of the peloton [the group of cyclists]," Dunlap said. "She and her teammates don't have any relationship. They're teammates in name only. She earns the respect through her riding."

So, what has Longo-Ciprelli done to deserve such a reputation?

"She has grabbed jerseys, screamed at other riders, yelled and slapped people in the legs," Dunlap said. "She's difficult with the press. People are going for her. She is a marked woman. Everyone wants to beat her."

The Americans may not like her, but they sure do respect her.

"She is far and away the best rider out there," Golay said. "She is dominant. She is awesome."

Asked why the other racers don't like her, Longo-Ciprelli said: "I don't know. It makes me really uncomfortable. Who doesn't like to win?"

Basically, had other countries followed Longo-Ciprelli's lead, a lot hTC of money could have been saved on dealing with the heat. Most every other athlete at these Games has spent weeks training in the American South to become accustomed to the weather. But not Longo-Ciprelli. She followed the advice of her husband, Patrice Ciprelli, a former World Cup ski racer, and decided to train at altitude in Colorado Springs, Colo., arriving in Atlanta only three days before her race.

"My husband and I thought that we are not likely to get used to the humidity," said Longo-Ciprelli, who will leave for Colorado today and return a few days before her final Olympic race next week.

Experts caution athletes to drink plenty of fluids to survive in the heat, but Longo-Ciprelli limited her water intake to one 17-ounce bottle every 50 minutes during the race. Besides, she dropped the one added water bottle that she was carrying on her bike.

"I like the heat," she said.

Longo-Ciprelli also got a little bit lucky. Midway through the test, there was a driving rain that briefly lowered the mid-80-degree temperatures. When the slippery roadway dried off, she took off, breaking away from the two other medalists to streak home alone.

Was it unusual for a 37-year-old to crush the field?

"I don't think it's extraordinary," she said. "I watch many other sports. I see competitors the same age as me doing well. It is a question of life. I have a quiet life, a safe life, a healthy life."

While Longo-Ciprelli talked of her triumph, the Americans discussed their disappointments after racing in front of a home crowd and streaking over a road painted with slogans such as "Go Golay, Go USA."

Golay crashed three miles into the race, emerged with two scraped knees and a scraped arm, and couldn't pull back into contention. Brenneman and Dunlap couldn't make the break with Longo-Ciprelli.

"We tried our hardest," Dunlap said. "The Olympics is more than just winning -- it's the experience."

The Americans got the cheers. The Frenchwoman got the gold.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.