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Cycling Hasn’t Become Grind for Jeannie Longo

Associated Press

Jeannie Longo broke 10 world records and won two world championships last year. Still, she mostly rides for fun.

“It’s easy to look around you and enjoy the mountains,” she said.

In her apartment, on the outskirts of Grenoble and within sight of the French Alps, Longo has put her many cycling trophies to good use. One holds pens and pencils. Another is for keys. Another holds the mail.

The world records Longo set last year range from the fastest 3,000 meters indoors to three different records for distance covered in an hour -- one set indoors, one outdoors at sea level and one outdoors at high altitude.

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The two world championships came in September at Colorado Springs, Colo., in the 3,000-meter pursuit and the other in the road race, which she won for the second straight year.

While some top men cyclists are sports heroes in France -- especially Bernard Hinault, five-time winner of the Tour de France -- women’s cycling events draw far less attention.

Longo is trying to change that.

“I think I am well known in a different way than Hinault,” she said. “Cyclists, male cyclists, have a mystique about them, sort of ‘Giants of the Road.’ Maybe if a woman can do the same thing, it’ll be more human.”

Longo believes she is making headway.

“The unspecialized public is taking an interest,” she said. “I think I represent a different image for the sport.”

During the brief winter off-season, Longo rides indoors two or three times a week and occasionally runs. The regimen is harsher during the summer, when she covers up to 70 miles in training rides of three to four hours a day.

“In the movie ‘Rocky,’ it projected the image of a perfect sportsman,” she said. “Maybe I am the contrary. When people look at me they say, ‘She’s like us, maybe we can do it.’ ”

This fall in Paris, Longo set an indoor record for 3,000 meters at 3 minutes, 45.386 seconds. Two days later, she sliced nearly two seconds off her own mark, covering the same distance in 3:43.490.

But that is not the record that has given her the most pleasure.

“I’m very proud of my first hour record in Colorado Springs because I was so impressed,” she said. “I was afraid to do it. I didn’t know before if I could do it.”

In one hour, she rode 27.82 miles.

Also memorable was the record set in Grenoble, for five kilometers indoors in 6 minutes, 22.713 seconds.

“That was completely different. There were six or seven thousand people and I didn’t really expect it. It was a completely different atmosphere,” she said.

Just one big goal looms ahead: The Tour de France, which tests cyclists over varied terrain for more than two weeks. For two years in a row, Longo has finished second to Italian Maria Canins, who was unbeatable in the difficult mountain crossings.

“I have to train more. Canins is strong in the mountains. She’s like a goat. I have to try and climb as hard as her. I try every year to develop something I didn’t have before. I didn’t climb very well before. Now I climb better,” she said.

At the world championships, on a flatter course that covered less than 40 miles, Longo had the edge.

A former university ski champion who has been competing in cycling since 1979, Longo has begun thinking about retiring in two years. But she expects pressure to compete in the 1989 world championships, to be held in Grenoble and nearby Chambery.

For now, Longo has asked Soviet cycling authorities for permission to try for a record in Moscow.

“The track there is fast,” she said. “It has good wood. It is also 333 meters a lap compared to 210 meters in Grenoble. Maybe they are afraid if I go there I will put the records too high. Almost unbeatable. They didn’t say no. They said, ‘Maybe next year.’ ”


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