If medals were given on performance and not on result, there would be only
one candidate for Gold from this afternoon's race in Hamilton.
“The Empress,” 45 year old Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, who won her first race in
1979, four years before Nicole Cooke was born, gave a regal performance today
that thrilled the 65,000 roadside fans at Hamilton.
“The Princess,” 20 year old Nicole Cooke, the youngest ever winner of the
World Cup series, the Commonwealth and British Champion, had been the main
animator of the race with three laps to go. When Cooke's charge had been brought
back by the peloton, everyone expected an attack. No one suspected that attack
would come from 13 times world champion Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli.
"I'm from the mountains and follow a biological diet," she says by way of
explanation for her longevity. Jeannie Longo has been a sports enthusiast since
her childhood, encouraged by her mother, a school and gym teacher, and her
father, who also taught his three daughters to box and wrestle. She took up
hiking, swimming, athletics, cross-country cycling and, of course, skiing, and
was on her university team. She first turned to cycling in 1979 because the 1980
World Cycling Championships were scheduled to be held at Sallanches (Haute-Savoie),
virtually on her doorstep. Determined to compete on her home ground and - why
not? - to win, Jeannie got her licence, took part in the France Championships,
and promptly won, aged twenty-one.
Olympic Games in Atlanta, August 1996: Gold medal in road racing and silver
medal against the clock. October 1996: world champion against the clock. Jeannie
Longo now had eleven world titles, in road and track racing, and twenty-five
Olympic and World Championship podium finishes. Twenty days later, she was in
Mexico, where she beat the world hour record (48.159 km). On October 31, in her
native Alps, she celebrated her thirty-eighth birthday.
The Race Today
Today, Longo powered on to establish a 25 second gap that left the chasers in
a quandry - both Melchers and Cooke did the most work in the chase down. They
had both come to the same conclusion - if they did not chase, then no one would.
Melchers said, “I did lots of work on the last lap but felt I had to decide to
chase Longo or the race was lost.”
Cooke: “In retrospect I probably did too much work but expected others with
more than one rider in the group to help.”
Longo pushed on and just when it looked like she would be caught on the final
climb, she kicked again.
"The fact that I only weight 48 kilogrammes wasn't going to do me any favours
on the final descent and I knew that my lead was a bit thin. But it seems like
it's always the same riders who don't want to see an old biddy like me being at
the front. It creates chaos."
Meanwhile, still in the pack remained the “Queen,” Susanne Ljungskog,
reigning champion, was biding her time: “I wanted to wait until the sprint and
decide to let others work. I felt that as defending champion, I could afford to
let others dictate the chase.” As “the Empress” Longo’s magnificant effort was
finally caught, the “Queen” Ljungskog, 27, outsprinted Melchers, Edita
Pucinskaite and the “Princess” Nicole Cooke.
"It was really tough," Ljungskog said. "I wasn't sure if I'd even won - they
only told me two minutes ago. I'm really happy but I still can't quite believe
I've won again."
Thanks much to Tony Szurly, on the ground in Hamilton.