Take It Easy, Mme. Longo Jeannie Longo of France rubs many of her road-racing rivals the wrong way -- in no small part because she keeps beating them

September 13, 1988

GRENOBLE HAS BEEN HOME TO A whole series of successful French
revolutions. In the 18th century, Grenoblois rebelled against a
decree by King Louis XVI limiting the powers of the local parliament.
During World War II, the town was a stronghold of the fabled Maquis,
as the Resistance was called. Today it's the base of Jeannie Longo,
29, the favorite in the Olympic women's 50.9-mile road race. Her
revolutions come at the rate of 90 per minute.
''I think I started a revolution, yes!'' says Longo, a rightist
who nevertheless wrote a cycling column for L'Humanite, the French
Communist party daily while winning last year's Tour de France
Feminin, a feat she duplicated this year. ''I think I led a
revolution. Before me, girls were afraid of cycling.''
Even if Longo overstates her role a little, she surely has set the
women's cycling world a-spin. Since entering her first race nine
years ago, Longo has set world records in nine events -- the indoor
3K, 5K, 10K, 20K and one-hour (distance covered), and the outdoor
10K, 20K and one-hour, at both sea level and altitude -- and has won
virtually every title in women's cycling, including the last two
Tours de France Feminins and the three most recent world road-racing
championships. Only Olympic gold has eluded her, and she means to add
that to her collection in Seoul. Last year she became the first
female cyclist to be awarded the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest
Longo's habit of devouring her opponents is only part of the
reason that rival cyclists call her Madame Cannibal. Her thunderous
disapproval of teammates who don't measure up is legendary. ''She
often lacks respect for them as riders,'' says her friend Genny
Brunet, a Canadian rider. ''She's as unforgiving of other people's
mistakes as she would be of her own.''
''Many cyclists don't like her because when she loses, she never
praises the winner,'' says Andre Arnaud Fourny, of L'Equipe, the
French sports daily, which sponsors the Tour de France. ''She always
has an excuse. It is always a good excuse, but still an excuse.''
An accomplished pianist with university degrees in computer
science and mathematics, Longo calculates every move she makes. ''Her
thinking is very Cartesian,'' says Brunet. ''Maybe she's so driven
that when anything seems to slip out of her control, she thinks it's
part of a conspiracy. In a race, she thinks everybody is teaming up
against her.'' Longo is so concerned with sabotage that at races she
keeps her bike locked in her hotel room overnight instead of leaving
it with the team mechanics, as other riders do. ''She's become
extremely paranoid,'' says U.S. cyclist Inga Benedict.
Longo seemed anything but as she tenderly stroked Benjamin, the
teddy bear she takes to every race, in the kitchen of her Grenoble
apartment one morning this summer. The room is plain and cramped.
Medals and ribbons dangle from doorknobs and lampshades and spill out
of the hot-water heater. Longo has found a better use for her
trophies, which brim with pens, pencils and the morning mail. ''Those
who are in the minority are never popular,'' she says, ''but they are
the ones who lead crusades.''
Cycling's Jeannie d'Arc speaks with careful directness, but when a
question doesn't interest her, she glazes over, eyes fixed on the
clock over the stove, fingers fumbling. All morning she had pedaled
on a training ride up the treacherous Col-de-Laffrey. Climbing is her
forte, and for this reason she allows that she is worried about the
race in Seoul, where the course will be as flat as Evian water. ''I'm
a mountain goat,'' she continues. ''I have climbing power and can win
going away. When it's flat, anybody could win.''
Before Longo hit the road, she had been a smash on the ski slopes,
finishing eighth in the slalom at the 1978 French University Games.
That was the year Patrice Ciprelli, a World Cup downhiller, became
her ski coach. The following year Longo started cycling to train for
skiing. When she failed to make the national ski team in 1979,
Ciprelli told her, ''Stick to bikes.''
She was tagged the Bridesmaid because until 1985 second was as
close as she ever got to the world road-racing title. Four years ago,
in the first Olympic women's road race, she looked to be the winner
with 500 meters left, but another rider's wheel hit her derailleur,
forcing Longo to finish on foot. She wound up sixth.
Ciprelli, 34, who is a professional ski coach and also manager of
Longo's Sport Grenoble cycling team, is Longo's eminence grise. ''He
is always pushing me,'' she says. ''I am not so ambitious. Sometimes
I want to tell him, 'Let me sleep, let me lie in the grass.' Because
of him I like to fight.'' They moved in together in 1977 but didn't
get married until 1985.
Last November Longo failed a drug test after a seemingly
successful three- kilometer record attempt at the 7-Eleven velodrome
in Colorado Springs. Bowing to pressure from the Geneva-based Union
Cyclisme International, the French federation reluctantly suspended
her for a month and disallowed her 3K record. She also lost three
other world marks, in the 5K, the 10K and the one- hour for distance
that she had set during the 30 days following the positive result for
the banned stimulant ephedrine.
''I'm innocent,'' says Longo. She says she inadvertently took
ephedrine as part of an herbal remedy for circulatory problems in her
legs. ''The dose was too small for this to be a doping case,'' she
says. ''If they really want to do doping controls, they have to look
at the quantity. The amount of ephedrine they found was only a drop
in the ocean.''
American cyclist Rebecca Twigg, the previous 3K world-record
holder, who in 1985 admitted to having undergone blood-boosting, a
practice that has since been banned in the sport, thinks Longo knew
what she was taking. ''Longo doesn't do things by chance,'' she says.

Longo was so demoralized by the suspension that in February she
pulled out of a pursuit race in Paris against Twigg and had to
forfeit a $25,000 appearance fee. She even talked about retirement.
Eventually all the records except the 3K were reinstated, and Longo
dropped the retirement talk. But she vows not to race in America
again as long as Dr. Robert Voy, the chief medical officer for the
USOC, remains as overseer of drug testing for the U.S. Cycling
Federation. ''The Americans are trying to destabilize me for the
Olympics,'' she says. ''It is no coincidence that I broke the only
record held by an American woman.''
Longo says she persevered with the help of the French public. She
has a solid following with the Gallic people, who voted her Athlete
of the Year in a poll run by Paris Match and L'Equipe. ''Before
Longo, nobody in France was interested in women's cycling,'' says
Fourny. ''After she retires, nobody will care again.''
Until Longo persuaded the Euromarche supermarket chain to back her
new five- woman French team, her sole sponsors were her equipment
manufacturers. ''Sponsors have no imagination,'' she says. ''They
don't realize what a good product I am.''
Longo's revolutionary zeal does not embrace feminism. ''I don't
like the feminist movement, but I know what I do is appreciated by
women,'' she says. ''A lot of women compare themselves to me and
would like to be like me. They look at me and say, 'She can cook, she
can clean the house, she can do shopping, she can walk the streets.'
That, Longo proclaims, is her greatest legacy. ''I've shown that I
can do all those things,'' she says. ''All those things and still be
a champion.''