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Cycling's ageless wonder Longo still improving at 51

July 21, 2010 |  2:34 pm


Old gold: Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli riding to her 57th national title June 24 in France and, below, holding the gold medal. (Photos: AP / David Vincent)

By Philip Hersh

A few things have slipped by lately while I was working on other things.  I'm getting to them one-by-one and linking you back (below) to the two I have already covered.

3.   French cyclist Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli wins her 57th national title at four months shy of her 52nd birthday -- and 31 years after winning her first.

This happened in late June, when the always controversial Longo crushed her competition in the time trial event at the French championships in Chantonnay.

While it would be easy to attribute Longo's victory to a lack of new French talent (the runner-up, Edwige Pitel, is 43), other factors argue for just how remarkable Longo is.

Longo covered the 15.35 mile course in 34 minutes, 51 seconds, an average speed of 26.4 miles perr hour.  She beat Pitel by 1 minute, 19 seconds.

Longo That is faster than Longo rode over the same course four years earlier, when she averaged 25.6 miles per hour while beating Pitel by 7 seconds.

``I rode the same (as 2006),'' Pitel told reporters.  ``The difference was she (Longo) went faster.''

Longo, who also finished third in the 2010 national championship road race, will represent France in the 2010 worlds.

The way she is riding, it seems likely Longo will make an astounding 8th Olympic team in 2012.  She has won one gold, two silver and one bronze medal; two years ago, at age 49, she finished fourth in the 2008 Olympic time trial.

``I know I don't have a lot of room for improvement, but there are always things to do,'' Longo told the French newspaper, L'Equipe.  ``So, this year I worked on leg speed.''

 Even calling her the greatest women's cyclist in history -- a title she already had earned 20 years ago and which has gone unchallenged since -- seems to fall short of summing up her career.  As for her complex personality and relationship with her sport, it took me 2,167 words to try to sum it up in 2004.  To read that story, click here.

The previous installments:

1.  Hurdler Allen Johnson leaves competitive track and field at age 39.

2.  The U.S. Olympic Committee board last week rejected the Tagliabue committee's recommendation to stop having immediate past chairmen serve as honorary president and attend board meetings.