By Susan Westemeyer
Jeannie Longo, 48 years old and the most successful woman cyclist of all time, has signed to ride for the 2007 season with the Austrian Graz Uniqa Team, the team announced Wednesday. Longo has won an Olympic gold medal, three victories in the Tour de France, 38 world records, 52 national championships, and 13 world titles.
Team manager Klaus Kabasser said, "It all happened very suddenly and surprisingly. Two weeks ago we received an e-mail in which Longo expressed her interest. She didn't have a team for international races." Things moved quickly and she signed a one-year contract on Sunday.
She will not be a financial drain on the team. "Like her colleagues, she will earn a small salary, nothing unusual. The only different thing is that she will have a private sponsor, which she will present on her jersey," Kabasser said.
Despite her age, Longo still retains her top condition, having won both the road and time trial championships in France this year. "Jeannie is full in the swing of things. She is not as dominant as 10 years ago but can still finish a race in the top ten," according to Kabasser.
More importantly, she brings the team valuable points for the World ranking, which will "catapult" Uniqa into the top 15, guaranteeing it a start by the biggest races.
The team is now even considering a start in the Tour de France. "We hadn't planned with that," admitted Kabasser. "But with two French women on the team, it is realistic. We are adjusting our race planning." Austria's last appearance in the women's Tour de France was a national team in 1998.
Longo will not ride the full season, but only a few selected races, particularly time trials. She will make her debut March 24 in Italy and is also expected to ride either the women's Ronde van Vlaanderen or the Fleche Wallonne.