Jeanson a dark horse in the medal race
MONTREAL (CP) -- At the end of a trip to Australia early in the season, cyclist Genevieve Jeanson and coach Andre Aubut found themselves with 700 Aussie dollars left over.
"I said we should go to the bank and change the money, but Genevieve said: 'No, we're going to need it when we come back,' " Aubut recalled recently.
Aubut was pleased, but not surprised at his young charges' cockiness.
At the time, Jeanson had not qualified for Canada's Olympic team, although her startling victory at the five-day Tour de Snowy in Australia, her first race as a senior, gave notice that she would be a leading candidate.
An electrifying win at the gruelling Fleche-Wallone race in Belgium a short time later, when she broke from the pack and left many of the world's top women racers in her dust, announced her arrival to the cycling world.
Now, with her Olympic qualification secured at the Canadian trials in July, Jeanson is heading back to Australia to the 2000 Olympics as a dark horse candidate for medal.
"I just want to go and do the best I can," the diminutive rider
said. "It's my first Olympics, not my last."
Jeanson, who started racing at age 12 in the cycling hotbed of Lachine, Que., seemed to come from nowhere to capture the attention of the cycling world this year.
The three-time Canadian junior champion in both the road race and individual time trial first made international headlines last fall, after sweeping both events at the world junior championships in Italy.
Thin and light, but blessed with powerful thighs and a remarkable capacity to endure the pain of a long, steep climb up a mountain road, Jeanson is now considered among the top prospects in women's cycling.
"I can see her winning the (women's) Tour de France one day," said Daniel Manibal, organizer of the annual women's World Cup race in Montreal. "She's learning the trade now, but she's a fast learner and she's charismatic."
In Sydney, Jeanson will be part of a three-woman team with Clara Hughes of Winnipeg, a double bronze medallist at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and Lyne Bessette of Knowlton, Que.
Any of the three has a chance of winning, and the big question going into the Games is how Jeanson, who rides alone, will fit into a team concept.
But Hughes and Bessette, who both ride as pros for the Saturn squad, conspired at the nationals in Peterborough, Ont., to have Jeanson qualify for the Olympic team, acknowledging her talent gave them the best chance for a medal.
"At the Olympics, we have to work as a team," said Bessette. "If we all race as individuals, we can't win."
Bessette knows. A year before Jeanson's breakthrough, if was Bessette who shocked the racing world with some big wins in Europe.
But opposing teams noticed and began marking Bessette more closely, forcing her to pay more attention to tactics and teamwork.
It has already began to happen to Jeanson. At a World Cup race in Montreal this summer, the powerful GAS team sent three-time Tour de France champion Fabiana Luperini just to mark Jeanson, who finished a crushing 24th.
"Maybe the surprise effect isn't there any more, but everyone knows about (French star) Jeannie Longo and she still wins races," Jeanson said. "She finds a way to win and that's what I've got to do."
Many in the cycling community feel Jeanson won't progress until she has a strong team around her, but thus far, the independent-minded Jeanson has resisted joining an established squad.
She has had run-ins with Canadian cycling authorities on the same subject, and on Aubut's demand last year that she be exempted from qualifying for the Olympic team.
There is talk now of finding a sponsor to build a new team around Jeanson, based on the theory that putting a rider of her talent in a supporting role would be like skating an 18-year-old Wayne Gretzky on the fourth line.
But in Sydney, it's a one-day race and, with only three women per team, the chance may present itself for a breakaway by any of the Canadian riders.
And the one most likely to try it is Jeanson.