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Resplendent in her pigtails and stars-and-stripes jersey, 20-year-old Beth Heiden punches the air as she crosses the line to win the 1980 Road World Championships in Sallanches, France.
The dramatic photo graced the cover of the September 26, 1980, edition of VeloNews, and it signaled a new era of strength for U.S. women’s road racing. In the ensuing decade riders like Rebecca Twigg, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, Inga Thompson, Janelle Parks, and Ruthie Matthes would all win medals at the world championships road race.
Heiden was the only American of her era to actually win the rainbow stripes, and no elite American woman has claimed the road race title since.
The dramatic sprint came at the end of the 33.5-mile race, which became a battle of attrition as the hilly circuit and stiff pace whittled the front group down to just seven riders after 30 minutes of racing. Heiden and American Heidi Hopkins made the split and took turns pushing the pace until only four riders remained.
Heiden waited for Finland’s Tuulikki Jahre to jump, and then sprinted around the other riders to win.
“It was a good circuit because it had something to test the climbers but enough descending and flat to even it out,” Heiden said at the finish. “It certainly tested everyone with all that twisting and turning.”
Heiden’s victory marked another milestone in her impressive career as an endurance athlete. The younger sister of five-time Olympic speedskating champion Eric Heiden, Beth Heiden forged her own decorated career in speedskating and cycling.
Like Eric, Beth picked up cycling as away to cross-train for skating during the summer months. She won the world championships in speedskating in 1979, and then claimed bronze in the 3,000 meters at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Heiden was inducted into halls of fame for U.S. Speedskating (1989); University of Vermont athletics (1993); and even Wisconsin’s state athletics (2005). In 2013 the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame inducted her as well.
As she spoke to reporters in France, Heiden pointed out the similarities and differences between her two disciplines.
“In speedskating the important thing for me was to record my best-ever time,” Heiden said. “In cycling many things happen, you have to think a lot, there are other riders there and it is very exciting.