Linda Jackson doesn't feel old, though in the world of pro cycling she is, at 39, ancient. When she won last month's six-day, 274-mile Hewlett-Packard International Women's Challenge in Boise, Idaho, most of the women in her rearview mirror were 10 to 15 years her junior. "But," says Jackson, "they have nine or 10 years of wear on their legs. Mine are fresh."
Fresh because Jackson, an inspiration for every nine-to-fiver who has ever dreamed of sports glory, is just getting started. A Canadian living in Los Altos Hills, Calif., she began biking seven years ago when it was suggested to her as a rehabilitation tool after a knee injury. Friends who took casual rides with her noticed her talent and encouraged her to compete in local races. Jackson did well in those and in 1992, partly on a lark, she entered the Canadian road race championships, where she shocked the field—and herself—by placing third. By then she was riding every day, even pedaling the 40 miles to and from her six-figure job as a vice president at Alex. Brown and Sons, an investment-banking firm in San Francisco. In August 1993, she quit the workaday world. "Money is nice," says Jackson, "but sometimes you have to take a risk."
This one paid off. Since leaving her job, Jackson has emerged as one of the world's top cyclists. She made the 1996 Canadian Olympic team (a crash seven minutes after the start of the 65-mile road race knocked her out of the race at the Atlanta Games), twice won Canadian national championships in the road race and time trial, and twice finished fifth in the women's Tour de France. "Instead of working all those hours and feeling like crap, I'm living a life of seeing different places and competing against the best," says Jackson. "I've never looked back."