"I started biking only a few months before the trials. I wasn't going to be world-class as a runner, and bicycling fascinated me, particularly the idea of stage races like the Tour de France—day after day of grinding it out. Although I do get lazy, the harder something is—physically and mentally—the more it intrigues me. I looked at bicycling and wondered, Can I do that?
"I went to the '84 trials for experience. I had no expectations, so it was easy to go hard." Benedict boldly attacked the hilly course in Spokane and muscled her way onto the Olympic team. "She did it on strength alone," recalls Novara-Reber, who was a competitor. "Inga's always been one of the strongest riders. After L.A., she just needed to learn how to do the sport and she'd be great."
But in 1985 Benedict hit a roadblock. "I was in and out of hospitals all year," she says. "They thought I had MS; they thought I had a brain tumor. I guess it was the Epstein-Barr virus, but no one knew what it was at the time." She was in her second year at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo but had to drop out. "When you're that fatigued and depressed, you feel you have no future," she says. "I thought I'd never race again. But I recovered, and '86 was a much better year."
Benedict joined the 7-Eleven team, and she started to compete again, coming in third in both the Tour de France F�minin and in the Coors Classic, the premier stage race in North America. She became engaged to Chris Benedict, and not long after they were married, the couple settled into their one-bedroom, six-vehicle-garage home in Reno. "Life got good again," says Inga.
It has remained good. Last year she won four races in the U.S. and finished second in the Coors. She won the silver medal in the Pan Am Games road race and won this year's Coors. Because one of last month's Olympic trials doubled as the U.S. road-race championship, Benedict is now the national champion as well.
In both the '86 and '87 Coors races and in the Tour, Benedict finished behind a daunting Frenchwoman, 29-year-old Jeannie Longo. "She deserves to be the Olympic favorite," Benedict says. "But I like the situation on our team better than I like the situation on-hers. She is the girl for France, so they've selected two workhorses to pull for her and block for her. They [the others on the three-woman French team] won't be fast enough to win; they'll just be out there to work for Longo. We have three women who are strong early and are strong sprinters. Since it's the Olympics, it's going to be an awfully fast pace right from the start. That's good for the U.S. All three of us will be up there the whole two hours, I promise."
And don't be surprised if Inga is first at the finish.