And on her last ride this year in Montreal she was edged out by the width of a tire by three-time world champion Galina Tsareva of Russia, who is built like an NFL guard. Sheila put back on the floppy red hat she had been wearing between races, walked over to Tsareva and congratulated her. The Russian doctor translated Tsareva's friendly reply: "Thank you. But I can't skate."
It turned out that Tsareva couldn't ride a bike as fast as Sue Novarra, either. Tall and rangy, her long blonde hair streaming in the wind, Novarra cranked out the laps and came from up high on the boards to tear past Tsareva on the inside. After dismounting, she hollered, "Boy! I got her, didn't I? I waited for her to turn her head and I went ptschooo." Sue restlessly answered questions from the press and then declared expansively: "If anybody wants to know, I'm 18 years old."
But another Russian, Tamara Piltsikova—28 years old, if anybody wants to know—beat Sue in the finals. Sue's father, Jim, a former trumpet player who helps run an Italian restaurant in Flint, Mich., looked on from the stands. He thought—a lot of people thought—that Sue had won. But the scoreboard showed Piltsikova as the champion.
"Mamma mia," said Jim Novarra.
The Italian 100-kilometer team might well have said the same thing a few days later, when, along with such other traditionally strong entries as Belgium and France, they were beaten by the ninth-place U.S. quartet of John Howard, Wayne Stetina, Rich Hammen and Jim Ochowicz. The race—in which the U.S. finished 21st last year and 14th in the Munich Olympics—amounts to pedaling as hard as possible for more than two hours along a level stretch of pavement, in this case a closed-off length of the Trans-Canada Highway.
Each team goes off separately, so it is a matter of fighting the clock, the hot sun, the wind and the coasting instinct. Team members take turns leading, cutting through the wind for the others; they switch rhythmically every 15 or 20 pedal strokes. But just keeping up is grinding work; the lactic acid builds up in the legs and "it's a horrible feeling," says Howard, the team's strongest puller most of the way. "You have to be constantly telling yourself that suffering is more noble. I finished just totally shattered. Which was what I wanted to do."
The Swedish team shattered at a somewhat higher pitch and won the gold. The Russians were second, but one of them was taken away in an ambulance.
For the U.S., however, the individual amateur road race was a bigger ordeal. The route took the riders up and around steep Mount Royal 14 times. Belgium's fabled Eddy Merckx, who won as expected over the same course in the professional road race the next day, called the course "murderous."
"I just blew completely apart," said John Allis of Boston. "I looked down and there were no legs there." And he was the one American, of six entered, who finished the race. He came in 64th.
"They're strong enough," said U.S. Road Race Coach Butch Martin, 27, who is half black and half Italian—cycling's answer to Franco Harris—and who drives a cab part time in New York. "What the Americans lack most is international experience."