But while higher education was dandy in its way, the great whir and hum of bicycling kept distracting Twigg. What was astir, of course, was that suppressed competitive streak. And along came the Washington State Championships, in June of '77. A race. Up until this point about all she had beaten were cars, and they were so, well, metallic or something. And thus, uncoached and inexperienced—but strong—Twigg walked from shop to shop around town until she finally came upon the Tamura brothers of Pine Street Cycles, who agreed to lend her two bikes so she could enter the meet. One was a yellow, slightly used Sekai 4000. "It seemed so sophisticated," she says now. "Ten speeds! And it weighed only about 21 pounds." The other was a track bike, also a Sekai, one of those mean contraptions with fixed drive, one gear and no brakes.
Trying to dope out how to ride the track machine, Twigg took it over to the Marymoor Park Velodrome, which was 400 meters around and reasonably wide, with banked turns averaging 25 degrees. It was frightening. "First time on a velodrome, there's the feeling that you're going to fall off the world," she says. But there was also the discovery that if one sucked it all up and rode near the top in a sprint race, one could suddenly dive diagonally downward just at the finish and blow everybody's spokes off.
Exactly. But she got little chance to try it at first. As the only intermediate girl in the state championship sprints, Twigg was thrown in with two boys for three scratch races of one kilometer each. She finished more or less even with them and, needless to say, won her class. In the road race the following week, three seven-mile loops out in the country, one other intermediate girl entered, and Twigg smoked her by some 20 minutes. Suddenly here was a state champion with no idea how she'd gotten there. In the nationals, also held in Seattle later that year, Twigg finished third on the road and fifth on the track in the intermediate class. "It was then," she says, "that I decided to stay with racing. And it wasn't long before I was winning some here and there. Whenever I'd lose, Mom would worry; she'd always ask me, 'Do you know what you did wrong?' And I'd say, 'No. I don't even know what I'm doing right.' I think a lot of this is instinctive."
After that national meet in 1977, Twigg began training and studying cycling seriously, at first with Sekai's Velocipede Club—track races every Friday night and road races Wednesdays, lifting weights and running stadium steps in between. She picked up the pace to the point where she was occasionally beating some of the men. Not all of them took well to this, and on the track she had to learn how not to get pinned or scrubbed off against the railing. That required a tricky pause, something of a head fake and then a quick surge ahead, almost like a stutter step in basketball.
In 1979, her first year as a junior, she won the U.S. time trials, at that time a 25-mile race. In 1981, still a junior, she won the national senior women's pursuit title—as well as the junior-road and time-trial championships. That's upstart stuff, especially seeing as Twigg took the pursuit title from Carpenter, who now holds a record 13 national and three world medals. But the real showdown, said Cycling U.S.A., the federation's official newspaper, was going to come at the 1982 nationals in July and August at Kenosha, Wis.
"Well," Twigg says levelly, "ever since my first year as a junior, people had been telling me I'd be a champion." And indeed, in Wisconsin, Twigg once again beat Carpenter in the pursuit, this time by .16 of a second, 3:54.50 to 3:55.06, over the 3,000 meters. Then came the time trials, an event Carpenter had won by an impressive 3½ minutes in 1981. But Twigg beat her, almost breaking the one-hour mark in the process, churning off to the title in 1:00.49, with Carpenter 19 seconds back.
An even bigger challenge would present itself at the world championships a couple of weeks later. There waited the formidable Nadega Kibardina of the U.S.S.R., the world pursuit champ in 1980 and '81, and the old assumption that, forget it, Americans never win this one. Uh huh. Twigg blew Kibardina away in the quarter-finals, 3:57.32 to 3:59.30, and in the semis she polished off Jeannie Longo of France. In the final round, there again was Carpenter. Twigg blasted her way to the gold medal with an impressive 3:51.95; Carpenter finished in 3:52.63.
Something odd had happened here. As Twigg describes it, "The first time I saw the Russian champion, I was in real awe of her. A Russian. But then, gradually, I came to realize that she was out there for exactly the same reason I was; that is, she wasn't so much a Russian as she was an athlete, a bike racer like anybody—and I can beat them."
Now began the long countdown: Twigg moved into the training center last September and is going to stick it out, living ascetically, until she realizes her main racing goal—a spot on the Olympic team. One reason it's so special is that this represents a foot in the Olympic door. It wasn't until 1981 that the International Olympic Committee agreed to allow women bike racers into the Games. The Los Angeles road race may well open the door to pursuit and sprint events in future Games. If that's the case, Twigg will hang in there until 1988.
Between now and the L.A. Olympics comes a series of races that will serve as training events, some with titles at stake. There will be various tours—the 12-day Coors, starting July 6 at Colorado Springs; the nationals, in late July and August in California; and the world championships in August and September in Switzerland. No matter how she finishes, Twigg will take all of them in stride.