Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Velo magazine, the annual awards issue.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot recently won an award in her native France. “The cycling star of tomorrow,” they called her.
Perhaps the French meant to award her the cycling star of today. In 2014, she was transcendent in a way no cyclist before her has been. “PFP,” as the dynamic, slight 22-year-old is known, put together a dream season. On three different types of bikes.
The obvious high point came in Ponferrada, Spain, where she rode a masterful final three kilometers in the women’s world road championships. A group of favorites had ridden clear on the final climb and held a paper-thin advantage over the fleet-finishing pursuers. The Dutch master, Marianne Vos, was among the leaders, and it all seemed signed-sealed-and-delivered that she’d win yet again. But instead of pressing on, the leaders sat up and waited for the peloton, setting the world championship race up for a sprint.
On the far right side, the lithe Ferrand-Prévot emerged, and her sprint was timed to the inch. She’d saved just enough, hitching a ride behind the German national team as it chased in the waning moments.
“I sprinted and I didn’t look back,” she said. There was just enough left to pull that white and rainbow-striped jersey over her slender shoulders.
“I never expected to win. I was lucky that the German team rode for me, and I had a very good leadout from them, thank you!” said Ferrand-Prévot, with a touch of sarcasm. “The front four girls were almost stopped. At first, I did not think it was possible. Now I realize that I am world champion. It is just super.”
Super it was. A worlds win is enough to make a season, notably a 22-year-old’s, and with the modern-day Cannibal, Vos, in the field, it was that much more special. But “PFP” did much more than win a world title this season.
A second example of her super season is her result at La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. Ferrand-Prévot rides for Rabo-Liv, the same team as Vos, who has won Flèche five times already. The young French rider learned she’d be given her own chance the day prior to the race; when race day came around, it was the white and rainbow shirt of the world champion Vos working in the wind for her punchy teammate.
“I was a bit afraid because I thought I may disappoint her. I was doing the whole race on her wheel, and on the last climb she told me to attack. I’m very, very happy to have a world champion working for me,” Ferrand-Prévot said at the time, effervescent.
It was the sort of victory that happened in slow motion for Ferrand-Prévot. She had enough of a gap to celebrate, but the sheer steepness of the Mur de Huy’s sharp finish reduced the sprint to something like survival.
“Marianne told me I had to wait to see the finish line — if you attack too early it’s very difficult to maintain,” she said. “So I did what she told me.”
She and Vos hugged at the line as teammates that day. The win marked the first UCI women’s road World Cup victory for a French rider in 10 years.
Also on the road, Ferrand-Prévot finished second at the Giro Rosa (to Vos, and there’s talk she could have won that race, too) and won the Emakumeen Euskal Bira, along with two stages. To boot, she is her country’s national road and time trial champion.
And all of that would have been enough for a stellar season. But Ferrand-Prévot is also a mountain biker. She won two mountain bike World Cups this season, is the French national cross-country champion, and also the reigning under-23 European cross-country champion.
And that would have been enough, too. But Ferrand-Prevot is also a cyclocross racer. She’s the French national champion in that discipline.
Conventional wisdom would indicate that the phenom must choose what bike she will race full-time in the years to come if she wants to be on the highest level in a given discipline. Yet, she plans to race both mountain and road at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’d like to do both, I don’t want to choose,” she said after her win at worlds. “I’ve done both since I was six years old. This year I felt a good balance between MTB and road, and I want to do both. This year I tried to be good in MTB and road because I want to do them both for the Olympics. It’s really important for me to show the federation that I can do both. But I only do cyclocross as preparation; I don’t want to do any more. It’s enough I think.”
Hers is an uncommon completeness, and though her years are few and her name is fresh, her 2014 seasons — yes, seasons — make Ferrand-Prevot our choice for International Cyclist of the Year. What’s to come, and what bike will she be on? Who knows? And that’s a very special thing.