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Photo: Rob Jones

Ferrand-Prévot comes from behind to win cross-country world title

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot overcame an early crash to win the UCI cross-country mountain bike title at Mont-Sainte-Anne.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot of France won the world title, completing a remarkable comeback after struggling with health issues for the past two years and undergoing iliac vein surgery on her left leg prior to the start of the season.  By mid-summer she was beginning to show signs of the talent that led to concurrent world titles in Mountain Bike, Road and Cyclo-cross, with a World Cup win, and in Mont-Sainte-Anne she won the rainbow jersey for the first time since 2015.

“It was a difficult journey back,” said Ferrand Prevot.  “Before my operation, it was almost like getting stabbed in the legs if I made an intense effort over two and a half minutes.  So, I had to get the operation, even though they told me it could be risky.”

American women continued to display the consistency they have shown all season, with three riders finishing in the top-15 at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Mont-Ste-Anne, Canada, on Saturday.  While Kate Courtney was unable to defend her world title, finishing fifth, the U.S. team finished first in the nations rankings, four points ahead of the host Canadian team.

Courtney started out strong, joining Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) and Rebecca McConnell (Australia) at the front of the race on the first lap, with the trio 15 seconds ahead of chasers.  Unfortunately, Courtney could not maintain the pace of the other two leaders and dropped back, falling further out of contention after a crash on the Beatrice rock descent twisted her handlebars, forcing her to stop and yank them back into place.

“Today was a tough fight, but an effort I’m very proud of,” said Courtney.  “I felt strong at the start and settled into a good rhythm, but couldn’t hold the pace of Jolanda and Bec.  My crash was a small setback, but it motivated me to find my rhythm and fight hard to get back into the top five.”

Neff faded on the fourth lap, leaving McConnell alone at the front, but Ferrand Prevot was starting to surge, moving into second, 30 seconds back of McConnell, then catching and dropping the Australian on the fifth and penultimate lap, 41 seconds in front going into the last lap.  Ferrand Prevot cruised in for the win, despite a small crash, while Neff seemed to get a second wind, passing McConnell for silver.

Ferrand Prevot cried on the podium, “I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.  I gave everything I had from the start to finish.  I really wanted to win today and I’m so happy to do it.  The race overall was so crazy; to come from 15th to win!  It’s been a hard journey to get back to here.  But this makes all of the hard decisions, all of the efforts and sacrifices worth it.”

After Courtney, Emily Batty (Canada) was the next North American, followed by Lea Davison in 11th, outsprinting Canadian Haley Smith at the line, her best result since finishing sixth in 2017.  Chloe Woodruff was 15th, one spot behind Catharine Pendrel (Canada), with Sandra Walter (Canada) finishing 18th, putting seven North American riders in the top-20.

“I’m really happy with my race today,” said Davison.  “This race goes down in my history books as one of my favorite ever, because the fans and the cheering were unbelievable.  There wasn’t a spot on that course where I didn’t have encouragement.  I will remember that forever.  Also, for Team USA elite women to win the nations ranking is pretty special.”

The USA has a strong lock on second in the Olympic rankings (behind Switzerland) with only one World Cup left for the season, which puts them in good position to qualify three starting spots for the Olympics next year.