Pauline Ferrand-Prevot of France won a thriller of a battle at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships on Saturday in the Czech Republic, adding the world ‘cross crown to her rainbow jersey from the 2014 road championships in Spain.
Ferrand-Prevot and Sanne Cant (Belgium) were trading punches throughout the final laps, but it was the French rider who delivered the knockout in the end, with Marianne Vos (Netherlands) rounding out the podium in third.
“I think it was an exciting race on the TV so it was good for women’s cycling,” said Ferrand-Prevot. “It was really exciting in the finish with us both at the front. I just knew I have to turn the last corner in the first position, so I tried to go full gas until the corner and sprint to the finish line.”
Cant, who was visibly upset to lose the rainbow jersey at the end of a stellar ‘cross season, said she did what she could to lose Ferrand-Prevot before the finish and didn’t make any mistakes, save for one.
“[Pauline] is good in the sprint,” said Cant. “She won a world championship on road in the sprint. I know she’s faster, but I made a mistake not to sit in front, so it’s my own mistake.”
Lucie Chainel-Lefevre (France) got off to a quick start on the muddy circuit as Vos led the pursuit.
As the first lap came to an end Chainel-Lefevre led through the finish with Vos, Cant and Ferrand-Prevot chasing. Americans Katie Antonneau and Katie Compton were already a half-minute down with the snow starting to fall.
The French teammates hooked up just past the barriers with Vos just behind in third.
Then Cant slipped past Vos and into third.
Three laps to go saw a five-woman group up front, with Cant, Vos and Harris having joined the French party. Katerina Nash soon latched on, too.
Ferrand-Prevot and Cant soon escaped the group, and then the French rider discarded Cant, and with two to go she was leading the race alone with Nash in front of a four-woman battle for second containing Vos, Cant and Harris.
Cant surged again and left the others behind, quickly closing on Ferrand-Prevot, and the two were together after pitting for fresh bikes. Vos was perhaps five seconds behind, with Wyman trying to work her way into contention.
Cant opened a gap on Ferrand-Prevot, but the French champion fought back, only to bobble on a short rise and see her Belgian rival ride away again, taking a three-second edge.
Going into the bell lap Cant was just two seconds ahead of Ferrand-Prevot with Vos leading the charge at seven seconds down. And then the French rider retook the lead, with Vos closing in, followed by Nash and Harris.
At the stairs Cant was leading Ferrand-Prevot once again, but the chase was nearly on them. Vos pitted, but Nash did not, and at the barriers it was Ferrand-Prevot leading Cant, chased by Vos, Nash and Harris.
The two front-runners battled hand to hand, neither giving quarter, as Nash and Vos fought for third. The Czech rider slid out on a muddy patch, giving the edge to Vos, as ahead Ferrand-Prevot took a slight advantage over Cant.
The French rider led onto the pavement and would not be denied — she took the victory over Cant, while Vos had to settle for third at 15 seconds. Harris finished fourth, while home-field favorite Nash took fifth.
“I knew she would be good and I thought technically she was also very good,” sand Ferrand-Prevot of Cant. “I crashed and she came back and she passed me. In my head I said, ‘Okay, she is not going to pass me like this again.’ In the final lap I tried to be at the front and to stay at the front.”
For her part, Cant seemed to be struggling to figure out what she might have done differently.
“I don’t think I made many mistakes,” she said. “I just think I have to sit in the front before the finish line. But she’s really fast, so maybe if I sit in first she could pass me. I don’t know. After the race it’s all easy [to second guess].”
Third-placed Vos said she gave “100 percent,” though she conceded that with a hamstring injury her finish fell short of her usual dominant performance.
“I don’t think I could do more today,” she said. “Of course maybe it wasn’t what I can do normally on a world championship or what I’ve done before in the races in December. But last week it was a less percentage. Now it was already a bit more. I didn’t expect this, so for me it was over 100 percent today.”
And the new world champion tipped her hat to Vos, who coaches her.
“Today I’m really happy for me, but I’m also — it’s a bit a strange feeling to take the victory,” said Ferrand-Prevot. “Of course I’m really happy, but I don’t know it’s a strange feeling.
“I know next year will be a great battle again. That’s cycling.”
Antonneau was the top American in 13th at 2:30 with Rachel Lloyd 20th at 3:14 and Compton 27th at 4:33.
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report from Tabor.