Former world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot has told Velonews she has no further plans to compete in professional road races.
Ferrand-Prévot’s decision comes after she won world titles in cross-country and marathon cross-country mountain bike racing in 2019. The Frenchwoman participated in just one professional road race this season.
“I have decided to move away from racing on the road full-time,” Ferrand-Prévot said. “I’m not saying that I’ll never do it again, but I can say that it’s my least favorite discipline, it’s a different atmosphere and it makes it less enjoyable. The road is a very beautiful sport, but one that suits me less.”
The coming weeks will see Ferrand-Prévot return to cyclocross, a discipline in which she won the elite world title in 2015. For 2020 her main aim is the Tokyo Olympics where she is hoping to win the gold medal in cross-country mountain biking.
The decision to stop racing the road, where she rides in Canyon-SRAM’s distinctive colors, has been a while coming. The 27 year-old has been seen less frequently in recent seasons, and her only 2019 start was at the French nationals where she finished 20th.
With her two rainbow jerseys, this has been a year of rebirth for Ferrand-Prévot. After surgery to correct iliac artery endofibrosis, her results in off-road racing built steadily, winning a French Cup race in May before reclaiming her national title two months later. In July she won three cross-country World Cups races, and in August she won the cross-country title on the technical course at Mont-Saint-Anne, Canada.
“I felt very emotional,” she said. “I was really happy to win it and to become world champion again, but the thing that most pleased me was that I felt fully myself, physically and mentally. And, in many ways, the race summed up my last few years: I fell at the start, I got up, I was not discouraged, and I started to climb, one place after another, until victory. An amazing feeling, especially after those difficult years.”
And she has certainly suffered some difficult years.
After three junior rainbow jerseys, Ferrand-Prévot’s first senior title came in 2014 on the road in Ponferrada. She earned the same honor in cyclocross four months later. Then, in 2015, she won her first cross-country mountain-bike title. For a few weeks in 2015 she was world champion in three individual disciplines and seemed invincible.
It was the first time any rider — man or woman — had held all three titles in the same calendar year.
But the ensuing years have been blighted by injury. In 2016 a knee fracture, allergies and sciatic problems brought Ferrand-Prévot to the nadir. She abandoned the Olympic mountain-bike race after finishing the road race 26th on a Rio course that suited her.
Though she won occasionally throughout the next two years she never returned to her dominant best and experienced leg pain caused by the artery problems which remained undiagnosed until the end of last year.
“I felt that something was wrong, that my legs couldn’t deliver the power they were used to, but nobody could find what it was,” Ferrand-Prévot said. “And this was really hard, because you start thinking that maybe it’s only in your head, maybe you’re lazy, or things like that.
“So you train even harder but with less and less results, with anxiety rising. Once we put a name on this injury, everything became easier, I knew where I was going, the surgery, the recovery, and the come-back. I could trust myself again.”
After falling out of love with the sport, the joy is definitely back for Ferrand-Prévot and she is looking forward to returning to competition later this month.
“[Cyclocross] is really close to my heart. Physically, it allows me to start the intensity, and since I was a kid I have always done cyclocross during winter,” Ferrand-Prévot said. “I can’t stay until March without race, I need to find some of the stress I like. And in winter it’s a little harder to train, so cyclocross races give me a good goal.”
She will begin her season with some French races before competing at the World Cups in Nommay and Hoogerheide. Then, she hopes to be selected for the French World Championship squad.
Despite this, her eyes remain firmly set on the Olympics.
“With the Olympic Games on the horizon the year will be special,” she said. “I just want to reproduce the season I had in 2019: to be there on my goals, the world championships and the Olympics. I know that if I can give it my best during those days, I will have no regrets.
“I can’t deny I have an Olympic medal on my mind, as it’s the only one I am missing. After London and Rio I know that it’s a very special race. The only thing I want is feeling I am at my best this day, and then everything could happen. But whatever it would be, I would have no regrets, as I would have been deeply and fully myself.”