A world road race and MTB cross-country champion, France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot will be competing in both events at Rio 2016, where she will aim to pull off what would be an unprecedented Olympic double.
Born on 10 February 1992 in Reims, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot has never really made a choice between the three events closest to her heart: road racing, MTB cross-country and cyclo-cross. The reason for that perhaps lies in the fact that she has always excelled in all three disciplines, two of which are on the Olympic programme.The French cyclist demonstrated her class in her maiden year on the junior circuit in 2009, winning the world and European MTB cross-country titles, collecting respective world and European time trial silver and gold medals, along with world and European silvers in the road race events, while also becoming the French road race and time trial champion.
The following year, the multi-talented Ferrand-Prevot retained her world junior MTB title and took the road race crown in a sprint finish, while also competing in cyclo-cross at senior level.
After turning pro at the age of 19, she earned a place in France’s road race and MTB teams at London 2012. In the first of those two events she finished eighth in a race won by the Netherlands’ Marianne Vos, having contested the sprint for the bronze. In the second, she came in 26th, with her compatriot Julie Bresset crossing the line first.
A historic cycling trebleWith that goal in mind, she channelled her energies over the next four years into preparing for Rio 2016. Along the way she pulled off a truly unique hat-trick, the first leg of which involved her sprinting to gold in the road race at the 2014 UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada (ESP).
In February 2015, she added the cyclo-cross world title in Tabor (CZE) before powering to the MTB cross-country world crown in Vallnord (AND) that September, becoming the only female cyclist ever to hold all three titles at the same time.
“Andorra was the finest win of my career,” she recalled. “My whole family was there. I’d got treatment for a bout of sciatica, and I was back to my best. It was brilliant.”
As Ferrand-Prévot went on to explain, however, her sciatica problem has since flared up again, hampering her preparations for Rio: “They haven’t really gone as I’d hoped, though I’m sure I can make a fresh start. It’s going to get better now and I’m in training.
“I’ve done the hard part and I just need to find my rhythm. I’ll be racing every weekend between now and the Games. There are two months to go and it’s very much within reach.”
The fearless Frenchwoman has already made a visit to Rio, checking out the MTB circuit and the road race route.
As regards her cross-country rivals, she had this to say: “The biggest challenge is definitely going to come from Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff. She’s in great form. She’s won the European title and the 2015 European Games and she’s dominated the World Cup events this year. I think there are five or six girls who could make the podium in Rio.”
The road race route, which follows the Atlantic coastline involves a little bit of everything, as she explained: “There are flat sections, cobbled sections, climbs and descents. It’s made for the all-rounders and there’s even an 8km climb at the end, which could well affect your chances of challenging for the win at the finish line. There definitely won’t be a big sprint finish.”
A lifelong dreamDiscussing the unique appeal of the Olympics, she said: “The Games is something I’ve dreamed about all my life, even more so after London 2012. It’s the most amazing competition in the world, and it’s an opportunity to get into the spotlight for 15 days, because our sport doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the media. And it’s a chance to represent your country on the biggest sporting stage on the planet.”
As she prepares for her unique Olympic challenge, which will see her go for gold in the road race on 6 August and in the cross-country ten days later, Ferrand-Prévot can count on the valuable insight of her partner Julien Absalon. A two-time Olympic MTB cross-country champion, Absalon is in fine form as he heads into his fourth Games, having this season won the European title and excelled in the World Cup.
“With all the success that Julien has had, he is a major source of motivation for me,” she said. “We train together and I’m very lucky to have him by my side. He has a lot of experience. He’s been through some tough times and he’s come through them all. He inspires me.”
Perhaps on this occasion, it will be the remarkable Ferrand-Prévot who proves the inspiration for Absalon.