Pauline Ferrand-Prevot won here at the 2020 World Championships
© Bartek Wolinski/@wolisphoto
Bike

The story of how cycling superstar Pauline Ferrand-Prévot became pro

From her first competition to multiple world championship titles, French cyclist Pauline Ferrand-Prévot charts her rise to the top of mountain biking.
Written by Alexis Bulteau
7 min readPublished on
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot has always followed a course of listening to herself before listening to others and this state of mind has allowed the gifted bike athlete to achieve what no one else has ever done: simultaneously become world champion in road cycling, cyclo-cross and cross-country mountain biking.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot poses for a portrait in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic on May 19, 2017.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, a multi-disciplinary cycling superstar

Biking, not skating

Coming from a family who took part in competitive cycling, Ferrand-Prévot knew that in some way she was destined to have a life in cycling. Not that her mother was overly keen on her daughter taking to two wheels initially: "My mother, who competed as a cyclist, didn't necessarily want me to ride a bike, because she said it wasn't feminine enough."
Bike · 21 min
Rob Meets Pauline Ferrand-Prévot
To please her parents and being a model child, Ferrand-Prévot also took up figure skating in her early years.
The lure of pedalling on a bike for fun remained strong however and she managed to convince her parents to enroll her in a local bicycle club in Reims, France, where the family was located at that time. From then on the figure skating didn't really get a look in. Skating's loss was cycling's gain.
I never wanted to cause concern to my parents
French cycling athlete Pauline Ferrand-Prévot rides a bicycle when she was younger.
An early test of Ferrand-Prévot's bike handling skills

The soul of a warrior

Very quickly, Ferrand-Prévot showed her competitive spirit in the cycling club and competition. She wanted to show that she was able to beat everyone, but especially boys. She had a strong will that worried those around her.
"When I was young, I was quite autonomous and independent in terms of training. Everyone thought my parents were forcing me to go and work out, when I actually just liked doing it," Ferrand-Prévot recalls. "Even though I didn't train every day at that time, I would go for a run or ride my bike alone in the forest instead of going to play with my friends."
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot at the World Championships in Mont Saint Anne, Canada, in August 2019.
Single-minded and driven, Ferrand-Prévot is an exceptional cyclist
Ferrand-Prévot says she's someone who's afraid of getting bored all the time and who likes a challenge. At the age of eight, she was offered a chance to ride a mountain bike and rushed at the chance: "I liked having all the possibilities and that I could both go mountain biking and road cycling. I didn't want to feel like I was doing the same thing all the time."
French bike athlete Pauline Ferrand-Prévot pictured following a mountain bike event when she was a teenager.
Road cycling or mountain biking? Ferrand-Prévot chose both
Ferrand-Prévot began to compete and win at age-group racing and at just 13 won her first French national title on the road.
"At 12, I was already beating girls who were three or four years older than me, so I think I was noticed," she says. "Adolescence is always a turning point for a young cyclist. It can be complicated. When your friends are doing something else to you on the weekends it can be hard. If you don't have that passion and determination to ride bikes, you can quickly drop out and prefer to party rather than work out."

Turning a deaf ear

The possibility of a professional career was emerging for Ferrand-Prévot, as she continued to post good results both on the road and off it. At the time, she was told to focus on one discipline, but turned a deaf ear to the advice, despite logistical and training issues that were apparent in racing across the road, cyclo-cross and mountain bike.
"It was sometimes complicated to manage. There were overlapping schedules, there were races where you had to make choices where to go, but I decided to do what I was doing, because I knew what was good for me," she explains.
French bike athlete Pauline Ferrand-Prévot holding up a trophy after winning a mountain bike race in the cadet category.
The young champion
History proved Ferrand-Prévot right. As a junior she became a cross-country world champion in 2009, repeating that win a year later in 2010, when she was also the junior road race world champ. Remarkably, at this time Ferrand-Prévot was also competing in Cyclo-Cross World Cup events and at the World Championships with the elites, as there was no junior category. She finished eighth to future team-mate Marianne Vos in the 2010 cyclo-cross worlds.

Going pro

With such impressive results across multi-disciplines, there was no shortage of women's teams looking to sign her up. Ferrand-Prévot chose the Dutch team Rabobank-Liv and turned pro for the 2012 season: "I was a big fan of Marianne Vo and she wanted me to be part of Rabobank-Liv. She took me under her wing and I learned a lot from her. It was a good school for pro bike life. It's in a team that every cyclist learns the best and what I learned there has served me well."
French bike athlete Pauline Ferrand-Prévot racing cyclo-cross for Rabobank-Liv in 2012.
Ferrand-Prévot in Rabobank-Liv colours on the cyclo-cross track
Ferrand-Prévot's main focus in 2012 was London and the big race that only comes every four years. There, she competed in the road and the cross-country mountain bike races.
"There were two places for the cross-country team and I was competing for the second, since the first was for Julie Bresset, who was then the reigning cross-country world champion," she remembers. "The day I knew I qualified, it was my little girl's dream come true and if my performance wasn't outstanding at least I achieved one of my career goals."
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot performs at UCI XCO World Championships in Leogang, Austria on October 10, 2020.
Ferrand-Prévot has collected so many French national titles

World domination

The 2014 and 2015 seasons saw Ferrand-Prévot dominate the women's world cycling scene. In 2014, she became the first Frenchwoman to accumulate four national titles during the same season – road, road time trial, cyclo-cross and cross-country. There was more to come though, when she won the Road Race World Championships.
In 2015, her outstanding form continued and she added the cyclo-cross and cross-country world titles to her growing palmarès. At only 23 years old, she wore the coveted rainbow jersey across three very different cycling disciplines at the same time – a first in the history of cycling, men and women alike.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot racing at Nove Mesto na Morave in 2020.
Winning celebrations were a familiar sight for a few years
Ferrand-Prévot is not one to ride for records, though, she just wanted to win bike races: "The day before the Cross-Country World Championships, a reporter told me that if I win I would accomplish what no one had ever accomplished before [in being World Champion across three cycling disciplines]. I never realised that was the case. My goal was simply to win races."

Fall down, get up

Nothing ever remains perfect and what followed for Ferrand-Prévot was a few years where injury and illness saw her performances suffer in whatever discipline she competed in. The period was soul destroying for her.
“Right after my cross-country world title, I felt pain in my leg. I had no idea what it was or where it came from and my 2016 season was complicated as a result. There were days when it was fine, but then others when it was not good at all. I didn't understand it and I wondered if I'd done too much over the previous few years."
Ferrand-Prévot continued to compete and still achieved relatively good results, but whatever was troubling her in her leg was clearly holding her back. She just couldn't put down the power in races. During this time she focused on cross-country racing, with cyclo-cross and road racing taking a back seat.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot as seen racing at the short track race in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic on May 14, 2021.
The door isn't shut on racing on the road or cyclo-cross in the future
It was only towards the end of 2018 that doctors were able to finally diagnose what was wrong with her. Ferrand-Prévot was diagnosed with iliac artery endofibrosis.
"For the past four years I had an inexplicable pain in my leg and when I pushed over 70 percent of my maximum power, I had the sensation of a 'dead leg'," she explains. "During the those years I saw a lot of doctors and had a lot of different treatments, but nothing really worked."
Ferrand-Prévot eventually had surgery on both of her legs in February 2019. Her recovery was quick and the surgery worked, as in the second half of the cross-country season she won two World Cup races and became world champion for the second time in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada.
Bike · 1 min
Women's XCO finish – Mont-Sainte-Anne
Further surgery on her legs came at the end of the 2019 season, but this time Ferrand-Prévot was in a better mental place to deal with the injury and the outcome. The pandemic disrupted the 2020 season, but when racing did return late in the year she retained her cross-country world champion title, as well as winning her sixth World Cup race in Nové Město.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot performs at UCI XCO World Championships in Leogang, Austria on October 10, 2020
Ferrand-Prévot on her way to her third World Championship title
I feel for the first time in my life that I'm serene and that I'm growing in strength
There are probably still more chapters to write in the Pauline Ferrand-Prévot story. 2021 brings new motivation and focus for her – a new team in Absolute-Absalon, managed by her boyfriend Julien Absalon, and the biggest event in the world in Japan in late July.
Watch Pauline Ferrand-Prévot compete on home soil in the Mercedes-Benz UCI MTB World Cup in Les Gets on July 2–4 on Red Bull TV.
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