Ferrand-Prévot: I wasn’t the strongest, but I was clever

Frenchwoman lands Worlds road race in Ponferrada

At the top of the climb of Mirador in the elite women's road race at the World Championships, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot’s chances of landing the rainbow jersey seemed to have evaporated. A four-woman group featuring Marianne Vos had just powered clear over the summit, and in World Championships past, that has tended to be that.

When the German team of Lisa Brennauer took up the chase on the wicked, rapid descent, it seemed a forlorn effort, but a lack of harmony in the leading quartet allowed the race to come back together again in the finishing straight.

Amid the maelstrom of the hastily-arranged group sprint, Ferrand-Prévot clung onto Vos’ rear wheel like it was a crucifix, and then powered past the Dutchwoman inside the final 200 metres to claim an unexpected world title, while Brennauer came through to take the silver medal.

“On the last climb, I thought the podium was finished for me, but then four girls seemed to stop in front. I was lucky, too, because the German team rode on the front and I had a really good lead-out,” Ferrand-Prévot explained in the post-race press conference, before turning to Brennauer and smiling: “Thank you.”

A trade teammate of Vos at Rabo-Liv, Ferrand-Prévot was involved in the mass crash that ended their challenge in the team time trial Worlds last Sunday. The Frenchwoman struggled with her injuries from that incident all week, and began the women’s road race more in hope than expectation. Those hopes were guttering on the climb of Mirador, but the flame was suddenly reignited when Vos, Emma Johansson, Lizzie Armitstead and Elisa Longo Borghini failed to strike a working alliance in the finale.

“I didn’t expect to be in front today because I was in the crash last Sunday and I felt bad all week. I wanted to go with the move on the climb but I couldn’t follow,” Ferrand-Prévot said. “I wasn’t the strongest rider there today either, but I was clever and I made my efforts when it counted.”

In particular, Ferrand-Prévot showed sharpness of mind to negotiate her way onto Vos’ wheel in the finishing straight. Ferrand-Prévot was not the most fancied sprinter in that group but her positioning and her strength allowed her to steal a march on the likes of Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) and Shelley Olds (USA).

“In the sprint at the GP Plouay last month I took Marianne’s wheel, I knew it was a good one to follow,” Ferrand-Prévot said. “I said ‘ok I have to follow Marianne’s wheel. I passed her with 200 metres to go – et voilà.”

All week, the word was that Vos was not in the same sparkling form that carried her to back-to-back world titles in Valkenburg and Florence, and for the first time in her nine-year professional career, she finished outside of the top two in the Worlds road race.

“I don’t think she was less strong today but everyone wants to beat Marianne,” Ferrand-Prévot said. “I’ve learnt a lot from Marianne over the last three years. I won’t say it’s her victory as well but I’m sure she’s happy for me.”

Dual focus remains

Ponferrada marks Ferrand-Prévot’s first individual world title as an elite rider – she was junior champion on the road and in mountain biking in 2010 – and also brings the curtain down on the most successful season of her career. Winner of Flèche Wallonne in April, the 22-year-old finished second overall at the Giro Donne and claimed a round of the mountain bike World Cup in Albstadt for good measure.

“Winning Flèche was already enough, because that was the race I wanted to win more than any in my career,” Ferrand-Prévot said. “Then I won a round of the MTB World Cup, I was second at the Giro and now I’ve finished my season in the best way possible.”

Wearing the rainbow jersey will not, Ferrand-Prévot said, see her switch her attention solely to the road. As in London two years ago, she aims to compete in two disciplines at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

“I’d like to do both, I don’t want to choose,” she said. “I’ve done both since I was six years old. This year I felt a good balance between MTB and road, and I want to do both. This year I tried to be good in MTB and road because I want to do them both for the Olympics. It’s really important for me to show the federation that I can do both. But I only do cyclo-cross as preparation, I don’t want to do any more. It’s enough I think.”

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