Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-Sram) has been given the green light from her doctors to resume training after undergoing surgery to correct iliac artery endofibrosis in both legs. The surgery took place in February and Ferrand-Prévot initially expected a period of four months to recover. However, after nine weeks her most recent medical review allowed her to begin training sooner.
"I'm of course really happy with this news," Ferrand-Prévot said in a team statement. "It was a long nine weeks to arrive to this point, but I've been following the guidelines to the letter, so I'm smiling now that I have this clearance."
At the end of last November, Ferrand-Prèvot revealed that she had been suffering 'inexplicable pain' in her left leg for four years, first discovered in June of 2015. She announced in December that she would have to sit out of competition for four months after discovering she would need surgery to treat iliac artery endofibrosis in both her left and right legs.
She was forced to skip the cyclo-cross season and the start of the road season with Canyon-Sram.
Doctors advised Ferrand-Prévot to not exercise during the first four weeks after surgery. She was then permitted to start with a walking program, and after a further two weeks she returned to low-intensity cycling.
"I started cycling quite slow—two days on, one day off—with first just 30 minutes and slowly built up to 3 hours," she said. "I can see that I lost quite a lot of muscle during that time off, so I needed more recovery in between my sessions. I was getting tired easily and standing up out of the saddle at first was hard.
"Now it's okay and I feel much better. I'm allowed to train as long or with as much intensity as I want. Today for example I did four hours with no problems. Each week I feel stronger and stronger."
'It wasn't easy'
Ferrand-Prévot, a former world champion in mountain bike, cyclo-cross and road, said that taking a large amount of time away from her sport and training was not easy but that it was a necessary step in order to return to her highest level of competition. She also took some time to enjoy life outside of sport while she recovered.
"At first it wasn't easy not being allowed to ride the bike. I took some time to adjust, but instead of being frustrated at the time off, I used it to do a lot of things that my cycling career sometimes doesn't afford," admitted Ferrand-Prévot.
"I spent a lot more time with my family and my boyfriend's children, I visited friends, and I looked for activities outside what's been my 'normal' world for the past ten years.
"The time was long, but overall it wasn't as bad as I expected. Where I usually spend my spare time watching races and checking results, this time I avoided that. I didn't want to see everyone else training and racing. I followed my teammates results and that's all.
"Now I feel refreshed. I feel in good shape. The break was necessary, and I am confident I made the right decision to have the surgery."
Eyes on Tokyo 2020
Despite the surgery and the time off, Ferrand-Prévot has her sights set on medalling at the Tokyo Olympic Games next summer. She expects to return to competition in May with the MTB World Cup, but she is unsure when she will begin racing on the road.
"I'm taking it slowly at the moment, and making sure I'm listening to my body," she said. "Now, I still need a little more recovery time but I'm feeling confident to give myself that time, if and when it's needed. I'm not worried if I need a day off, or I need to adjust the program. I feel confident to make changes. It's something that I've finally learned.
"Ideally I'd like to start the first race of MTB world cup season which is mid-May. For my first road race, I have to see what fits with my Canyon-Sram Racing team. Soon, I know I'll be ready and super keen to start racing, but for now I'm keeping a rein on it and going through the process to reach that point.
"When I'm ready, then I can confirm my racing program," smiled Ferrand-Prévot.