The path to success is often not smooth, and few know that better than Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. Two years on from her World Championship title victory in 2014, Ferrand-Prevot found herself tired, lost and considering retirement. 12 months on, she is re-finding her best form and says that she's happy that she chose to fight for her career.
"A year ago I was already tired, and I didn't know what I wanted to do," Ferrand-Prevot told Cyclingnews a day before racing to second at GP de Plouay. "I wanted to stop cycling, so now when I think about that, a year later I am really happy. I decided to fight back, and I think that it was the right decision. It was really hard, but I think that I have learned a lot. I know now that I don't have to do everything and I think this is a good thing."
Ferrand-Prevot's second place in Plouay was a hark back to some of her best performances. While she didn't have the legs to outkick Lizzie Deignan to the line, the result is the best she has had since winning a stage of the Giro Rosa back in 2015.
This year has been a slow build for the 25-year-old, with an eighth place at the Amstel Gold Race in April a brief shining light among a series of frustrations. Things have started to come together in the last month with a win at the French national mountain bike championships and a podium finish in the Mont Sainte-Anne round of the MTB World Cup. Plouay was only Ferrand-Prevot's eighth race day on the road so far this season after choosing to be pickier in an attempt to regain a hold on her career.
"Because I had a complicated year last year, so for this year I decided to do what I wanted to do," explained Ferrand-Prevot. "It was the programme I liked the most so I decided to do more MTB for my preparation on the road. At the moment, I don't regret my decision, because I am now good at the end of the season where the goals are the biggest.
"I'm really happy that I decided to continue and now I'm enjoying riding my bike, because last year it wasn't the case. I have found this again, but at the beginning of the year, it was really hard because my level was not very good and I suffered a lot, but now I am feeling better, and I can see that it is going really good. It is now even more emotional because I know where I came from."
Ferrand-Prevot might have scaled things back this year, but her ambitions are no less lofty. This Thursday she is set to fly to Cairns for the Mountain Bike World Championships, which take place between September 5-10. Should she be selected, she will then return to Europe to prepare for the Road World Championships.
It sounds ambitious, but Ferrand-Prevot believes that she can balance the two World Championships if she doesn't overexert herself in between the events.
"I think it was my mistake before. I came to the World Championships already really tired from the season because you always want to train more and more. From this year, I will go with good preparation but not tired," she told Cyclingnews. "I will leave Australia the Monday after the race, and I still have almost two weeks to recover from the jet lag and the race. I think it is possible and now I have done some really good training at home to prepare for both races.
"Also, the Worlds on the road are a while away. We are at the end of the season, so I don't need to train too much, I just need to be fresh. I think that in Bergen that it won't be the girl who trains the most that will win but the girl who is the smartest who is fresh from the season. I hope that I can play a part in the race.
"This year I haven't proved that I was strong so I don't have to take the race for me. I just have to try and be smart and to be in a good break or a good group. I haven't proved anything this year, so I don't have to work."
Ferrand-Prevot tasted the joy of winning the road world title in Ponferrada in 2014, and went on to take the cyclo-cross and mountain bike titles the following season. Her road success was somewhat tainted as things became somewhat – in her own words – 'complicated'. Like many a world champion before her, she had to learn to deal with the extra attention and says that if she reclaims the rainbow jersey again, she is better prepared for it.
"For sure, it was one of the biggest wins, but also after that everything started to be complicated with the media attention and a lot of things," she explained. "I was really happy to win because I like to win. I'm a really competitive rider. But on the other hand, it became much more complicated in my private life. Now, it is different because I have come back and I want to show that I'm going good and I can come back. It would be like a dream to win again, but for now, I'm not thinking about winning, I am only thinking about doing my best and to do my maximum to be in good shape."
With her career back on track, Ferrand-Prevot can start thinking about taking on some additional challenges as she looks to add cyclo-cross to her calendar over the winter. For now, she is focusing on her double rainbow bid.