Pauline Ferrand-Prévot heads into the women's cross-country mountain bike event at the Tokyo Olympic Games as one of the favourites for the medals after a season spent with a singular focus on adding the one item still missing from her vast palmares: Olympic gold.
"I'm aiming for gold, it's the only medal I'm missing and I tend to want what I don't have and fight for it. So it would be a confirmation," Ferrand-Prévot said according to Cyclism'actu.
The 29-year-old has excelled in cyclo-cross, on the road and on the mountain bike, becoming the only rider in history to hold elite world titles in all three disciplines - road (2014), and cyclo-cross and mountain bike (both 2015).
However, the physical and mental pressures of the achievement took a huge toll and the consequences fell at the worst time in her preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
She came back from an off-season stress fracture too fast, she said in 2016, and then suffered from sciatica. She pressed ahead to focus on both events in Rio anyhow to disastrous results. She finished 24th in the road race and abandoned the MTB event.
"These Olympics were the result of a year of hell," she said afterward. "Cycling was what I loved to do the most, but it’s become my biggest nightmare."
In the years after Rio de Janiero, she continued to focus on the road and mountain bike, but in 2018 she was diagnosed with double iliac artery endofibrosis and underwent surgery in February 2019, and again in January 2020. After the Olympic Games were postponed from 2020 to 2021, Ferrand-Prévot left Canyon-SRAM and signed with Absolute Absalon–BMC, with a focus on Tokyo.
Fast forward to 2021 and Ferrand-Prévot once again heads into the Olympics as world champion and a race favourite but this time, she has left road racing behind with the mountain bike as her sole focus.
"I learned from my previous Olympic experiences that running two hares at the same time means taking the risk of catching none. So I avoid spreading myself too thin and I focussed on mountain biking, which I find very fun, but that does not mean that I am giving up the road in the long term."
Ferrand-Prévot's main obstacle for the gold medal is likely to be her own teammate, Loana Lecomte, who has dominated the World Cup races this season.
In an Instagram post, Ferrand-Prévot shot down any suggestion of a rivalry with her teammate.
"Happy and lucky to have been able to share this week with Loana. Some people will say we are rivals for tomorrow, but I would rather say teammates. She allowed me these last months to reach my best level and to surpass myself. It has allowed me not to rest on my laurels, and to work on my weak points.
"I have always had a lot of admiration for the 'hard workers' because I know how hard and sometimes thankless the work is. And Lolo is one of those people. So a big good luck for tomorrow and may the best one win," Ferrand-Prévot wrote.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news.
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