Pauline Ferrand Prevot on the attack during La Course by the Tour

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot returns to a different sport than she left

She was one of road racing's most prodigious talents. But after more than five years away, what will she find in today's peloton?

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot pictured during the 2017 La Course by Le Tour

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 13.06.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Over the weekend the women’s cycling world was a flurry with news of Pauline Ferrand-Prévot’s return to road racing with, allegedly, Visma-Lease a Bike in 2025. Newer fans of women’s cycling who aren’t familiar with the cross-country mountain bike side of the sport might not understand the stir, but seasoned fans who recall her time with Rabobank-Liv and Canyon-SRAM will remember how much excitement she brought to the sport.

Both her decision to return to the road and her move to Visma-Lease a Bike are fascinating, for many reasons: what Ferrand-Prévot will experience returning – after years away – to a booming women’s road cycling scene, the challenges and opportunities of joining a Visma team in flux, and her decision to leave the mountain bike behind, just to start.

Ferrand-Prévot showed her prodigious talent from her first season racing on the road, winning the Junior European ITT title and followed it up with second at both the Junior World Championship road race and time trial and both French Junior national titles. At that point, at the age of 18, she already had two years of cyclocross under her belt. By 2010 she won the Junior World Road title and finished eighth in the women’s cyclocross world championships. Her career from there was a steep incline, and she signed her first professional road contract with Rabobank in 2012.

Over the next three years, she raced primarily cyclocross and road, with some dabbling in mountain bike XCO. In keeping with that range, she showed remarkable talent across road racing, with second overall at the 2014 Giro Rosa and winner of the road World Championships, along with a long list of other results. A few months later she kicked off 2015 with a win at the elite women’s cyclocross World Championships and in September of that year, she won the XCO World Championships as well, making her the holder of all three World Championship titles in a calendar year. But that also presaged her shift away from the road.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot raises her arm in victory after winning the 2014 road world title.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) sprints past Lisa Brennauer (GER) and Emma Johansson (SWE) to win the 2014 road World Championships.

Although she remained on Rabo Liv through the 2016 season, racing alongside Kasia Niewiadoma, Lucinda Brand, Marianne Vos and Anna van der Breggen, she had largely turned her attention almost entirely to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic XCO, with starts in just four races on the then-new Women’s WorldTour.

In 2017 and 2018, now on Canyon-SRAM, she did slightly more road racing but still focused mostly on mountain bike events ahead of her breakout 2019 season, which saw her first World Cup XCO win and first world title in the discipline.

Ferrand Prevot races a muddy cyclocross race in Ineos Grenadiers kit
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot pictured during the Wereldbeker Cyclocross Race in Dublin 2022

Her four years riding only XCO have led to her being one of the top competitors in the discipline, with a long list of World Cup victories and five total World Championship titles (2015, 2019, 2020, 2022, and 2023). Already in 2024, she has won the European XCO and her first World Cup of the season Nové Mesto. But outside of two appearances at the French national championships, her last road race was 2018’s La Course by Tour de France.

Not the sport she left

That she would, seemingly at the top of her game, make an abrupt change back to the road is fascinating. A major goal has always been gold in the XCO at the Olympics, and in her last two attempts, she’s fallen short. With the news she will, possibly, retire from XCO after 2024 comes the realization that she is giving herself this final chance to get that medal in Paris, on home soil.

When it comes to ability, Ferrrand-Prévot’s first season back in the peloton will be telling. The level of women’s road cycling has been rising after several years of rapid growth, with seasoned riders finding it hard to keep up with the increasing speed of racing. Ferrand-Prévot will be 33 in February, just five years younger than her soon-to-be teammate again, Vos. The WorldTour calendar has expanded, and there is more pressure on riders to perform at higher levels more often. The dynamics of racing since Ferrand-Prévot last raced an international road race, La Course by the Tour in 2018, six years ago, are almost unrecognizable.

That’s not to say she isn’t capable of catching up. She’s not exactly been sitting at home since she last raced on the road and she’s not a retired rider returning to the peloton; she’s one of the best MTB XCO racers in the world. But there will likely be a bit of growing pains when she rejoins the peloton in 2025.

Ferrand Prevot pats Marianne Vos on the back as Kasia Niewiadoma smiles next to them after a race
Ferrand-Prévot with Marianne Vos and Kasia Niewiadoma after Pajot Hills Classic, 2016

An obvious question is why would someone who is doing so well at what she is doing shift so suddenly?

Ferrand-Prévot herself hasn’t spoken at length yet about her decision, but did suggest that she was ready for fresh challenges. “I think I did everything on MTB, and I still like it, but it doesn’t make sense to continue,” she said. “It’s my last chance to be Olympic champion at home, so it’s good to finish on it.” But clearly, she isn’t ready to hang up the bike. Her competitive edge is still intact, and moving back to the road might only strengthen it. Maybe the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift has something to do with it, being a Frenchwoman, having grown up with all the yellow jersey hype, if she has an opportunity to race the iconic event why the heck not?

The news is more verification that road cycling is booming. When she left the road back in 2018 it didn’t look like she would be back, but it’s hard not to be inspired by this new era in women’s cycling, even for the likes of Ferrand-Prévot.

Ferrand Prevot is held up by her french teammates on the podium of the world championships
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot with her French teammates after winning the 2014 World Championship.

New team, new opportunities, new challenges

A whole other conversation is her move to Visma-Lease a Bike specifically. The Dutch team saw significant off-season change last year among both riders and staff. This year it is set to lose one of its top remaining riders, Riejanne Markus, who is rumoured to be joining Lidl-Trek in 2025. They currently only have three riders set to stay with the team next season – Vos, Sophie von Berswordt and Fem van Empel, and there’s no telling how many current riders will stay or leave. If the end of the 2023 season is any indication, they will be looking for quite a few riders and signing a big name like Ferrand-Prévot is a quality score.

Ferrand-Prévot’s departure from Ineos, where she was the lone female rider, ends speculation of any women’s team there. But her move to Visma says something else as well: that someone who’s been in the sport for so long would sign up to represent the team means she believes in something they are selling regarding near-future plans.

But what will the addition mean for both Van Empel and Vos? It’s unclear what type of racing Ferrand-Prévot will target in 2025, whether she will gear herself more to the one-day events, a natural fit with her previous results and her MTB background, or if she’s keen to test herself in the stage races. Or both. If it’s the former she will only bolster Visma-Lease a Bike’s Classics team and complement Vos’s strengths. Van Empel is still, as far as anyone knows, splitting her time between cyclocross and road and thus missed most of the Classics this season. Her first road race was Dwars door Vlaanderen at the end of March and since then she’s raced La Flèche Wallonne, Ronde van Vlaanderen, and recently Volta a Catalunya.

If it’s stage racing the Frenchwoman is eyeing it will be a welcome addition to the team that is likely losing Markus, their current GC hopeful, who just finished second overall at La Vuelta Femenina.

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Loana Lecomte and Puck Pieterse hold up their medals on the podium of the 2023 cross country mountain bike world championships.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot on the XCO World Championship podium with Loana Lecomte and Puck Pieterse.

If it is one-day races she’s after, Ferrand-Prévot’s arrival certainly boosts the team’s hopes to better its chances in the spring. They won two WWT one-days this year – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race – with Vos but missed a few of the Classics as well. Their team is a young one, even more so if Markus departs as expected. Ferrand-Prévot’s experience on the squad, even if she is more familiar with a different discipline, will benefit the young riders around her. After all, it’s still just pedalling a bike.

We won’t know until August, definitively, that Ferrand-Prévot is joining Visma-Lease a Bike but by that point, there will be a bigger picture about the future of her and Vos’ team and the overall goals of the 2014 road world champion. Until then there’s a lot to be excited about what the development will bring to the peloton.

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