Pauline Ferrand-Prévot looked strong on Thursday when she won the XCC world title with a blistering last lap attack that put her rivals on the rivet. The Frenchwoman was even more dominant today, riding away from the field in the early stages of the XCO World Championships in Scotland to take the XCO rainbow jersey for the second year in a row, and advance her total world title count into the double digits.
It was a magical day for the French, with multiple World Cup winner Loana Lecomte leading the charge early on followed by Puck Pieterse (Netherlands), and Evie Richards (Great Britain). Alessandra Keller (Switzerland) and Martina Berta (Italy) rounded out the lead group. As Lecomte broke away off the front on the first lap, Ferrand-Prévot was more than 10 seconds off the pace after a slow start.
The newly crowned back-to-back XCC World Champion made it her mission to make up the gap though, catching Lecomte at the start of the second lap and distancing her as the course rose through switchbacks and steep pitches in the dark Glentress Forest south of Edinburgh.
Behind the French duo, Pieterse and Keller gave chase.
The stories of Ferrand-Prévot and Lecomte describe two very different riders, but also the story of mountain biking as a whole. The elder Ferrand-Prévot is a 31-year-old from Reims who made her cycling debut as a three-time junior World Champion across the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The multi-disciplinarian excelled in cyclocross, road and mountain biking before anybody had ever heard of Mathieu van der Poel of Tom Pidcock.
Now 24 years old and hailing from Annecy, Lecomte claimed the junior XCO World Championship title in 2017 before taking her first elite World Cup win during the abbreviated 2020 season. Then her stock rocketed skyward in 2021 as she took 4 World Cup wins.
Despite spending a lot of time at the front of races, neither woman could match the pace of the Swiss during the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021 as their European neighbors swept the podium.
But things have changed since Tokyo; you wouldn’t know that the Swiss were the most dominant mountain bike nation today though, with Ferrand-Prévot growing her advantage with each passing lap.
She preferred to climb out of the saddle, while Lecomte remained seated with a high cadence. Each rider had no trouble navigating the double jumps and intimidating rock features on the course, and the chasers could never reach Lecomte, ultimately having to battle for the bronze medal.
In the final portion of the race, places were gained and lost among the chasers. Mona Mitterwallner (Austria) – who won the XCM world title last weekend – rode her way up through the field as the race wore on, joining Pieterse and Keller on the penultimate lap. The young Austrian clearly wanted to push the pace, successfully cracking Keller with an acceleration that only Pieterse could follow.
It looked like Mitterwallner could be the stronger rider, but Pieterse attacked late in the lap and held her advantage to the line for third. Keller held on for fifth, while much-anticipated home favorite Evie Richards finished sixth.
In the past few seasons, Lecomte has represented the next generation of French mountain biking. Her rivalry with Ferrand-Prévot appears be a friendly one, Lecomte showing a big smile as she crossed the line for the silver medal more than a minute back and embraced her waiting compatriot just beyond the line.
Pieterse meanwhile has been the most dominant rider this season having adopted a strategy of riding away from the field early on in the race. Today, Ferrand-Prévot adopted the same strategy, using her wealth of experience to tune her mid-season fitness and counter the young guns like Pieterse, who shares a cyclocross palmarès with the new World Champion.
Ferrand-Prévot said in her post-race television interview that she wanted to go keep the pace high throughout the race, and that certainly worked. She also revealed that the she didn’t feel that the course suited her particularly well when she first arrived in Scotland and took her first pre-ride laps.
Perhaps the mark of a World Champion is overcoming weakness, rather than showing strength.
Elite women’s XCO results:
- Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (France) 1:24:14
- Loana Lecomte (France) @ 1:14
- Puck Pieterse (Netherlands) @ 1:27
- Mona Mitterwallner (Austria) @ 1:31
- Alessandra Keller (Switzerland) @ 2:23
- Evie Richards (Great Britain) @ 2:39
- Martina Berta (Italy) @ 4:10
- Gwendalyn Gibson (USA) @ 4:17
- Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) @ 4:22
- Savilia Blunk (USA) @ 5:00
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