Just when you thought Pauline Ferrand-Prévot's career couldn't get any more successful, it is about to launch into the stratosphere with her new two-year deal and targeted goals with Ineos Grenadiers.
Her name is synonymous with versatility, strength, winning world titles, and wearing rainbow jerseys. She's made a career out of following her intuition and independence as she navigates a successful career in multiple disciplines of professional cycling.
In her debut with Ineos Grenadiers, set to begin on January 1, Ferrand-Prévot will chase another world title at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships on February 4 in Hoogerheide, to add to her growing collection of rainbow jerseys, and capitalising on what she says is the form of her life.
"Yes, the main goal of the cyclo-cross season will be to try to be World Champion," said Ferrand-Prévot.
"I will start with no points at the beginning of the season, so I will have to be good to try to make points and to be able to be in the second or third row at the World Championships. It will be a challenge, but I like it. It's been a few years without cyclo-cross, so I'm feeling motivated to do this one."
She underwent two separate surgeries in 2019 and 2020 to correct double iliac artery endofibrosis, from which she has fully recovered.
"I really missed cyclo-cross, and I had twice the surgery, and it was impossible to make it. After that, with the Olympics, it was complicated. Also BMC didn't have a cyclo-cross bike. So, that's why I'm super motivated to race cyclo-cross because I really wanted to do it, but it was impossible. It will be a great winter and preparation for the MTB season," she said.
"We found out I needed surgery for this iliac injury, and after that, I felt I could give my best. I tried to come back, and I wasn't at my best in the past years, but now I found my best shape ever. It's pretty good to feel that you can win races and feel motivated to go to training. I think about things like what makes me feel good and what makes me happy. In general, I'm feeling very happy."
More rainbows await in cyclo-cross
Should Ferrand-Prévot win the world title at the Cyclo-cross World Championships, it will mark her fifth consecutive and simultaneous rainbow jersey in the 2022-2023 season.
She currently holds four world titles, having won the elite women's XCC short track and XCO cross-country in August in Les Gets, France, along with the XCM marathon in Haderslev, Denmark, in September.
In October, she added a fourth world title to her collection of accomplishments this season at the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships in Veneto, Italy.
"I didn't realise what I did this season. The last title was already a week ago, so not that much time has passed, I would say, but I'm feeling good and happy. I'm also super happy to finally be able to say that I will race for Ineos Grenadiers next season," she said.
"I feel like it has been a super good season for me, and with this announcement, it keeps going in a good way. I'm quite happy and can't wait to start this journey."
Ineos Grenadiers journey
Ineos Grenadiers put the circulating rumours to rest when they announced that Ferrand-Prévot would be joining the team on a two-year deal with a view towards her home Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.
The 30-year-old, the first woman to sign for the British squad, will be part of the team's growing off-road collective racing cyclo-cross, gravel, and mountain bike.
"I know that being in this team can be really good for me because I can steer a lot of things. I want to be really professional in every way; training and recovery, and I'm confident in the next years," said Ferrand-Prévot, who said she is looking forward to the professionalism offered at Ineos Grenadiers setup.
"I spend all day doing medical tests, and it's crazy professional, and normally it takes six months to do all the things I've done in two days, so it's saving time. I did my season almost alone this year and will be happy to have more staff, knowledge, and people around me. Everything can be better, for sure.
"It all started in May. I really like the project and being part of this team. I went to join the men in training camp and to be part of the family. It's super professional and the only way I can get better and learn more. Ineos Grenadiers, for me, is the best WorldTour team, and when they asked me, I was really happy."
Although one crucial aspect of her performance and equipment plan is currently missing - the mountain bike. Ineos Grenadiers' bike sponsor Pinarello currently have a cyclo-cross bike but does not have a mountain bike in their line-up.
"For that, we don't know yet and I can't really say, but I will have a bike for sure," she laughed.
Tom Pidcock currently races for Ineos Grenadiers in a full road season while also racing under the team colours in cyclo-cross and mountain biking (he rode a blacked-out BMC, but Pinarello is reportedly developing its own) and would undoubtedly be part of this programme. He is the reigning world champion in elite men's cyclo-cross and won gold medals in the XCO cross-country event at the Tokyo Olympic Games and European Championships while representing Great Britain.
Asked if she had time to speak with Pidcock about the off-road programme to get a feel for how it might work for her schedule, she said, "Not yet; he didn't know how the cyclo-cross season would work for him. I hope to share a lot of time with Tom and we can be together in the races, but we didn't speak about the programme. When I signed, I told him I would not be too annoying, and he was happy about that, I think."
'Maybe I will come back to road racing'
Questions have been swirling as to whether Ferrand-Prévot would entertain the idea of returning to road racing in the future.
She raced on the road for Rabobank from 2012 through 2016 before joining Canyon-SRAM from 2017 through the end of 2020. However, she hasn't raced on the road, outside of the French Road Championships, since 2018.
She made history in the 2014-2015 season at the age of 23, when she became the first cyclist to simultaneously hold world titles in the three disciplines; winning the elite women's road race world title in 2014 Ponferrada, the XCO cross-country world title in 2015 in Vallnord, and the cyclo-cross world title in 2015 in Tabor.
Asked if she has thought of returning to road racing, especially with the increased professionalism and development of the sport, and the successful rebirth of the Tour de France Femmes, Ferrand-Prévot said she would consider it in the future. However, the main priority is the cross-country gold medal at the Paris Olympics.
"My main goal will be to try to be Olympic Champion in Paris in 2024 because it is the only title I'm missing, so I really want that one. The next years will be focussed on MTB to try to be Olympic Champion at home," she said.
"Maybe I will come back to road racing, but not for right now, for sure. When I look at the Tour de France and all these big races, yeah, for sure, I maybe want to be a part of it, but later, and I just want to focus now on my dream. With the Olympics at home, I think I have a good chance."
Her versatility as a rider shines across her total of ten individual elite world titles during her career, which include road (2014), cyclo-cross (2015) four XCO cross-country titles (2015, 2019, 2020 and 2022), two XCM marathon titles in (2019 and 2022), one XCC short track title (2022), and gravel world title (2022).
She was also part of the France national team that won world titles in the team relays in 2014, 2015 and 2016, to add to her sparkling career.
Asked if she has ever felt pressure to choose one discipline over the other, Ferrand-Prévot said, "Yes, for sure. When I was younger, they asked me to choose between road and MTB, but I didn't want to. I showed years later that I was the world champion in three disciplines and so I was really happy that I kept pushing the way that I wanted and to make a decision," she said.
"It's why I now want to do cyclo-cross, then I know I will be good in MTB, and I like to do everything. It's a big motivation for me. I also like to go on the bike and train every day. I need to change bikes just not to get bored."
Independence and making her own decisions about her career are of the utmost importance for Ferrand-Prévot, and it is perhaps part of what has led to her success as an athlete.
"We all have dreams and goals, for sure. We all know, in the end, what is good for us or not. So, I'm confident, and I like to know what I want and don't want. I like to decide what I will do, where I want to go, and which way I have to take. For the moment, this is ok."