Sometimes finishing in the top 10 at a World Cup mountain bike race is not just about finishing in the top 10 at a World Cup mountain bike race. Such was the case for Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon Factory Downhill Team) and Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing XC) at the recent XCO World Cups.
For both Ferrand-Prevot and Richards, those strong results were the latest steps in long comeback processes after injuries cost them part or all of the 2018/19 cyclocross season. Both women had winter leg surgeries, and both are returning to form on their mountain bikes in a big way.
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Ferrand-Prevot’s issues with illness and injury have been well-documented. After winning the 2015 Cyclocross, XCO and Road World Championships, Ferrand-Prevot missed the 2015/16 season due to a broken leg and then skipped the 2016/17 cyclocross season due to health issues.
Ferrand-Prevot returned in December 2017, winning the Druivencross in just her second race back. An unfortunate crash at Hoogerheide cost her a strong shot at Worlds, but the former world champion appeared to be back. That sentiment was reinforced by her strong 2018 XCO World Cup campaign where she podiumed twice and finished 7th in the overall standings.
However, there would be no cyclocross season for Ferrand-Prevot. In December 2018, she posted on Instagram about a leg issue she had been dealing with for a number of years.
“For 4 years now, I have had an inexplicable pain in my leg,” Ferrand-Prevot wrote. “When I push over 70% of my maximum power, I don’t feel my leg anymore, and I have the sensation of ‘dead leg’ (like my bib-short and shoe are too tight). During the last 4 years I saw a lot of doctors, and I had a lot of different treatments. Nothing really worked.”
Ferrand-Prevot was diagnosed with iliac artery endofibrosis—the same leg affliction Bjorn Selander suffers from—and had surgery on both legs in February. After a nine-week break, she returned to training in April and then quietly returned to the XCO World Cups, finishing 42nd at Albstadt and then 9th at Nove Mesto.
At Les Gets, Ferrand-Prevot had the best results yet of her comeback. She finished second in Friday’s short track race and then took fifth in Sunday’s XCO race.
Ferrand-Prevot also won her sixth-straight French XCO Nationals the week after Les Gets.
After winning the Trek CX Cup and finishing second at the Jingle Cross World Cup, Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing), had an abbreviated 2018/19 cyclocross season, racing just the Tabor and Koksijde World Cups before shutting her season down to have knee surgery in January. The decision to have surgery meant she was unable to defend the U23 Cyclocross World Championship she won at Valkenburg.
Fortunately for Richards, she recovered from the surgery in time for the XCO World Cups in her favorite discipline. Richards finished 12th at Nove Mesto, and then bounced back to finish 2nd at both Vallnord and Les Gets.
Richards also Nationals last weekend, taking the British U23 Championship in Rugeley.
Both women are set to continue their respective comebacks this weekend at the Val di Sole UCI XCO World Cup in Italy. Coverage on redbull.tv starts with Friday’s Short Track race and continues with Sunday’s XCO race.
Featured image: Bart Hazen