Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) became the first woman to successfully defend the Elite Women Cross Country title at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships since her French compatriot Julie Bresset in 2012-13, with a dominating victory on Saturday in Leogang, Austria. Eva Lechner (Italy) outsprinted Rebecca McConnell (Australia) for second place.
While the expected rain held off, the course was still extremely wet and muddy, making the uphills slow in the sticky mud and the downhills slick and treacherous, with almost every rider going down at some point.
Ferrand Prevot rode away from the rest of the field on the start loop, never to be seen again. Besides her obvious strength on the climbs, Ferrand Prevot was riding the technical descents better than anyone, increasing her lead by as much as 30 seconds per lap, to beat Lechner and McConnell by a massive three minutes-plus.
The real battle was for silver. McConnell took control of second place on the start loop and looked to have it wrapped up in the early laps, with a significant gap over Lechner, Sina Frei (Switzerland), and Yana Belomoina (Ukraine). Belomoina had a problem with her dropper post and had to have it replaced in the pits, eventually finishing seventh. The 2018 world champion, Kate Courtney (USA) also had mechanical issues, eventually dropping out.
Lechner and Frei fought for the bronze medal position through the first four laps, with Lechner stronger on the climbs and Frei bringing her back in the technical sections. However, Frei began to tire in the last lap and a half, as did McConnell, enabling Lechner to drop the Swiss rider and close in on the Australian. The last lap was a see-saw battle for silver, with McConnell pulling away, only to crash on one of the final descents, allowing Lechner to catch up in the last 100 metres, with the Italian taking silver in a bike throw. McConnell had to settle for bronze, the same position she finished in last year.
For Ferrand Prevot, it was the third elite XC title of her career, putting in her in a select club of Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa of Norway (4 titles), Alison Sydor of Canada (3 titles) and Margarita Fullana of Spain (3).
“I feel great,” said Ferrand Prevot. “It was an amazing race. I wanted to have a good start because I knew on the uphills and downhills it would be a bit hectic in a group. I wanted to go solo but didn’t expect to have such a big gap. It was good to have a good gap because of the possibility of a mechanical or a crash; something can always happen. I wanted to be safe until the end, and this way I could keep calm and ride a good pace. It’s great to be able to defend the jersey, and I’m super happy to ride another year with the world champion’s jersey because I really like it. It’s a good day for France, with the Under-23 women’s title also for Loana Lecomte.”