Multi-discipline champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot revealed on her Instagram and Facebook pages yesterday that she's been diagnosed with iliac artery endofibrosis, a painful condition that's generally not common but also isn't unheard of among endurance athletes. The condition is affecting both of her legs and will require surgery, with Ferrand-Prevot expecting to be on the sidelines for around four months. You can see her full Instagram post below.
Ferrand-Prevot is a powerhouse in mountain, cyclocross, and road circles, having been the first athlete (male or female) to be a World Champion in all three disciplines simultaneously. Her 2014 and 2015 seasons were phenomenal, but injuries over the more recent years have slowed her down some, especially a tibial fracture that put a damper on her 2016 Olympics.
By the sounds of it, Ferrand-Prevot had been struggling to diagnose her issues, and a quick Google search reveals that IAE is often misdiagnosed or missed completely. A big reason for that is that vascular problems aren't often suspected in fit athletes, even though high blood flow, repetitive hip flexing, and an athlete's position on the bike are all known factors. The result is damage to the layers of the artery wall and decreased blood flow throughout the legs that can translate to unprecedented weakness.
You can no doubt see how that would be an issue for an elite cyclist, and although Ferrand-Prevot has had some impressive results during the past year (including 2nd at the European cross-country Championships, four World Cup podiums, and a National cyclocross championship win), she hasn't been able to ride to her full potential.
IAE hits each person differently, but what can Ferrand-Prevot expect in the future? A fifteen-year-long study by three Stanford University MDs in 2016 looked at eighteen patients between 2000 and 2015 who underwent operative intervention, with all of them being high-performance endurance cyclists, triathletes, and long-distance runners. Here's what the paper had to say: ''Primary patency was 93% at one year and 82% at latest follow-up. Whereas 82% of patients were able to return to their prior level of physical endurance, in a long-term follow-up survey, 50% of these patients experienced some recurrence of symptoms.''
Although she could be dealing with some symptoms down the road, it sounds like there's a good chance that Ferrand-Prevot will return to full strength. Here's hoping that's exactly what happens.