After riding to a brave and determined sixth place with no less than three broken ribs at the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 11-time French national champion Julien Absalon will be anticipating a fast start to the international mountain bike season where he hopes to record a 27th UCI World Cup race victory when the global series gets underway at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on April 11-13.
The BMC Racing Team rider won the European Continental Championships towards the back end of 2013 and has been working hard in the winter period to get into a position where he can challenge for a podium at the opening event of the UCI MTB World Cup.
"I have had a good, solid off season and am just really keen to get the season going again because there has been quite a lot of waiting!" an eager Absalon said. "I am fully fit going into this season and am ready to get out on the track in Pietermaritzburg!"
The 34-year-old French rider currently sits at number two on the UCI rankings and, after a sixth place finish at the world championships last year, getting back to the top of the pile is the main focus for Absalon going into the Pietermaritzburg leg of the World Cup.
"There will be only one goal on my mind when I arrive in Pietermaritzburg and that is getting back onto the podium. I missed out in Pietermaritzburg last year at Worlds so proving that I can finish in the top three in Pietermaritzburg will be my main objective, but it is going to be difficult with most of the best riders coming back this year."
"Nino (Schurter) really enjoys the track and has done well there in the past, which means that he is going to be the man to beat when we arrive there in a few weeks but there are so many other good riders out there as well," a wary Absalon mentioned.
The World Cup debuted at the Cascades MTB Park in 2009 so the conditions won't come as a shock to any of the competitors when they arrive in April and Absalon appreciates the opportunity to ride in Africa.
"It is always nice for us to compete in Africa because we very rarely get the chance to ride in international races there and starting the season there will be exciting because everyone will be looking to get a good start!" he said from his European base.
"Being the only World Cup in Africa also makes the Pietermaritzburg event special but the flight is always tough because it is one of the longest that we have to take and so it is vital that we look after ourselves on the flight in order to prevent sickness."
"Even though it is a long flight, it is very different from the flights to America because there is no jet lag involved in the flight to South Africa which means we don't have to worry about recovery too much when we arrive."
Adapting to the course is always an important aspect of riding and Absalon feels that the Cascades cross country course suits his riding style and getting to grips early with the technical nature of the course will be a step in the right direction for the Frenchman.
"The track in Pietermaritzburg is really nice and the course has some seriously technical bits that can make it tricky but it also makes the course exciting because you need to be that little bit more careful but, at the same time, maintain a high tempo.
"The track does suit my style of riding, and I think that the climbs are always going to suit me with the two longer climbs being places where I can make up some good time," the two-time Olympic champion said.