By Rob Jones
Top-ranked Julien Absalon claimed his fourth consecutive world men's cross country title last weekend in Fort William, Scotland at the UCI World Mountain Bike Championships by dominating the 119-rider field in the 48-kilometer race with a final time of two hours, 17 minutes and six seconds. Rounding out the podium was a pair of Swiss riders as Ralf Naef and Florian Vogel won the silver and bronze medals respectively.
The action started on the first climb, with Vogel attacking to open things up. "To attack is the best defence. Everyone was watching Julien (Absalon), Christoph (Sauser - Switzerland) and (Jose Antonio) Hermida (Spain), and they weren't watching me so I was able to open a gap. This let me go at my own speed and not have to fight for positions," Vogel said.
Behind, all the favourites were content to set a high tempo and wait for someone to make a move. Eventually Vogel was caught by a small group of riders. From it, Absalon would attack on lap four and quickly gain 30 seconds. By the bottom of the descent he was up to 45 seconds, and early in the fifth lap nearing a minute.
"My main goal this season was to keep this beautiful jersey," said Absalon, explaining his ongoing motivation to win. "I made a special preparation for the world championships, with the national team coming here in April and video taped the circuit, and I trained all season with this in mind."
When told he had broken Djernis' record, Absalon commented, "I am very happy and proud to get the record, but it was not my major motivation to win. I love this jersey. I was looking at it last night on my bed, and I knew that I wanted to keep it again."
Riders like José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain) and Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) dealt with mechanicals. Hermida Ramos stopped at a tech zone to deal with a cracked fork that had resulted from a crash, while Sauser's right shoe ripped open and he had resort to duct tape to hold it together. Cedric Ravanel (France) also suffered a mechanical.
"The goal is always to beat Julien," said second placed Näf after the race. "But he is the best. He is so steady and consistent that I am proud have been able to win silver."
Russian Irina Kalentieva won her first world title over Sabine Spitz (Germany) and Jingjing Wang (China) in the women's race. For complete coverage of the men's and women's cross country world championship races, click here.