A relaxed Julien Absalon met with about 30 members of the press at the French team headquarters in "Hotel France" - renamed for the week of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships from its usual "Hotel Suisse". The four-time cross country world champion started off by apologizing for being late after anti-doping testers showed up at his room on Thursday morning.
Absalon is among the favorites who will race for the rainbow stripes in the elite men's cross country race on Saturday. The French national champion agreed with the estimates of most pundits: Czech rider Jaroslav Kulhavy, the World Cup champion, is the top favourite after winning five of seven World Cups this year.
Absalon admitted that he hasn't found Kulhavy's weakness yet, so working on a tactic to beat him has been difficult.
"I would have said maybe [his weakness was] sprints, but we found out last week [at the World Cup final in Val di Sole] that he is also good at sprints," said the French rider.
Absalon listed himself, Swiss riders Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel, as well as South African rider Burry Stander and last year's World Champion, Spanish rider José Antonio Hermida Ramos, as possible contenders for the jersey. He said it is difficult to narrow it down to a couple riders.
However, Absalon does have a major advantage. He's proven that he knows how to cope with pressure at world championship and Olympic events and still win. "I'm more experienced than some of the younger riders," he said.
Absalon is one of just two riders to beat Kulhavy at a World Cup this season. Schurter is the other.