By Wendy Booher
An athlete who has achieved as much as Julien Absalon has, such as three world championship titles and almost too many national titles to count - not to mention the Olympic gold medal - commands a degree of respect that's difficult to bestow upon someone so upbeat and downright approachable.
Absalon has just one week to go until the World Mountain Bike Championships, when he will take aim at a fourth, consecutive world title. With nods to his competition, he revealed a bit of how he will defend the Olympic gold medal in Beijing.
The audacity to think that it is possible to turn a 45-minute interview into an exposé of an entire career must seem laughable - if not highly irritating - to a pro racer like Julien Absalon. Often forced to speak a language that is not his own and answer the usual battery of questions relating to his multiple championship titles (for which most answers can be found online), the 27 year-old Absalon searches for words with which he feels comfortable and tends to grow uneasy as questioning plods onward.
No doubt like many other athletes, Absalon may regard interviews as perhaps one of the burdens to being a pro. However, bring up the Olympic gold medal that Absalon brought home from Athens three years ago, and he responds with a brilliance beyond compare. Only two other men own gold medals for the Olympic cross-country event and the rarity of that distinguish Absalon even more. To really capture an impression of Absalon though, watch him race; for only then does his persona become quintessentially clear.
Where others gingerly roll down a steep, scree-carpeted descent, Absalon locks his brakes and "skis" down using his rear wheel as a rudder for balance and stability. With only two chainrings, he's built up enough power by training in the rugged, mountainous region in the northeast of France to outsprint and outkick the competition nearly every time. His skill at appraising a course in order to pick out the best line yields a riding style iconic in its smoothness and feigned effortlessness. What you won't see is his mental prowess that - combined with his physical strength and technical acumen - most often delivers Absalon over the finish line in first place.
"I think that at a high level of competition, mental training is important," explained Absalon. "I think it makes a difference because all the riders are similar physically, but it's the mind that makes the difference. When you want to win, you are able to push more and when you are able to push the limits, you will go faster than the others."
He will need his troika of talents to operate at 100 percent both this weekend, when the final round of the Swisspower Cup takes place near Basel, Switzerland, and next weekend at the World Mountain Bike Championships at Fort William, Scotland. The most celebrated names in mountain bike racing are expected to race in Switzerland, which will be sort of a warm-up before the championship race the following week. Absalon's main goal for the 2007 season is to defend his world champion title for a fourth time and if all goes well in Switzerland, then he will be more ready than ever to face the competition in Scotland.
To read the complete interview, click here.