By Wendy Booher in Montegenevre
Defending national champions Laurence Leboucher (Sarthe-Gasseau) and Julien Absalon (Orbea) won gold again at the French National Mountain Bike Championships.
Leboucher won by than a minute and half ahead of Sabrina Enaux (Lapierre International) and almost three minutes in front of Christel Ferrier Bruneau (Scott Valloire Galibier). She sustained a cautious lead going into the first lap until she forged a comfortable pace that negotiated speed and elevation.
Leboucher collected her sixth red, white, and blue jersey to go with the other five she already has and, while French mountain bikers get to wear the stripes of a national champion for life, more distinguishing on Leboucher are the rainbow colors for winning the World Mountain Bike Championships in 1998. She has represented France at every summer Olympics since 1992, first on the road then on the mountain bike, and she hopes to claim the only spot available to France in the women's cross-country event next year in Beijing. Despite her impressive palmares that include two world champion cyclo-cross titles and four national cyclo-cross titles, Leboucher - like Absalon - will take aim at an Olympic medal before she retires at the end of 2008.
In the men's race, it was Julien Absalon's (Orbea) title to lose. The Frenchman held onto it firmly. Olympic gold medalist Absalon's all-around talents in climbing, technique, and power yielded an error-free race to deliver him his seventh consecutive national title.
"Next year is an Olympic season so it's more important than the other seasons and I'll be focusing on defending the gold medal," said Absalon. "It's a dream for me; I won it one time and I would like to do it another time - it's not a race like any other."
The six-kilometer course humiliated racers who lacked the fitness and technique to climb steep, gravel-littered singletrack and that humiliation stung even more on a saddle-to-chest descent that forced racers lacking confidence to dismount. Absalon's flawless execution of technical sections plus a power output that consistently outpunched second place, Cedric Ravanel (Lapierre International), and third place, Jean-Christophe Peraud (Orbea), left no question as to how Absalon won again.
For complete coverage of all disciplines of French mountain bike nationals, click here.