Julien Absalon (France) raced to the fifth world title of his career on Saturday by winning the elite men's cross country at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Hafjell, Norway. Absalon defended his top rival Nino Schurter (Switzerland) for the gold medal while Marco Fontana (Italy) won the battle for the bronze.
"It's special to have the world champion's jersey. Last time I won the world championships was in 2007, so it was a long time without after having won four in a row," said Absalon. "It's a pleasure to have the rainbow jersey, and it will be nice to ride with it next year."
Absalon recovered from an awful start, which included a crash, then worked his way to the front where he relatively quickly dropped Schurter en route to victory. It was Absalon's first race on a full suspension bike.
How it happened
Schurter went full gas from the whistle, trying to take advantage of his strong start. He instantly got a gap but was followed next by Matthias Flueckiger (Switzerland), Dan McConnell (Australia), Manuel Fumic (Germany) and Emil Lindgren (Switzerland).
"I had a super good start and in the beginning everything went my way," said Schurter. "I always try to start fast to cause Julien some problems. He often struggles with the starts. Everything went perfect with my start, and my first lap was under 12 minutes."
Absalon, on the other hand, was nowhere near the front and was spotted in eighth place halfway through lap one.
"I had a bad start. I crashed in the first woods section," said Absalon. "At this moment, I thought I can do nothing and I shouldn't waste my energy. I tried to go step by step to catch the leader. It's better to go in your own pace and pass one by one. I did the same at Mont-Sainte-Anne."
By the end of lap one of the seven-lap race, Schurter led Fumic by six seconds and Flueckiger. Behind them, places continued to shuffle.
Halfway through lap two, Absalon had moved into third behind Schurter and Fumic. He then chased with Fumic and Fontana, who had also moved forward through the pack. McConnell was riding well in fifth place until what would be the first of two flats on the day.
Absalon was within 10 seconds of Schurter on lap three. The French rider looked cool and collected. Fontana and Fumic followed together in third and fourth, 25 seconds off the pace of Schurter.
Fumic and Fontana, who are trade teammates on Cannondale, rode well together.
Fumic said, "We weren't fighting each other, we were working together."
Fontana said, "Manny and I were gaining time on the guy behind us. We have such a good relationship, and we each led our best parts."
Finally, on lap four, the patient but persistent Absalon made the catch. For the next quarter lap, the two raced each other for the front like the finish was near. After some back and forth on the climbs, Absalon made his move, out-climbing his Swiss rival to establish a gap.
"I thought maybe now the race would start once he caught me and it'd be like our other battles," said Schurter, "but somehow, he was a bit stronger today. He was strong through the technical sections, too, and I could tell he was not on his limit, but I was starting to struggle."
Perhaps it was because Absalon was racing a full suspension for the first time, perhaps it was because Schurter didn't have the legs today, but in either case, the French rider appeared to ride away relatively easily from Schurter.
"I went into this race to defend my title and try to win, but when Absalon caught me, I wasn't surprised to see him. I had been hoping he wouldn't make it back up to me after a bad start," said Schurter.
"I quickly realized that he's stronger today and I couldn't stay with him so I had to focus on second and getting the silver medal. I felt tired and like I couldn't suffer today."
Absalon said, "When I got Nino, I tried to pass him on the climb. I had made a good choice with my full suspension bike. It was risky because it was my first race with this bike, but it was a good one."
With two laps to go, Absalon's gap was decisive and with one to go, he'd grown it to 45 seconds.
"When I win, I usually win with lots of seconds or not at all," said Absalon, who has often been beaten by Schurter in a sprint finish.
Schurter realized he was not going to be able to defend his title. "I just tried to ride safe and get the silver medal," said Schurter.
It wasn't all smooth sailing to the line though as Schurter uncharacteristically crashed on a technical downhill section.
"It was a bad mistake. Sure I went into this race to win and I was a bit disappointed at first and lost my concentration and went over my bars," said Schurter. "Luckily nothing is really broken. Two days and I will feel fine."
Absalon rode on to the finish, celebrating world championship win number five. His last one was in 2007.
In the battle for the bronze, Fontana and Fumic were both strong, but Fumic decided he needed to stop for a wheel change - a mistake he would later regret.
"I came past the finish and heard some weird noise in my back wheel and I thought I had a puncture or some technical issue," said Fumic. "It was just that a [piece of] tree was in my back wheel. I had to make a decision and I stopped to change my wheel. I found out in the end, it was just a tree and nothing was wrong with it, so I'm a little disappointed but I was still fifth at the Worlds and I was battling for a medal. I'm happy with Marco because he had a rough season and finished well."
Fontana looked good for third, but then flatted on the final lap and had to stop and change a wheel, nearly losing the final medal spot.
Moritz Milatz (German) who was conistently getting stronger as the race progressed, passed Fontana as he got his new wheel, but Fontana wasn't going to give up after what has been a trying season for him.
"With one lap to go, some guy said 'Go Fonzi, don't use your brakes' and for some reason I did that," said Fontana. "That was dangerous though and I let go of my brakes and then 10m later, I had a flat. I went to the tech zone and got a wheel change."
"Once I changed the wheel, I gave it all and I made it. I thought 'I don't care who you are, this is my medal!' as I passed Milatz." Fontana rolled across the line riding a crowd-pleasing wheelie.
Milatz said, "I gave everything. I thought the whole time I could catch him, but I started to get cramps on the second last climb. Marco was just a little bit stronger, but he deserved it. It's not a medal, but it's a great result. It's my best result at Worlds. Last year I was seventh."
Julien Absalon got his brand new full suspension bike to take home after the Meribel World Cup two weeks ago. "I rode it a few times at home and was going to do one lap on it and one on the hardtail to compare when I got here to Hafjell. However, after one lap on the dually, I didn't even ride my hardtail. I thought it was a risk to do the race with a new bike, but I needed to try because it was faster."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Julien Absalon (France)||1:27:06|
|2||Nino Schurter (Switzerland)||0:01:51|
|3||Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy)||0:03:28|
|4||Moritz Milatz (Germany)||0:03:33|
|5||Manuel Fumic (Germany)||0:03:43|
|6||Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Spain)||0:03:56|
|7||Lukas Flückiger (Switzerland)||0:04:25|
|8||Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic)||0:04:33|
|9||José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain)||0:04:40|
|10||Ralph Naef (Switzerland)||0:05:06|
|11||Fabian Giger (Switzerland)||0:05:33|
|12||Ondrej Cink (Czech Republic)||0:05:52|
|13||Andrea Tiberi (Italy)||0:06:00|
|14||Rudi Van Houts (Netherlands)||0:06:16|
|15||Derek Zandstra (Canada)||0:06:24|
|16||Carlos Coloma Nicolas (Spain)||0:06:44|
|17||Maxime Marotte (France)||0:07:30|
|18||Markus Schulte-Luenzum (Germany)||0:07:39|
|19||Mathias Flückiger (Switzerland)||0:07:51|
|20||Gerhard Kerschbaumer (Italy)||0:07:57|
|21||Michal Lami (Slovakia)||0:08:18|
|22||Markus Bauer (Germany)||0:08:29|
|23||Hugo Drechou (France)||0:08:36|
|24||Catriel Andres Soto (Argentina)||0:08:58|
|25||Kevin Van Hoovels (Belgium)||0:09:07|
|26||David Valero (Spain)||0:09:11|
|27||Miguel Martinez (France)||0:09:23|
|28||Stephen Ettinger (United States Of America)||0:09:25|
|29||David Joao Serralheiro Rosa (Portugal)||0:09:29|
|30||Hans Becking (Netherlands)||0:09:32|
|31||Kohei Yamamoto (Japan)||0:09:38|
|32||Frank Beemer (Netherlands)||0:09:44|
|33||Marek Konwa (Poland)||0:09:56|
|34||Russell Finsterwald (United States Of America)||0:10:18|
|35||Matthias Wengelin (Sweden)||0:10:27|
|36||Jan Skarnitzl (Czech Republic)||0:10:32|
|37||Florian Vogel (Switzerland)||0:10:46|
|38||Alexander Gehbauer (Austria)||0:10:50|
|39||Anton Gogolev (Russian Federation)||0:10:54|
|40||Stéphane Tempier (France)||0:11:01|
|41||Andras Parti (Hungary)||0:11:20|
|42||Philip Buys (South Africa)||0:11:36|
|43||Anton Sintsov (Russian Federation)||0:12:19|
|-1lap||Todd Wells (United States Of America)|
|-1lap||Luca Braidot (Italy)|
|-1lap||Shlomi Haimy (Israel)|
|-1lap||Martin Haring (Slovakia)|
|-1lap||Evan Guthrie (Canada)|
|-1lap||Ruben Scheire (Belgium)|
|-1lap||Zsolt Juhasz (Hungary)|
|-1lap||Rotem Ishay (Israel)|
|-1lap||Ole Christian Fagerli (Norway)|
|-1lap||Karl Markt (Austria)|
|-1lap||Martin Fanger (Switzerland)|
|-1lap||Rourke Croeser (South Africa)|
|-1lap||Spencer Paxson (United States Of America)|
|-1lap||Matiss Preimanis (Latvia)|
|-1lap||Thomas Litscher (Switzerland)|
|-1lap||Jukka Vastaranta (Finland)|
|-1lap||Kirill Kazantsev (Kazakhstan)|
|-1lap||Ola Kjören (Norway)|
|-2laps||Christian Helmig (Luxembourg)|
|-2laps||Daniele Braidot (Italy)|
|-2laps||Raphael Gagne (Canada)|
|-2laps||Zhen Wang (People's Republic of China)|
|-2laps||Martin Gluth (Germany)|
|-2laps||Ricardo Pscheidt (Brazil)|
|-2laps||Paolo Cesar Montoya Cantillo (Costa Rica)|
|-2laps||Simon Gegenheimer (Germany)|
|-2laps||Jan Nesvadba (Czech Republic)|
|-2laps||Ignacio Torres (Mexico)|
|-2laps||Dario Alejandro Gasco (Argentina)|
|-2laps||Marco Antonio Escarcega (Mexico)|
|-3laps||Seiya Hirano (Japan)|
|-3laps||Ryo Saito (Japan)|
|-3laps||Geoff Kabush (Canada)|
|-3laps||Tudor Oprea Ovidiu (Romania)|
|-3laps||Artyom Golovaschenko (Kazakhstan)|
|-3laps||Rubens Valeriano (Brazil)|
|-3laps||José Juan Escarcega (Mexico)|
|-3laps||Abdulkadir Kelleci (Turkey)|
|-3laps||Mario Luis Miranda Costa (Portugal)|
|-3laps||Miguel Valadez (Mexico)|
|-3laps||Sherman De Paiva (Brazil)|
|-3laps||Pablo Roberto Voigt Rodriguez (Mexico)|
|-3laps||Johan J. Stroemberg (Norway)|
|-3laps||Lucian Logigan (Romania)|
|-3laps||Miha Halzer (Slovenia)|
|-4laps||Bayram Eroglu (Turkey)|
|-4laps||Motoshi Kadota (Japan)|
|-4laps||Oskars Muiznieks (Latvia)|
|-4laps||Elia Silvestri (Italy)|
|-4laps||George-Vlad Sabau (Romania)|
|-4laps||Paul Van Der Ploeg (Australia)|
|-5laps||Henrique Avancini (Brazil)|
|DNF||Kyosuke Takei (Japan)|
|DNF||Sergji Rysenko (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Daniel Mcconnell (Australia)|
|DNF||Emil Lindgren (Sweden)|
|DNF||Timofei Ivanov (Russian Federation)|
|DNF||Calle Friberg (Sweden)|
|DNF||Periklis Ilias (Greece)|
|DNF||Martin Loo (Estonia)|
|DNF||José Alberto Gonzalez Merchan (Ecuador)|
|DNF||Daniel Federspiel (Austria)|
|DNF||Ivan Smirnov (Russian Federation)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|8||United States Of America||215|
|31||People?S Republic Of China||42|