French cross country racer Julien Absalon won his fifth Cyclingnews Male Mountain Biker of the Year award in decisive fashion, tallying 5,081 (36%) of a total 14,070 votes cast. He previously won the poll in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
With his usual class and smooth riding style, the 29-year-old Absalon dominated the UCI World Cup throughout 2009, finishing in the top three in all but two rounds. He opened the season with a second place in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and then kicked off a four-in-a-row winning streak that carried him through the Offenburg, Germany; Houffalize, Belgium; Madrid, Spain; and Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec rounds. He took an additional second place - at Champéry, Switzerland.
The only blemish in an otherwise extremely successful season came when he was beaten by the up-and-coming Nino Schurter at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. The race came down to a two-man duel, with the young, promising Swiss rider - a former Under 23 World Champion - defeating the experienced Absalon - a former World Champion - in the final meters of the race, making it one of the most exciting World Championships in years.
Absalon has won the World Championship cross country title four times, most recently in 2007. He has also won gold in two Olympic Games - at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.
At the end of the season, Absalon indicated that he intended to finish out his career with his Orbea team, riding until the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Geoff Kabush repeated his runner-up poll performance of 2007 with a second place in the 2009 poll, thanks to 1,991 votes (14%). Kabush won the poll in 2005. The Canadian put in a consistent season to finish eighth, as top North American, in the UCI World Cup series overall. Perhaps his most noteworthy accomplishment was winning his first World Cup at Bromont in August on home turf (above photo).
Downhiller Steve Peat put in a strong poll performance with third place (1,568 votes or 11%) in the poll. As one of the oldest and most experienced gravity racers on the international circuit, Peat finally won the title that had been eluding him for years. The popular British rider won his first-ever downhill World Championship in Canberra, Australia in September.
Gravity racers Sam Hill and Jared Graves, both of Australia, rounded out the top-five in the poll, receiving nine and seven percent of the votes respectively.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski was the top American rider in the poll, finishing sixth. The current US short track and cross country National Champion had an impressive season and proved he can race fast over both short and long distances.
Spanish cross country winner Jose Antonio Hermida, one of the most consistent riders on the circuit, was seventh in the poll with 828 votes. He was second overall in the UCI World Cup, thanks in part to wins in the opening (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa) and closing (Schladming, Austria) rounds.
Cross country World Champion Nino Schurter, 23, only managed an eighth place with four percent of the votes despite his title. However, he stepped up from 10th in the 2009 poll and still has many years of racing ahead of him to win titles and become more well-known among mountain bike fans. Schurter is off to an impressive start with his upset win in Canberra.
Two other young riders wrapped up the poll with Aaron Gwin in ninth and Burry Stander in 10th respectively. Gwin, an American downhiller and the US downhill National Champion, drew the attention of the international downhill community this season with his first-ever downhill World Cup podium appearance.
Stander also had a remarkable season mixing it up with the elites throughout and finishing third overall in the elite World Cup. The Under 23 cross country World Champion won his first elite World Cup in Champéry, Switzerland.
In a positive sign for the sport of mountain biking, participation in this category of the reader poll was up by 35 percent over last year.
Cyclingnews 2009 Reader Poll results - Best male mountain biker
1. Julien Absalon: 5081 (36%)
2. Geoff Kabush: 1991 (14%)
3. Steve Peat: 1568 (11%)
4. Sam Hill: 1263 (9%)
5. Jared Graves: 1010 (7%)
6. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski: 979 (7%)
7. Jose Antonio Hermida: 828 (6%)
8. Nino Schurter: 504 (4%)
9. Aaron Gwin: 483 (3%)
10. Burry Stander: 363 (3%)
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.