Absalon back in rainbow stripes after seven years
Switch to full suspension helps French mountain biker come back as world champ
It's been seven long years since Julien Absalon won the cross country world championships. On Saturday, the French legend of mountain biking earned the rainbow striped jersey for the fifth time in his career.
"I won four in a row, and the last one was in 2007. It was a long time without," said Absalon. "It's a pleasure have the jersey, and it will be nice to ride with it again next year."
His world championship win came at the end of a perfect season.
"I got all the jerseys I could win: the nationals, the Europeans, the World Cup overall and the Worlds. It was perfect!" he said with a big smile.
One thing Absalon did differently in the process of ending his drought of world championship wins was to race a full suspension bike. He was a reluctant and late convert relative to his rivals, but after winning the Worlds, he was enthusiastic about his new bike.
"At the beginning of the season, the BMC team manager asked me if I wanted a dually because the other riders on the team were asking for them, but I told him not to bother because I wasn't going to use it anyway."
"Finally, the team manager talked me into trying. I thought it was good for me to ride the hardtail because I always stand up on the pedals."
Absalon is one of the world's best climbers - he dances uphill relative to his competition. Although he was afraid of losing that advantage, after the World Cup in Windham, where Nino Schurter continually made up time on him while riding his dual suspension on the technical downhills, Absalon had told Cyclingnews that he'd consider going with full suspension for next year.
However, after the Meribel final round of the World Cup, Absalon agreed to take a full suspension home with him and ride it in training.
"In my mind, I thought I'd be riding my full suspension starting next year, but after Meribel, when I saw the track here, I thought I needed to try it," he said. "It's not possible with my hardtail to follow Nino on the downhill. I was losing 15-20 seconds per lap to Nino on the downhills in Windham."
"When I got here, I was going to do one lap on a full suspension and one on the hardtail to compare, but after one lap on the full suspension, I didn't even do the lap on my hardtail. I thought, 'ok, I know my choice.'"
Absalon knew it was a risk to race the Worlds with a new, untested bike, but he said, "I needed to try it because it was faster. It turned out to be a good option." Absalon doesn't expect to always use his full suspension going forward - he will pick it or the hardtail based on each race's course.
Winning and winning again
Absalon compared winning title number five to his first win.
"The first one was crazy because it was two weeks after the Olympics and it was a big surprise. It was cool because I was riding in front of fans in Liege. I started just to enjoy it and it was very muddy, so I decided to ride with very low pressure. I figured if I flatted, it didn't matter, I was still the Olympic champion, but then I won the race in front of Thomas Frischknecht, which I never expected. It was was good to win it in France."
Since then, he's found defending the jersey to be a challenge. "After that, it was maybe harder to win because once you have it on your shoulders, you realize that maybe it won't be yours any more. It's hard to defend it than to win it."
Absalon made one other big change to his preparations this season. "I changed my diet. I don't eat any more pasta. I eat totally different, so I lost 2-3kg but output the same watts. So with less weight, I feel better and less tired."
The amicable French star also answered the inevitable Olympic question. Although he's not the current Olympic champion, he has previously won.
"Yes I hope I will be in Rio if everything goes ok the next few years," he said. In the shorter term, he's looking forward to the World Cup next year and the Worlds, which will be in Vallnord, Andorra.
"I like the track in Vallnord, so we'll see. Maybe I'll do some more races this year, but basically my season is over."
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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.