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Absalon staying on top

By Gunter Hauspie

Every so often one rider comes along to dominate a cycling discipline. Julien Absalon is the man at the top of cross country mountain biking. He has won just about all the titles possible in his chosen sport in recent years and is the favorite for gold at the upcoming Beijing Olympics in August.

Frenchman Julien Absalon was 20 minutes late for the interview in the isolated Hohnech - one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the Vosges Mountains in France. "Sorry, I got a bit lost," the Orbea rider said as he introduced himself. The 28 year-old champion stands 1.78 meters tall and despite living just 35km away in Saint-Amé, he'd never been here before.

"I often train in these parts of the mountains, but I stay on the magnificent "Route des Crêtes", a little lower. I've never taken this road to the top," said Absalon before he removed his bicycle from a cherry-red Nissan Micra Cabriolet. Its frame just fits in the back seat space, and the two wheels fill the car trunk. He is ready for a relaxed training ride to Lake Xonrupt-Longemer.

Absalon was the World Champion in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. He won the World Cup overall in 2003, 2006 and 2007 and was Olympic Champion in 2004. He is gearing up for the next Olympic competition in Beijing, China, on August 23.

Cyclingnews: You were born here in the Vosges in Raon-aux-Bois, near Remiremont, and you have always lived here. Did you ever think of moving to the real mountains?

Julien Absalon:No. There is no better training location than the Vosges. For road training, I come to these high summits. The roads are good, and not much traffic. Mountain biking, however, I do closer to home. I begin at my front door. The mountains are 800 to 900 meters high with many short climbing sections and descents and technical singletrack. The mountains are wooded, so [there are] a lot of tree roots as well. Altogether, a very varied itinerary. At higher altitudes, the parcours becomes more monotonous, rougher, and in winter, inaccessible and too cold for training rides. I travel 210 days a year. Nowhere did I find a better mountain biking region than my Vosges.

CN: But didn't you go south to Fréjus at the Côte d'Azur, last winter, to prepare for the season?

JA: Yes, because of the snow here, from January to March. I went south, indeed. But in normal circumstances I can train on the Vosges Mountains even in winter. As soon as the snow had disappeared, I came back. It's no use to train in ideal conditions, when during the competitions one has to ride in bad weather anyway. Besides, the Vosges are centrally located between Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Most MTB events occur here.

CN: At the opening competition for the World Cup at Houffalize, in Belgium, you won easily. And you kept winning afterwards. Haven't you reached your top condition too early this Olympic year?

JA: No, I'm on schedule. I planned two peaks this year. The World Championship in Val di Sole in Italy on June 22 and the Olympic race on August 23. The other competitions, I'll participate in them, but they are not essential. I won the first three rounds of the World Cup, which gives me an advantage. It allows me to skip some rounds if I so decide. It will be a long and difficult year. For example, one week after the Olympic Games, a stage of the World Cup will be held in [Canberra] Australia.

Read the complete interview.

Schalk and Shogren triumph in Ohio

By Harlan Price

Jeff Schalk made it two in a row when he won the Mohican 100, round two of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series in Ohio. After a tight battle with his Trek / VW team-mate Chris Eatough, Schalk finished first. Eatough was second and Sam Koerber, the brother of elite women's racer Willow Koerber, finished third. In the women's race, Betsy Shogren threw her hat into this year's 100 mile competition and won the race. 24 hour solo ace Rebecca Rusch finished second while Michelle Stoppard ended in third.

Stop number two took the competition to the rolling hills of the interior of Ohio. The town of Loudonville hosted an early morning start with over 300 racers being led out by a police escort toward the city limit sign and the first and only prime of the NUE series. Over the next 14 hours racers took a five-county tour through some of the best singletrack, farm roads and rails-to-trails the country has to offer.

Like the Cohutta 100, the Mohican 100 started under cloudy skies from the previous night's rain, highlighted some of the best trails in the state and ended with Jeff Schalk (Trek/VW) winning by a similarly narrow margin of two minutes after seven hours of racing. This time Schalk's biggest protagonist was his team-mate and last year's NUE series winner Chris Eatough (Trek/VW).

The first split of the day came at about mile two, just before the start of the singletrack, when Schalk, Eatough, Christian Tanguy (American Cycling and Fitness), Sam Koerber (Subaru/ Gary Fisher), and Evan Plews created a small gap over a little climb.

The lead group was eventually whittled down to Schalk, Eatough and Koerber, who was having a stellar day on the bike. Koerber lingered a bit longer at an aid station and lost contact with the two Trek riders. With under 30 miles to go, Schalk knew he had to make a move before the last eight miles where Eatough would have an upper hand in the technical singletrack. He did just that and managed to hang on to the end.

Women's winner Betsy Shogren (SoBe / Cannondale) didn't blast off the front in first place. She chose a steady pace for her race. Starting out in fourth, where she stayed for awhile, she slowly moved her way to the front. After catching Michelle Stoppard (Visit PA), she proceeded to pick off Cheryl Sornson (Trek/VW) and Rebecca Rusch (Specialized/Red Bull). Those two hung off the back to almost aid station two. At that station she saw her husband, who was racing in the 65 mile race, and was suffering from a little leftover illness from earlier in the week.

"It was a highlight of the race to be able to ride with Gunnar, since we never get to do that," said Shogren.

Her day in the lead almost came to an unexpected end when with a mile to go, she missed a turn onto singletrack and spent some time riding back and forth looking for it. She saw Rusch make the turn ahead of her and proceeded to follow. "I was running on adrenaline at that point, and attacked on a hill." Shogren said of her need for an unexpected last minute acceleration to take the win.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Mohican 100.

Waite and Richardson win 20th Hoo-Ha!

By Sue George in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Nick Waite (Trek / VW) and Theresa Richardson (SoBe / Cannondale) won the elite men's and women's 21 mile cross country events at the 20th edition of the Massanutten Hoo-Ha! just outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia last weekend, while Dave Weaver was the fastest singlespeeder. In the 33 mile XXC, Daryll Prillamen and Sue George won their respective categories. It was a gorgeous early June day for all racers, who were treated to technical, rocky trails which were in some places lined with blooming mountain laurels' pink and white flowers.

Only 22 seconds separated the top two elite women's finishers Theresa Richardson and Johanna Kraus (Velo Bella / Kona) in the most exciting race of the day. Richardson started out fastest and assumed an early lead on the first climb which was a mix of fireroad and singletrack. Behind Richardson, Kraus followed in second with Susan Musante in third. Musante caught Kraus after a technical ridge section on the first lap, but the two exchanged places again soon after. Both the elite women and men would complete two laps.

Although Kraus sometimes had Richardson in her sights, it wasn't until the second lap that she would catch her. "I saw her as I came through for the first lap and folks told me I was back about 30 seconds," said Kraus. "I'm faster in the rock gardens, but Theresa was faster climbing and descending. I caught her on the ridge the second time."

"We kept going back and forth. I ran into a tree and then Johanna dropped her chain," said the eventual winner, who was excited to ride the rocky course and eventually escaped for good by growing her slight gap to a margin that would stick after Kraus's chain drop. Richardson won with a time of 2:37:12.

In the men's race, pro road racer Nick Waite (Trek / VW) won in a time of 1:50:17. The former U23 and junior mountain bike standout had a break in his road racing schedule with the Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast team and couldn't pass up the opportunity to race his local trails.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Massanutten Hoo-Ha!.

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