Preview: 2009 Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships

Absalon, Fullana, Atherton looking to defend titles

French double Olympic champion Julien Absalon will be vying for his fifth world title at this week's UCI mountain bike world championships in Canberra, Australia.

Absalon, 29, who became the first rider to defend the men's Olympic cross country title in Beijing last year, ranks as a giant of the sport as a four-time world champion, from 2004 to 2007.

He gets his chance to make it five in the elite cross country event in the Stromlo Forest Park circuit on the outskirts of Australia's national capital.

Absalon kept the gold in French hands for a third straight Olympics when he led compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud and Swiss pair Nino Schurter and world champion Christoph Sauser home last year.

Sauser, who has 14 World Cup wins and claimed the World Cup champion title in 2004 and 2005, will be fighting hard to retain the world crown he won in Val di Sole, Italy, last year.

Spain's Margarita Fullana is the reigning world champion in the women's elite cross country and will be defending her title against Olympic champion Sabine Spitz of Germany.

Fullana was denied victory in the 2007 world championships at Fort William, Scotland, when a pre-race medical blood screening revealed a red blood cell count higher than acceptable levels.

But she went on to become the cross country world champion last year.

Spitz overcame a technically difficult course and searing temperatures to win the women's Olympic mountain bike cross country gold last year from Poland's Maja Wloszczowska and Russian Irina Kalentieva, both in Canberra for the world championships.

Britain's Gee Atherton is the reigning world champion in the non-Olympic men's elite downhill event, while his sister, Rachel, will not get a chance to chance to defend her women's world title.

She is recovering from shoulder surgery after being hit by a truck while training in California earlier this year.

A total of 41 nations will be represented over six days of competition from Tuesday in cross country, downhill, 4X and trials.

© 2009 AFP

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