Julien Absalon opened the year of his Olympic title defence in perfect fashion by convincingly winning the men's cross country race in the first round of the mountain bike world cup in Houffalize, Belgium.
As the national anthem of France played Absalon’s fan club brought the arena to life with their rendition of La Marseillaise as the tricolour rose.
From the start Absalon was in the lead group on a far drier course than the women had faced two hours earlier. There were, however, parts of singletrack that were cut up leaving exposed roots and ruts. Tyre choice was critical in these changing conditions along with a strong nerve and good bike handling skills.
Following the start loop a select group of seven riders formed, containing Absalon and his teammate Jean Christoph Peraud, Nino Schurter, Florian Vogel, Jose Hermida, Roel Paulissen and Cedric Ravanel. It was Schurter who got impatient first and struck in the singletrack on lap two getting a gap and splitting the group. It was only moments though until Absalon sensed danger from the under-23 rider and launched his own attack. Knowing the race was long with several brutal climbs per lap, Schurter preferred to stay at his own pace to finish a comfortable second.
The race for third was the hardest fought – after the early flyers finished their stints on lap three it was time for the diesel engine of Christoph Sauser to make his way forward. A slipped pedal was the cause of his bad start, which was followed by some chainsuck in the muddier sections but eventually he clawed back through the pack to take the final podium spot and important points for the series. This was not an ideal result but Sauser is looking forward to a quick succession of races where he can build on his form.
Last year's winner Jose Hermida did not fare so well in the drying conditions and could only manage seventh, while Geoff Kabush repeated his 12th placing from last year thanks to a good grid position.
Top American was Todd Wells in eleventh who rode a superb five laps and at one stage just seconds from the lead group. Considering that all the GT team bikes were stolen the day before and new frames had to be built from scratch this performance showed no nerves in a stressful situation. He will be eager to race again in Offenburg with a stronger grid position and great confidence.
The riders have just one week now until Offenburg for round two of the cross country competition.
NOTES: Despite a doping charge from the UCI both of the Fumic brothers raced, with Lado finishing 35th and Manuel 67th.
|1 Julien Absalon (Fra|Orbea)||2:06:56|
|2 Nino Schurter (Swi|Swisspower MTB Team)||0:00:51|
|3 Christoph Sauser (Swi|Specialized Factory Racing)||0:01:14|
|4 Jakob Fuglsang (Den|Cannondale-Vredestein)||0:02:00|
|5 Ravanel Cédric (Fra|Team Lapierre International)||0:02:37|
|6 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra|Orbea)||0:03:10|
|7 José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spa|Multivan Merida Biking Team)||0:03:33|
|8 Roel Paulissen (Bel|Cannondale-Vredestein)||0:03:55|
|9 Kashi Leuchs (NZl|Cannondale-Vredestein)||0:04:09|
|10 Martin Gujan (Swi|Athleticum-MTB-Team)||0:04:34|