Reigning mountain bike cross-country world champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) has tipped the riders he expects to challenge when he defends his title in Fort William, Scotland on Sunday.
Speaking to Cyclingnews.com last week, Absalon picked out one rider in particular as a threat in the days before the last pre-world's race of the season, the Swisspower Cup final in Muttenz/Basel, Switzerland.
"I think [José Antonio] Hermida is really strong this season and he is now focused on the world Championships," said Absalon.
As if to prove Absalon right, Hermida, who rides for the Multivan Merida team, won the Swisspower event Sunday.
Continuing his analysis, Absalon said, "[Nino] Schurter is in good position; he's young and I think he is the future," said Hermida. "Maybe [Christoph] Sauser could also do well."
Less than three minutes separated the top five after almost two hours of racing, supporting Absalon's prediction of a close race.
Absalon is looking forward to racing in Scotland, but with one reservation: the weather. "Fort William is fun but if it rains, the same course can be really hard," he said. "There are lots of artificial sections, some wood sections, and lots of turns. It is both physically and technically demanding so it's good for a world championships."
Absalon put his own continued success down to psychology. "I think that at a high level of competition, mental training is important," he said. "I think it makes a difference because all the riders are similar physically, but it's the mind that makes the difference. When you want to win, you are able to push more and when you are able to push the limits, you will go faster than the others."
If Absalon wins in Fort William on Sunday he will become the first rider ever to be cross-country world champion four years in a row. He'll need all his mental training; as he predicts, "I think it will be a big fight."