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Frenchman Julien Absalon (BMC Mountainbike Racing) took a fifth world cross-country title in Hafjell, Norway, Saturday, finishing 1:51 ahead of Swiss rider Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo).
Italian Marco Fontana (Cannondale) finished third, 3:28 down.
Schurter had a strong start, and was off to an early lead, but perhaps paid for his efforts later. Absalon, meanwhile, crashed on the first lap, and was forced to chase his way back through the pack.
After the two riders distanced themselves from the bunch on the fourth of seven laps, Schurter, a three-time world XC champion, was unable to keep up with Absalon late in the race. Absalon, 34, attacked Schurter, 28, on the sixth of seven laps, climbing away from the reigning world champion.
Absalon’s advantage over Schurter was 34 seconds at the end of the sixth lap, and midway through the seventh lap, as Schurter began looking back, over his shoulder, it was clear the race for the rainbow jersey was over.
The Swiss rider then crashed on the final lap, launching over his handlebars in a technical section, well after Absalon had crossed the finish line. Though he remounted his bike and finished, after crossing the line, Schurter was seen cradling his wrist, and looked to be injured.
It was Absalon’s first world championship since 2007, which had been the fourth consecutive title for the French rider, who also took Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008.
The win was also noteworthy as it was Absalon’s first time racing a full-suspension bike, BMC’s FourStroke FS01.
“I had a tough start, and had a little crash in the first wooded section,” Absalon said. “I had to keep my energy and catch the leaders. Once I caught up with Nino, I attacked him on climbs. My legs were good, and I also made a good choice on the full-suspension bike. I was just as fast as Nino on the descents, and also on the climbs.”
The win capped off a dream season for Absalon, who also took the 2014 World Cup series title, on the strength of three wins out of seven races. Schurter, who finished second to Absalon in the World Cup series, won four of seven events. No other rider won a World Cup race in 2014.
Absalon also won the European XC championship, the French national championship, and finished no.1 on the UCI rankings.
“I am happy to again wear the rainbow jersey,” Absalon said. “It’s been a perfect season. After four years in a row, it seemed like the rainbow jersey was mine, and then I lost it. It will be special for me to wear it again.”
Absalon also stated that, with two years to go, he would aim for a third gold medal, at the 2016 Olympics in Rio di Janeiro.