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Never say that cross-country king Julien Absalon is afraid to put himself in a position to fail.
Well, perhaps fail isn’t the correct word. Nonetheless, Absalon, owner of two Olympic XC gold medals and countless rainbow and World Cup overall champion jerseys, went way out of his comfort zone on Sunday with his decision to race the mountain bike marathon world championships in Italy.
By deciding about three weeks ago to race the MTB marathon worlds, Absalon, currently the leader of the World Cup XC overall, decided he wouldn’t contest the two upcoming World Cup stops in North America — Mont Ste Anne, Quebec on July 2-3 and at Windham, New York the following weekend.
Meanwhile, on Sunday in the marathon race the Frenchman’s day was going well as he hung with the leaders, including Specialized teammates Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy, who won gold and silver respectively. But Absalon’s legs started to give him “a bit of trouble” and about 100km into the race he abandoned his effort.
Erhard Goller at Europe-based Rockyroads.com caught up with Absalon after MTB marathon worlds to get the low down on the race and what’s next for the king.
Erhard Goller: You didn’t finish your first marathon world championships. Please tell us your story.
Julien Absalon: My first part of the race was good. After two hours, Christoph (Sauser) attacked, and I was in a good group with (Jaroslav) Kulhavy and Tim (Böhme). It was okay at first, but after three and a half hours it became harder and harder. My legs were in a bit of trouble (smiling). When he (Sauser) attacked again, I was not able to keep it up. At that time I was in third position with 15km to go. When Tim and the Italian guy (Mirko Celestino) outrun me, I told myself it’s okay, it’s not necessary to complete a race of more than four hours for nothing. That’s why I stopped. It was a good experience for me. I can now say that it’s a different sport. It’s difficult to become a marathon guy in three weeks.
EG: Why do you think that?
JA: To win a marathon you need a special preparation. Three weeks was too short for me to become a marathon guy. But it was a nice experience. I did three weeks of long training. That was in fact my goal- to have long training during this period. I did well and I had a nice experience in the race. Now I will pause for a week to recover myself and then I will start my training for the cross country world championships. I hope that this training will eventually pay off at the end of July and August.
EG: According to you, what makes the difference? It’s hard to imagine that you are able to compete three hours but not four and a half.
JA: It’s different in many ways. One thing is, of course, the length of the race. But the track is very different as well. We rode more than 26 km per hour average on Sunday. So it is pretty fast. It’s more like a road race. You need to have the power and strength, but still it’s different compared to the cross country. We have a lot of turns there, stop then sprint, brake and accelerate. That’s really, really different. Now I know I prefer the cross country, because it is more fun. In marathon you have long sections of gravel roads. It’s like a road race, but on a mountain bike, so it’s a bit boring.
EG: According to Christoph Sauser your riding style doesn’t suit for a marathon race. Pushing hard, being often off the saddle and accelerating frequently- such ride is not suitable during a long marathon race.
JA: Yes, that’s true. My ride is maybe 100% cross country style. That’s what I like. I’m competitive in that, but maybe not competitive enough in marathon, because my style is not really good for marathon racing. I don’t like the constant intensity during a long time race. I prefer to go really fast and then recover. That’s the way I train aswell. In a cross country race you need be able to change your rhythm frequently because you have short climbs, short downhills and you have to sprint forward and brake, that’s why it is pretty different compared to the marathon.
EG: So, was this your first and last experience in marathon racing?
JA: Aaah, I really don’t know. For this year, yes. And also for the next year. Then the focus is on the Olympics. There won’t be any marathon racing for me in 2011 and in 2012.
EG: And after the Olympics?
JA: We’ll see. I might take up some Enduro racing. Don’t know for sure.
EG: Back to the marathon worlds on Sunday. Was it disappointing for you to miss out the chances of winning a medal?
JA: No, because, it was not my biggest goal of the season. It was only an experience.
EG: What are your next plans? You will take a break and then what?
JA: My next race is the national championships and then the London test event. I’ll also do some training in the south of France, together with my family.