A World Championships Day with Julien Absalon
Julien Absalon has raced at every MTB World Championships since 1998. Out of 17 World Championship races, he has won no less than eight. He holds one Junior World Championship title, two U23 Championship and five Elite World Championship titles to his name. But how significant really is a World Championship? What is race day like for the athlete? Many think that the World Championships are just another race, but it is far from that – everything is different, from the atmosphere, to the people, to what could happen should you cross the line in first place. We followed Julien Absalon to find out…
Saturday 5th of September 2015. The sun is finally out in Andorra. After three terrible days of rain, fog and low temperatures, the Elite Cross-country riders are lucky to be greeted with perfect conditions.
At the World Championships, riders represent their Nations and not the team that sponsors them. Therefore, like every other rider, Julien Absalon changed his usual habit of staying with his team, to stay with the French National Federation in La Massana, at the bottom of the mountain where the race would be taking place. Despite the high altitude of the race course (2,000m), he decided not to follow any specific acclimatization regime, and arrived on site just three days before the race.
7h30 Breakfast time
The day starts early despite the race starting at 14:30 to give riders the chance to fuel up and digest and a break before the meal before the race.
Tea, gluten free bread, fruit and eggs are on Julien’s menu. At the table shared with the staff of the French National Team, the atmosphere is relaxed. There is no sign of nervousness yet.
8:30 Last preparations
Back in his bedroom, it’s time to prepare the last details for the race. Pinning a big No. 1 on your back is always special. It means that you’re bringing your title into the game too and challenging your competition…
Julien’s BMC Fourstroke stayed in his room for the night. You can’t be too careful…
With three and a half hour to go, the five French riders meet in the hotel restaurant for lunch. It is time to get the last calories in but also to share and discuss the latest information before the race. Tire choice is the main topic today; the rain stopped but the ground remains wet. The wrong tire choice can negatively impact performance, so any tiny bit of information is good to get. Social media offers all sorts of pictures posted by fans and riders.
12:15 Let’s go!
After watching the first lap of the Women’s race on Redbull.tv to get a last impression of the course, it is time for Julien to hit the gondola and get to the race village.
Fifteen minutes later, Julien arrives at the BMC MTB Racing Team area where his wife Emilie is cautiously preparing his race bottles: one for the start, one for each of the six laps and one for the finish line.
Sylvain, the team mechanic, adjusts Julien’s tire pressure and lets him go for a quick check on the road.
Despite what is at stake for today’s race, the friendly world champion is always available for his fans.
14:15 15 minutes to the start
Things are getting serious. The first riders are called up to the start line. As usual, the top 8 riders are waiting on the sideline to be introduced last. Keeping the muscles warm is important so Julien does a last spin on the rollers. Shoe clips are tightened a last time, the start position is thoughtfully chosen and race tactics are discussed a final time with Team Manager Alex Moos.
The last two called to the start line are Nino Schurter and Julien Absalon, world no.1 and world no.2 arch sporting rivals and the two big favorites of the race. Will it be another great battle between the two? Or will an outsider make the most of the slippery terrain to emerge and steal the show?
14h28 “Two minutes to the start!”
All riders are now on the start line, the race commentator asks the photographers to leave the course, and the countdown is on. Silence. There is only the start song that gives everyone goose bumps, and the tension is palpable. The start of the race is key for cross-country racing. A bad start can jeopardize the chances of any rider, even the favorites. “Fifteen seconds to the start!” Now heartbeats resound, the gun is shot and off they go!
Stuck in traffic in the first lap, Julien finally closes the gap with Nino in the second lap. The traditional “mano à mano” between the two can start.
Julien’s family, friends and fans are pushing him as much as their voices let them.
The slippery rocky off-camber descent is the key section of the course. In the third lap, Julien enters in first position and opens a small gap, but Nino comes back.
For the rest of the race, the scenario is similar to what the entire season has been: Julien pushing hard in the uphills and Nino flying in the descents. In the fifth of the six laps, Julien cannot close the gap after the downhill and has to let Nino go.
Julien doesn’t give up and tries everything to come back in the last lap. He manages to come back a little bit; he is only five seconds behind Nino with half a lap to go.
16:00 Disappointment on the finish line
Unfortunately the Swiss rider is too strong and Julien has to settle for second, crossing the line 10’’ behind the new World Champion.
The 2015 World Championships medallists are Nino Schurter (gold), Julien Absalon (silver) and Ondrej Cink (bronze).
There are still some obligations for Julien after the award ceremony: TV interviews for the international broadcast and for the national channels.
Escorted by his BMC Team Manager, Julien rides to the official press conference where the medalists are asked questions by the press.
Some journalists prefer to wait and asked more specific or personal questions. Julien always takes the time to answer them whatever the size or the importance of the media (here with L’Equipe).
17:15 Time for the fans
Back at the BMC Team area, tens of supporters are waiting to see and congratulate the silver medalist who takes the time to sign autographs and take photos.
Finally able to have a well-deserved beer, Julien debriefs his race with his team manager while the mechanics are already working on his race bike to pack it and hand it over to the French National Federation who Julien is travelling with for the next big “rendez-vous” - the Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro on the 11th of October.
18:15 Goodbye Vallnord!
Julien never lingers. As soon as he is done with his obligations, the silver medalist packs everything in his “Absolut Absalon” campervan and hits the road. He’ll spend the evening at the hotel with the French National Team before enjoying a few days of holidays with his wife and his two sons in a camping site in the south of France.