LONDON (AFP) –
French mountain bike star Julien Absalon says he is putting all thoughts of making history to the back of his mind ahead of his bid for a third straight Olympic gold.
Absalon stunned his rivals on a tough Beijing course four years ago, in which teammate Jean-Christophe Peraud finished second to take the silver, on his way to defending his 2004 title from Athens.
If he dominates a strong field in Sunday’s cross country race in Essex, he will become the first cyclist to win three consecutive gold in any one event.
Absalon says he has just about got over the effects of a crash two weeks ago and is hoping experience, and the lack of pressure, puts him within sight of a third gold. But says he would be happy with a medal.
“In Athens I was very young and it was the start of my dominance in the discipline,” said the Frenchman.
“In Beijing I was the big favourite and had a lot of stress and expectation. I’ve come here more relaxed, I’ve got more experience, I’m the only one to have already won two gold medals and this takes some pressure off of me.
“A medal here would be just a bonus.”
Both the men’s and women’s cross country races are held at Hadleigh Farm, a Salvation Army-owned site which underwent massive changes to make sure the cyclists face some tough climbing as well as downhilling challenges.
They will race on a 4.8 km circuit and the numbers of laps for each race will be determined by a team captains meeting on Friday. It has been designed so the men and women finish in a maximum time of 1hr 45min.
Containing game-changing features like the ‘Rock Garden’, ‘Dean’s Drop’, ‘Snake Hill’ and the ‘Rabbit Hole’, Absalon expects the “condensed circuit” to be a challenge.
“It’s very difficult, there’s not much place to recover,” he added.
When he sat facing the world’s media with the gold medal around his neck in Beijing, Absalon pointed to third-place finisher Nino Schurter and said “he will be the man to beat” in London.
Four years and one world championship title (2009) later, the Swiss remains Absalon’s big threat.
“I think the big favourite this time is Nino Schurter followed by Jaroslav Kulhavy and myself. I would say there are three favourites,” said Absalon.
In the women’s competition, France’s Julie Bresset on Saturday capped an extraordinary year by storming to victory to claim her maiden Olympic title.
Germany veteran Sabine Spitz claimed the silver to complete her Olympic collection with Georgia Gould of the United States winning the bronze as British gold contender Annie Last finished in eighth.