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2012 mountain to climb for Julien Absalon



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Tom Burridge gets an insight into the inner workings of Team Absalon

Tom Burridge takes a behind-the-scenes look at double-Olympic mountain bike champion Julien Absalon's set up for the Dalby Forest World Cup event.

0800 SATURDAY - TEAM HOTEL

In a quintessential English bed and breakfast surrounded by beautiful Yorkshire countryside, a French Olympian is getting ready for one of the biggest races of the year.

Two-time Olympic gold medal winner Julien Absalon and his Orbea mountain biking team are sitting down to breakfast.

JULIEN ABSALON - THE FACTS
Region: Remiremont, France
Born: 1980
Discipline: Mountain biking
Career highlights: Two time Olympic gold medalist, four time World Champion and 17 World Cup wins

Like them, most of their food has travelled hundreds of miles.

Julien eats French bread with honey dipped in soya milk. Why soya? Well he says it is better for you than cows milk and the honey and bread are full of carbohydrates giving him plenty of energy come the beginning of the race.

There is a bit of English in his breakfast… a cup of tea.

Ivan, one of the mechanics is the only member of the Orbea team to choose the B&B's 'full English' breakfast.

1100 SATURDAY - TEAM TENT, MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD CUP

There are more than 24 hours until the race but the team mechanics are cleaning, adjusting and tuning-up the team's bikes before the riders head out onto the Dalby Forest course to practise.

From the pressure of the tyres through to the responsiveness of the brakes, every part is checked and adjusted accordingly.

Absalon's bike only ever has a maximum of two sets of 10 gears. For this race he has just got one set, a mere 10 gears for a tough World Cup course, so steep and covered with rocks on one stretch that it is faster for the riders to carry their bikes up it.

Julien Absalon
Julien will be targetting a third Olympic gold at London 2012

Julien Brugeas from France and Iván Moya from Spain are the two team mechanics. They drive the big, bright blue Orbea lorry across Europe to different events.

No prizes for guessing what the back of the lorry is full of but the front becomes a living space and kitchen for the team when on the road. The lorry is also an integral part of the team tent - a mobile bike garage with all the necessary equipment to sort any biking problem.

Rain is still a possibility for Sunday's race but they will only change the type of tyres if drops actually fall before the start.

You can lift Julien's bike up with your two middle fingers. It weighs less than 10kg and costs 6102 euros (£5145).

Julien Absalon's team tent
Mechanics prepare Julien's bike

After a short practice out on the course Julien is back in the tent to give the 'all OK' to his mechanics.

There is also plenty of chat with the other Orbea riders and the Luna women's team from the United States who share the Orbea facilities when events are held in Europe. Luna then repay the favour when events are in North America.

The consensus among the riders? The course is tough and technical. Technical meaning that the winner will not just have to be fast over an incredibly long distance (the men's race will last nearly two hours), but also negotiate tricky drops and climbs at dangerous angles whilst avoiding cruelly-positioned rocks and debris on the course.

1300 SATURDAY - TEAM TENT

Before the riders retire for some important rest and relaxation, they sit down around the tent's long trestle table for some lunch.

Julien's wife Emilie arrived a while ago. She has prepared lunch, draining the water from a huge saucepan of pasta onto the grass outside the tent. With around 24 hours until the race, Julien and the other riders need to be taking on a lot of carbohydrates.

The atmosphere is relaxed and there is plenty of banter so it is the perfect opportunity for us to sit down with Julien for a good chat.

"This is the Orbea team and this is my second family," he says. "We live most of the time together - all around the world. Each one has a role; mountain-biking is an individual sport - but I have a team around me."

SUNDAY 1100 - RACE DAY, TEAM TENT

There is no sign of Absalon. Nor of his two Spanish Orbea team mates Iñaki Lejarreta and Rubén Ruzafa.

But the tent is not quiet. Mechanics Julien and Ivan are working on the Luna women's team bikes. The Luna riders warm-up on exercise bikes. Their iPods mean they are oblivious to the whir of noise around the tent.

The threat of rain is now real. But UK Orbea team manager Renny Sterling explains that rain is not a worry for Julien Absalon, describing him as the 'Michael Schumacher' of mountain-biking. Sterling says Julien is even better in the wet.

SUNDAY 1200 - TEAM TENT

Julien and Emilie arrive at the tent.

Spirits seem high, but there is less chat than yesterday, fewer jokes as Julien adjusts the soles of his specialist cycling shoes. He is in his full white lycra Orbea strip - easy identifiable as his team-mates have a different blue strip.

Julien Absalon
Julien's wife, Emilie, is an important member of the team

The amount of time that Emilie and Julien will spend together over the next two hours leading up to the start of the race shows how important a member of the Absalon team she is.

The fact that she is pregnant with their first child has not deterred her being an integral part of this World Cup race.

Of course Julien had pasta for breakfast this morning.

Whereas his team mates Iñaki and Rubén opt for the exercise bikes, Julien always prefers to warm-up outside. He goes out of the canvass door and can be seen disappearing off into the distance - peddling around the World cup site, past endless bike shops and promotional stands and in amongst the spectators, many of whom have umbrellas at the ready.

SUNDAY 1300 - TEAM TENT

The three Orbea riders are nowhere to be seen.

They are all sat in the lorry's cabin, relaxing on the padded-seating, rugs over their legs to keep them warm.

Iñaki and Rubén listen to music.

There is some chat, but it is limited.

Now Julien cleans his cycle glasses which double-up as goggles. The shoes and gloves go on.

SUNDAY 1415 - MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD CUP START LINE

Julien Absalon at Dalby Forest World Cup meet
Julien bursts off the starting line

Racing team manager Ixio Barandiarán is with Julien at the start. The team mechanics are not around. They have taken up their positions in the race pit lanes located around the course.

But Julien's wife Emilie is there with him as he pedals his race bike, the wheels elevated so it acts as an exercise bike.

He changes into his race vest. The adrenalin is clearly pumping.

With more than 180 riders, the start area is chaotic. But Julien Absalon's reputation precedes him and a space at the front of the cluster is quickly found.

Emilie feeds him drinks as he cleans his glasses one more time.

As we enter the final moments before the race Julien's team finally leave him on the start line, surrounded by his fellow competitors.

SUNDAY BETWEEN 1430 AND 1624 - DALBY FOREST

The race lasts just short of two hours.

The mechanics shout encouragement as Julien and the other Orbea riders fly by. They hand out drinks but thankfully do not have to change tyres or make any repairs.

Julien Absalon
Julien crosses the line in second place

Julien spends most of the race in third, positioned just behind the front two.

On the final lap he makes his move and leads the race into the final straight.

But in a dramatic sprint finish he is pipped on the line. He comes second by one-hundreth of a second.

SUNDAY 1700 - TEAM TENT

The Orbea team return from the awards ceremony. They won the team event and Julien took silver. The Luna team also took the women's team event.

But there is clearly some disappointment that Julien was beaten by such a small margin.

Julien has had a slight cold this week and has not been feeling 100%.

This was one of several stages of the World Cup, which culminates in Canada later in the year.

For a double Olympic world champion it is not the perfect race. But it is a very small set-back for an athlete who clearly has one eye on the London Olympics in 2012.


Send us your questions for Julien using the form below.

A selection of your comments may be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.


"(The mechanics) hand out drinks but thankfully do not have to change tyres or make any repairs." - In cross-country mountain biking, the rules state that, during a race, riders must fix their own mechanical problems, using only tools and parts they carry with them. Team mechanics are purely for pre and post race technical support.

Jack Lambeth, Newton Stewart, Scotland


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