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Double Olympic champion and quadruple world champion Julien Absalon has been the dominant figure in men’s mountain bike racing for over a decade.
Born in 1980, Julien Absalon’s childhood and teenage years coincided with the birth and development of mountain biking as a sport in its own right. He grew up in the Vosges region of north east France, where the forests and mountainous terrain are ideally suited to the sport. He had his first taste of mountain biking at the age of 14, after being introduced to the sport by a family friend. He took to it immediately and was very soon entering junior competitions, where his talent caught the eye of local coach Gerard Brocks. Brocks took the young rider under his wing, eventually guiding him the international elite level of the sport.
After winning his first junior world title in 1998, Absalon went from strength to strength, going on to dominate the young sport of cross-country for over a decade. In addition to being crowned French cross-country champion 10 years running between 2003 and 2012, he won four straight World Championship titles between 2004 and 2007, one European Championship title in 2006, and five World Cup crowns between 2003 and 2009.
On 28 August 2004, on the rugged slopes of Mount Parnitha to the north of Athens, Absalon surged free of the chasing pack on the fourth lap of the seven-lap 6.1km Olympic cross-country circuit. He timed his breakaway to coincide with the toughest climb, but retained his lead until the finish to win his first Olympic title, a full minute ahead of second-placed Jose Antonio Hermida of Spain. It was a moment of high emotion for the Frenchman, who raised a finger to the heavens as he crossed the line, in honour of his father, who passed away in 2001. Four years later, on the Laoshan circuit in Beijing, Absalon adopted near identical tactics to those that had brought him glory in Athens, launching a solo breakaway before the halfway point to finish well clear of the pack. On crossing the finish line he held his bike aloft in triumph, before kneeling down to kiss the Olympic rings painted on the tarmac. “I’ve dreamed of winning this second Olympic title a thousand times, but when it actually happened the feeling was even more intense than I imagined,” he explained.
Dream punctured in London
On 12 August 2012, Absalon’s bid to complete a historic hat-trick of Olympic titles at London 2012 met with disaster on the Hadleigh Farm circuit when he suffered a puncture during the first lap and was forced to drop out of the race. Shortly afterwards, he joined the Switzerland-based BMC MTB Racing Team to continue his pursuit of international glory.