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Editor’s note: There was a change in the third paragraph. Julien Absalon would become the first cyclist to win three consecutive golds in a single event
LONDON, England (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 gotten 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 any 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 favorite 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 descending 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 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 favorites,” said Absalon.
Germany’s Sabine Spitz, meanwhile, is also staring at a possible place in the Olympic history books.
The 2008 Olympic champion will be 40 years and 228 days old Saturday when she lines up hoping to become the oldest medal winner in an individual cycling event since Jeannie Longo won time trial bronze in Sydney 2000 at the age of 41.
Spitz, however, faces a handful of strong, younger rivals in Catharine Pendrel, fourth in Beijing, Britain’s Annie Last, Frenchwoman Julie Bresset, Georgia Gould of the United States and Poland’s Maja Wloszczokska.
Bresset believes she is “capable” of medalling on Saturday but believes Pendrel is “the big favorite.”
“She’s had three wins in the World Cup and she’s the leader in the general ranking,” said Bresset.