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29th Olympic Games - JO
Beijing, China, August 9-23, 2008
Event 38 - August 23: Men's Cross Country MTB, 34.4km (8 laps)
French dominate the rest of the World
By Rob Jones in Beijing
It was almost expected that Julien Absalon would win his second Olympic gold medal in the men's cross country race and Absalon delivered. The surprise came from his compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud, who stormed to a silver medal, a minute after Absalon celebrated his win. The Swiss duo of Christoph Sauser and Nino Schurter delivered an exciting battle for bronze, with Schurter edging out Sauser by a few seconds.
The Laoshan mountain bike course was criticized after the test event last year for being too easy, but the riders should have been careful what they asked for, as the re-designed track was far harder than anyone had anticipated.
"It's the most complicated, difficult technical race. There were lots of stones and no time to rest," Absalon said after the race. Pernaud agreed that it was one of the hardest courses he'd ever ridden. "After I finished, I was so tired that I had to take a rest, because I couldn't feel my legs anymore," he said.
Absalon was impervious to the numerous steep and rocky descents which spelled the end of many of the favourites' races. Even Switzerland's Christoph Sauser, the reigning world champion, had to concede the race to his 22-year-old team-mate Nino Schurter, who took the bronze. Absalon topped Schurter as the rider to beat in London in four years' time.
How it unfolded
Absalon began his race to defend the Olympic title as he often does: sitting back a few spots from the front and watching as others set the pace, before striking with surgical precision. For this Olympic race, it was late in the second lap that he made his move, attacking a leading group containing Fredrick Kessiakoff (Sweden), Christoph Sauser, Florian Vogel and Nino Schurter (all Switzerland), Roel Paulissen (Belgium), Jean-Christophe Peraud (France), Marco Fontana (Italy) and Jose Hermida (Spain). Manuel Fumic (Germany) and Christoph Soukup (Austria) were a few seconds behind this main group.
Absalon's ride was by no means effortless. The Frenchman was putting every bit of energy into making his attack succeed, hammering up the climbs out of the saddle and pedaling as much of the downhills as possible. By the end of the second lap his lead was 18 seconds, and grew to over 30 seconds by the end of lap three.
By that point, Peraud had dropped the Swiss pair of Sauser and Schurter, and was alone in second place, at 33 seconds, with the other chasers at 1'10". Absalon continued to slowly increase his lead over Peraud by a few seconds each lap to roll into the finish with a lead of one minute and seven seconds.
"When you ride at the Olympic Games, you can't play it safe. It's not a question of riding a careful race. You don't think, you just go. And if you don't, if you lose because of that, it is four years of regrets."
"It was not a walk in the park for me to win, it was really very difficult. It is always difficult to confirm and keep your status as the number one rider; it's not easy being the [defending] Olympic champion. In our sport it is all over in one day, so anyone can win. Today, I am happy that it was me."
Peraud came in every bit as happy as Absalon for the silver, while Schurter managed to drop Sauser on the last lap to take the bronze medal.
"It was hard at the end," said Schurter "with it being Swiss versus Swiss. I thought that Christoph would be faster in these hot conditions, but I could see that I was stronger on the steep climbs, and I managed to get a little gap there."
Peraud was pleased with silver, since that was what he thought it was possible to aspire for. "My objective was to win silver here, to win a medal, but I felt the gold was inaccessible because Julien is so dominant."
North American riders did not fare well, with Canada's Geoff Kabush the only one of four to not be lapped and pulled. Both American riders - Adam Craig and Todd Wells - struggled, while the Canadians suffered mechanical problems. Kabush was just behind the lead group near the end of lap one when he got a slow leak and had to stop in the tech zone for a wheel change, losing many spots. McGrath flatted after landing hard from a drop off, blowing the tire off the front wheel and then having to ride the rim all the way around to the Tech Zone. His replacement wheel also had a slow leak and then he was pulled.
Belgian cyclo-cross star Sven Nys took a surprising ninth place as his country's top finisher, 2'30" ahead of his more experienced compatriot Roel Paulissen. He was excited to have done so well, and is considering putting more focus into his mountain biking ahead of the 2012 Games. "If you can start from 35th position and work your way up through to the group which is fighting for bronze, you can't help but be satisfied. I paid for that chase afterward - I got cramps because of the high tempo I had to ride," Nys said according to HLN.be. "I don't think I lost today - if I can start closer to the front I can contend for the podium."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Casey Gibson/www.cbgphoto.com
Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com
Images by Greg Chang/Photosport International
1 Julien Absalon (France) 1.55.59 2 Jean-Christophe Peraud (France) 1.07 3 Nino Schurter (Switzerland) 1.53 4 Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) 1.55 5 Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy) 4.00 6 Christoph Soukup (Austria) 4.12 7 Liam Killeen (Great Britain) 4.15 8 Inaki Lejarreta Errasti (Spain) 4.22 9 Sven Nys (Belgium) 5.01 10 Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain) 5.02 11 Manuel Fumic (Germany) 5.17 12 Oliver Beckingsale (Great Britain) 5.26 13 Marek Galinski (Poland) 5.30 14 Cedric Ravanel (France) 5.39 15 Burry Stander (South Africa) 5.59 16 Moritz Milatz (Germany) 7.00 17 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Sweden) 7.10 18 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) 7.21 19 Roel Paulissen (Belgium) 7.31 20 Geoff Kabush (Canada) 7.56 21 Rubens Valeriano (Brazil) 9.20 22 Jianhua Ji (China) 9.30 23 Andras Parti (Hungary) 10.01 24 Kashi Leuchs (New Zealand) 10.31 25 Jakob Diemer Fuglsang (Denmark) 10.42 26 Hector Leonardo Paez (Colombia) 10.47 27 Dario Alejandro Gasco (Argentina) 11.05 28 Carlos Coloma Nicolas (Spain) 13.06 One lap behind 29 Adam Craig (United States) 30 Yader Zoli (Italy) 31 Klaus Nielsen (Denmark) Two laps behind 32 Filip Meirhaeghe (Belgium) 33 Wolfram Kurschat (Germany) 34 Rudi Van Houts (Netherlands) 35 Bilal Akgul (Turkey) 36 Cristobal Silva (Chile) 37 Bart Brentjens (Netherlands) 38 Emil Lindgren (Sweden) 39 Daniel Mcconnell (Australia) 40 Chun Hing Chan (Hong Kong) 41 Yury Trofimov (Russia) Three laps behind 42 Sergii Rysenko (Ukraine) 43 Todd Wells (United States) 44 Seamus Mcgrath (Canada) 45 Mannie Heymans (Namibia) 46 Kohei Yamamoto (Japan) 47 Federico Ramirez (Costa Rica) Six laps behind 48 Antipass Kwari (Zimbabwe) DNF Florian Vogel (Switzerland) DNF Robin Seymour (Ireland)