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French National Mountain Bike Championships - CN

France, July 20-22, 2007

There's something in the water

By Wendy Booher in Montgenevre, France

Julien Absalon (Orbea)
Photo ©: PhotoSport International
(Click for larger image)

Meanwhile, in another part of France, the French national mountain bike championships are already underway high atop Montgenevre in the French Alps. 2004 Olympic gold medalist and three-time defending World Champion, Julien Absalon, no doubt looks forward to collecting his seventh consecutive national cross-country title. To do this, he will have to keep away from Cédric Ravanel, who placed second to Absalon at nationals in 2006 and third in 2004. Fellow Olympian Jean-Christophe Peraud, who has become a marked man at the Sea Otter Classic due to impressive results in both 2006 and 2007, will take aim at a fourth podium finish and preferably one that targets the top.

Sabrina Jonnier, currently ranked number one in the world in downhill and wearing the rainbow stripes of the World Champion, will seek only her second national title in both downhill and 4X. With a pesky Anne-Caroline Chausson out of the way while she chases after a spot on the Olympic team for BMX, Jonnier will force her competition to match skills with a World Champion the same way Chausson has raised the bar for Jonnier at nationals since 1997. Chausson, who has repeatedly dashed Jonnier¹s previous attempts at the podium¹s top spot, holds 13 world championship titles in both downhill and 4X.

Olympic metal bears weight in France

France's Sabrina Jonnier (Iron Horse / Monster Energy)
Photo ©: Frank Bodenmuller/PhotoSport International
(Click for larger image)

With three Olympic medals in cross-country, two gold and one bronze, France expects to sustain its medal count in Beijing next year. In his bid for a second gold medal, the nearly indomitable Absalon will likely be flanked by two teammates who are also expected to place well ­ top 10 ­ at the Olympics. While US mountain bikers controlled the podium at the first two world mountain bike championships in 1990 and 1991, France started to gain traction in the fledgling off-road discipline until taking control in the mid 1990s

Since 1996, French men have collected at least one world championship title each year except for 2003, when the now-dubious win went to a Belgian, Filip Meirhaeghe, who was suspended for EPO use only weeks prior to the 2004 Olympics. In the same time span since 1996, France has put at least one woman in a top three podium position at the World Mountain Bike Championships, mostly in gravity racing. French women swept the top three places in downhill in 2003 with Chausson in first, Jonnier in second, and Nolvenn LeCaer in third, and again in 2005 with Chausson, Jonnier, and Emmeline Ragot completing the podium.

Not the water but the mountains

The French Alps, which expose and exploit the weaknesses of Tour de France racers, serve as a breeding ground for France's dominating off-road culture. Budding gravity racers are never more than an hour away from a resort that caters to the downhill racing and according to the French Cycling Federation website, more than 48,000 kilometers of trails exist all around France for the benefit of mountain bikers.

At 1,850 meters above sea level, Montgenevre poses little threat for racers arriving from the lowlands however Montgenevre possesses a one-of-a-kind geological composition that could give local racers a slight edge over their competitors. The French national mountain bike championships return to Montgenevre for the second time.

Racing began Friday, July 20 at 9:30 am with the Masters category. The national title for pro women cross-country will get contested starting 1 pm on Saturday. The pro men depart at 3:30. Trials finals competition starts at 8 pm on Saturday. Sunday will feature downhill and 4X at 4 and 7 pm respectively.