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Pro bikes, September 5, 2007

Julien Absalon's Team Orbea Orbea Alma

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Photo ©: Wendy Booher/Cyclingnews.com

Carbon fiber is still king at the Worlds

By Wendy Booher

White is the new black
Photo ©: Wendy Booher
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Absalon's BlackBox-spec Avid Juicy Ultimate carbon levers
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The SRAM rear end
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Super skinny, super light
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Orbea's Alma helped Absalon
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Speed, distance, time, and changes in elevation
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No granny gear for the Olympic champ!
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Olympian and defending world champion Julien Absalon will put his Orbea Alma to the test this weekend against the world's most celebrated field of mountain bikers at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Fort William, Scotland. Now nearing the end of his first season with Orbea, Absalon has already amassed repeat victories for his sponsor including the French National XC championship, French Cup, and UCI World Cup XC championship. Next up, Absalon has targeted a fourth, consecutive world title and another Olympic medal that is within reach just beyond the horizon at the Games next year in Beijing.

As if in anticipation of things to come, Julien Absalon's blue team Orbea tent was conveniently located closest to the podium back in July at the French National Mountain Bike Championships. That made sense since race-favorite Absalon was expected to share the podium with teammate Jean-Christophe Peraud. When both Absalon and Peraud delivered first and third place, respectively, the shorter trip to the awards stage created less opportunity for both stars to get mobbed by adoring fans.

Orbea's weight loss program

Absalon won his 2004 Olympic cross-country gold medal while riding for Bianchi, and he proceeded to tally numerous championship titles for the Italian company until the end of the 2006 season. According to Bianchi's web site, though, the company somewhat perplexingly opted to "bet" on a fresh crop of "baby bikers" for the following season, at which point Basque bike manufacturer Orbea wasted little time in signing the superstar mountain biker shortly thereafter.

Absalon has only ratcheted up his winning streak since then and his new Orbea Alma looks poised be his next Olympic-winning bike, and maybe his next world championship bike depending on how the weekend proceeds. At a claimed weight of 1.2kg (2.65lb), the Alma's carbon monocoque frame supposedly helps to shave roughly 600g (1.32lb) from his total bike weight from last year. For Absalon's purposes, though, it is the Alma's rigidity plus its minimal weight that answers to the demands of the Olympian.

"For the Olympic format, I like to ride with a hardtail frame," he said. "We need high rolling performance; carbon fiber is the best because it's light, rigid and more comfortable than aluminum. The stability is important too and we need to find a compromise between weight and stability. If it's too light, it's not solid."

To trim even more weight, Absalon opts for only two chainrings: a 32 and a 44, and instead relies on sheer power to propel him forward. At 1.8 meters tall (5'11") and of standard proportions, Absalon requires little in terms of a custom build. However, since he claims to train 50 percent on the road and 50 percent off-road, his desire to copy his road bike setup over to his mountain bike resulted in custom pedal axles for his Time ATAC XS Titan Carbon pedals that are 3mm shorter than Time's regular production model.

Almighty Zeus

After succumbing to market forces in the early '80s, the 75-year-old component manufacturer Zeus reentered the market in the 21st century as a division of Orbea with a thoroughly modern range. The brand already owns at least one Tour de France victory (when Luis Ocana beat the virtually undefeatable Eddy Merckx in 1971) and might soon add a mountain bike world title - even an Olympic medal - to its own palmares as Absalon's Alma is equipped with a Zeus-branded stem, handlebar, and - for the sake of this article - grips, however the true origin of the lightweight foam models remain a guarded secret.

Although not available to the public until the fall, Absalon has been running Fulcrum's Red Metal Zero disc wheels all season long. The new offering is a close analogue to the company's road-going Racing Zero wheelset, with alloy spokes, Fulcrum's '2:1" lacing pattern, and solid outer rim wall that requires no rim tape. For the Red Metal Zero, though, that 2:1 pattern is used both front and rear, and the solid outer rim wall enables easy tubeless compatibility.

VIP Club

The SRAM family of components lays claim to the remainder of Absalon's bike, and as a member of SRAM's invitation-only BlackBox racing program, Absalon enjoys unique tricked-out gear and premium race support.

"The BlackBox program really got its start in 1999 and it has always been intended as a development program, explained Eric Schutt, SRAM mountain bike public relations manager. "We definitely want to have a way to give the most elite athletes a competitive advantage and we want those elite athletes to push new product development to their limits. The original products that came out of BlackBox were ones that we weren't sure if we wanted to produce or not but we definitely want to find out more."

Absalon's SID World Cup fork, a staple of the RockShox line for the past ten years, will get a total makeover for 2008 although it is as yet unclear whether or not he will use his tried-and-true 2007 model or the next generation model at this weekend's Fort William event.

After viewing a preview of the smooth, buffed world championship course at Fort William, Absalon's stiff and light Orbea Alma seems uniquely suited to the course and he has already identified his chief rivals who will likely snuff out any margin of mechanical error that could threaten a victory. So far the Alma has proven a worthy tool with which to carve out wins this season and Orbea's signature blue has been a frequent fixture atop the podium. With only a couple more races to go, and if past achievements are any indicator of things to come, both Absalon and his Alma should be easy to spot once again somewhere in the vicinity of the awards stage.


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Images by Wendy Booher/Cyclingnews.com

Images by Orbea

Full specification

Frame: Orbea Alma carbon monocoque, size Medium
Rear shock:
Fork: Rock Shox SID World Cup, 80mm travel

Critical measurements
Rider's height: 1.8m (5'11"); Weight: 68kg (150lb)
Seat tube length, c-c: 390mm
Seat tube length, c-t: 457mm
Top tube length: 582mm (horizontal)

Bottom bracket: Truvativ GXP
Truvativ Noir, 175 mm, 32/44T
Chain: SRAM PC-991 Hollow Pin
Front derailleur: SRAM X-9
Rear derailleur: SRAM X.0
Shift levers: SRAM X.0 twist shifter
Front brake: Avid Juicy Ultimate BlackBox
Rear brake: Avid Juicy Ultimate BlackBox
Brake levers: Avid Juicy Ultimate BlackBox
Rear sprockets: SRAM PG-990, 11-32T


Wheelset: Fulcrum Red Metal Zero disc
Tyres: Hutchinson Python Tubeless Light

Bars: Zeus carbon
Stem: Zeus aluminum
Headset: FSA Orbit
Tape/grip: Zeus foam

Pedals: Time ATAC XS Titan Carbon with custom spindles
Seat post: Zeus carbon
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Carbon
Computer: Garmin Edge 305

Total bike weight: 9.5-9.7kg (20.9-21.4lb) depending on tire selection