With two Olympic gold medals, five World Championships, thirty-three World Cup victories, five European Championships titles, fourteen French National titles, and countless other victories, Julien Absalon is, without a doubt, among mountain biking's greatest athletes.
Absalon is also about to bow out of racing at the sport's highest level, so Pinkbike photographer Irmo Keizer sat down with the French legend to hear how it all started, a few of his favorite memories, and what he plans on doing next.Julien on getting into sports
I started racing when I was fourteen, so I was not that young. At the time, I did a lot of sports, but after a few months, I always quit. Alpine skiing is something I continued to do, though; I started when I was three and stopped when I was sixteen. But mountain biking was what I wanted to do, and I told my parents "this is what I want to do." Julien on the Vosges
Growing up in the Vosges, our playground was incredible. I was living in the village, and I was always on the BMX bike with my friends and my brother. We could always play outside, and that is what we did all the time. My brother and I were building jumps all the time; it was just such a good time.
I could see my capabilities as I was well; 'not bad' at the sport immediately. After a few months, I came second in the National Championships. It still took a few years before I won in the junior categories, but in my last year, I won the National, European and the World Championship titles. I realized it was possible to become a professional athlete and the next year I signed with Scott International for two years, after which I transferred to Bianchi where I stayed for six years. Then another six years at Orbea, and finally six years with BMC.
Julien and his son, Tom.Julien and his brother, Remy
In 2013, Nino (Schurter) sometimes, well, actually, a lot of times, beat me in the downhills. That's how he won three or four races, so I decided I could not continue like this. I trained hard in the winter with lots of BMX training and riding enduro bikes with my brother. In 2014 it was a different story. I could push Nino to the limit on the downhills. Nino had trained hard on the uphills, however, so all of a sudden I had to work hard on the climbs. We were really, really close that year. In Hafjell, I won the World Championships title, thanks to my work with my brother.
My brother and I always go full gas when we're home. I love it; I try to follow him in the downhills and then, on the uphills, Remy tries to follow me. I think we did a great job together.Julien on his rivalry with Nino
Without Nino, I would not have continued in the way I did until now. He gave me motivation, a lot. It was interesting, and it pushed me to work harder and try to beat him. It felt so good when I managed to beat him, and I think it was the same for him. It was a huge motivator, which was important.
Nino and Julien.Passion for the sport
What I really like about mountain biking is the endurance, intensity, and being outdoors, which is also one of the reasons I've never tried road racing. I love to be in the forest and just ride my bike. It's not only about pushing hard on the pedals; I love to ride for fun.
The 2014 World Championship podium
The two Olympic medals remain special forever. But the World Championships in Hafjell, Norway, in 2014, were amazing. I won the World Champion title four years in a row (2004-200
, but that was quite some years ago. I was trying for years but did not manage to win. Winning the World Championships when I was 34 just felt crazy. I beat Nino, on my full suspension bike. It was a really nice victory. My two victories on home soil in La Bresse were very special as well.
Absalon wins in front of his home crowd in La Bresse.
Julien in his new role as team manager.Julien's future goals
Now my goals are to continue with the team and get some more riders onboard for next season. Furthermore, I am an ambassador for many of my sponsors, and I am really looking forward to working with these partners. It's new for me, but I am excited to do more with them and move forward in the projects we do. The evolution of cross-country bikes
Mountain biking is completely different now compared to when I got started. It used to be long climbs on long courses. Races took over two to two and a half hours. In 2008, things changed and races got shorter. I won in Athens (2004) with a time of two hours and fifteen minutes. In Beijing, I won with a time of two hours and two minutes, and Jaroslav Kulhavy won London in one hour and thirty minutes. Courses have changed dramatically; they got a lot more technical, and bikes have progressed greatly.
26'' wheels, ultra-narrow handlebars, and geometry from the past. Things have changed more than just a little bit.
We used to race 26" hardtail bikes with narrow handlebars. This whole change has also made it quite interesting to me. It is easier, in general, to go longer than to go shorter. Changing training and material, adapting to more technical courses. It was an exciting challenge.Julien on retiring
I've never had issues with keeping up my motivation for doing what I do. I love to train, and I do not quit because of any lack of motivation. My pollen allergy has gotten worse, though. Previously, it only posed issues in the South of France and the Mediterranean, but now I also have problems in the North of Europe. In Heubach this became a real problem, so I now have to deal with at least two months of allergies in racing.
Julien winning in Albstadt, back in 2015.
I do not want to race when I can not race at 100-percent. I can not imagine racing when I am unable to compete for the victory. That's why I quit. I am not sad, however. My doctors told me my lungs have done tremendous efforts, breathing millions of liters of air, inhaling lots of pollen in the time. After twenty years, they might have gotten a bit tired. It's a sign for me; I gave it all, so it might be time to stop. You push your body to the limits, and after twenty years there is no reason to be sad.