Julien Absalon Talks Origins, Racing, and Retirement

May 20, 2018
by Irmo Keizer  

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.

This man has won everything there is to win. His palmares is second to none. Hunger for more remains as he seeks to add another win to his career.

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 grew up in the French Vosges region providing him with an ideal playground for his beloved mountainbike sport.
Julien on his home trails near Remiremont, France.

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.

13th on the day for Remy Absalon despite being forced to race one stage with no chain.
Julien's brother, Remy Absalon

Nino Schurter beats Julien in Albstadt.

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 (2004-200Cool , 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.


  • 112 0
 Chapeau, Julien!
  • 5 0
 I still remember when in 2003-4 when I was a teenager in France reading a tutorial in Velo Vert from Julien about how trial skills help your mountainbiking. He was demoing everything on his Orbea race bike, jumping over logs on his rear wheel, etc. That guy is a cross-country legend!
  • 1 11
flag fecalmaster (May 21, 2018 at 1:43) (Below Threshold)
 What is he talking bout?
  • 47 0
 Good perspective on retirement. No reason to be sad after pushing yourself so hard for 20 years
  • 25 1
 Happy Retirement! It was fun watching you. See you on the EWS soon hopefully!
  • 12 0
 Un magnifique champion, au "triomphe modeste" mais au charisme qui fait honneur aux véritables athlètes et à la beauté du sport cycliste et aux "rebelles" des deux roues hors les routes !
Merci Julien !
  • 10 0
 Amazing athlete! Will always be remembered as one of the best ever. Loved hearing the BMX off season training. A true competitor.
  • 6 0
 No shame in bowing out at the top and the way he did. Now I want to see him in a BMX video having a blast! Or in a video screwing around with his brother on a 6" travel bike.
  • 7 0
 Magnifique attitude. Très plaisant de voir le respect envers Nino!
  • 6 0
 What a badass and I have so much respect for him
  • 6 0
 Tremendous dedication to the sport, respect.
  • 5 0
 Huge respect to him and a likable dude as well.
  • 3 0
 Thanks for all these years and succes with bringing a team to your level as team manager. Will we see you maybe at a occasional enduro race?
  • 4 0
 My favorite race was when Julien won La Bresse on a 26er against a field of 29ers. He had a big crash but won anyway!
  • 5 0
 Yea. Total dude.
  • 4 0
 Cool Cool
  • 3 0
 Belle carrière ! Bonne chance pour la suite !
  • 1 0
  • 6 5
 when did doping in xc racing end? - would like to hear him speak to this
  • 6 4
 It hasn’t tbh. Too much road bleed over
  • 5 3
 End? Lol
  • 3 3
 Looking at the performance of yesterday's race (especially the one who won...), I'd say it has never ended.
  • 2 0
 @RoadRunner13: there will always be doping in any professional sport. However to assume all these athletes have doped based upon yesterdays performance? Quite ignorant. Schurter is a true pro, look at his (innovative) training methods.

Although I am sure there will be dopers in mountain biking, our little scene has a very good attitude with regards to doping; the ones who have doped are spat out by the riders. In contrary to their colleagues in road cycling who still play the hush-hush game.
  • 2 1
 He is the best in XC, ever.
  • 1 0
 Winning World Champs at age 34 in XC is freaking amazing.
  • 1 0
 happy retirement to a graceful champion
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