Frenchman Julien Absalon took his mountain bike status to new heights on Saturday when he became the first rider to defend the men’s Olympic cross country title.
US and Canadian men had a dismal day, with Canadian Geoff Kabush the top North American finisher in 20th place.
At only 28 years old, he said motivating himself for a third consecutive gold in London should be no problem.
“The Olympic Games is a massive motivation for every athlete and four years passes quickly, as it has from Athens to Beijing,” said Absalon.
“So why not? But right now, I just want to savor this gold.”
Absalon kept the gold in French hands for the third Olympics in a row — following Miguel Martinez’s victory at Sydney in 2000 — thanks to a commanding display early in the 36km race which left his big rivals trailing.
Jean-Christophe Peraud finished second at 1:07 to hand France the silver medal while Nino Schurter raced ahead of Swiss compatriot and world champion Christoph Sauser late in the race to claim the bronze.
The highly-fancied Swiss trio failed to match Absalon’s pace after he had begun to steadily grind out a lead by the second of eight laps.
In the end, it allowed him to join an elite club of Olympic athletes who have come in with the pressure, and survived to confirm their champion status.
“It’s great to do the double. It feels totally different (from 2004), but this just confirms what I achieved in Athens,” added Absalon, who denied that he had made his victory look easy.
“I had as tough a race as everyone else. When I saw the chance to make the break I went for it. After that I really gave it everything I had.”
Pulling ahead early was all part of Absalon’s strategy, and the demanding course and 32 degree Celsius heat did the rest as his rivals failed to close the gap.
The Frenchman had given his rivals a sniff of the Olympic gold earlier this year when he failed to win a fifth consecutive world title, with Sauser claiming the crown in a Swiss podium sweep.
But on Saturday Sauser suffered humiliation when 23-year-old Schurter reminded him that his time at the top is limited by overtaking him on a climb on the last lap and battling to keep third place.
“It was a really hard last lap, but I knew that I could beat him (Sauser) on the climb, and that’s what I managed to do,” said Schurter.
“After that I fought hard to hold him off, though the last 15 seconds was quite nervous.”
Sauser, only months after claiming his first world title, was distraught after the race. Admitting he would not be thinking of the London Games, he added that Absalon was unbeatable.
“Fourth is the worst place for me, so it’s a big disappointment,” said Sauser, who after a solid start was trailing Absalon by 51 seconds three laps in.
“Julien was simply unbeatable today. He did a good job. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for me. It’s sad, because this was my last chance for a medal. This is my last Olympics.”
After Anne-Caroline Chausson and Laetitia Le Corguille had won gold and silver in the women’s BMX Friday, Peraud raced to a deserved second place to secure another memorable day for the French.
Although not a pre-race favourite, the 31-year-old Peraud said he saddled up expecting to win a medal. But he admitted he never once thought about trying to beat Absalon.
“The Olympic Games is once every four years and so today I really believed I could achieve one of my dreams,” said Peraud.
“But Julien, he’s just about unbeatable. You would have to have a very good ride to have a chance of even challenging him.”