Dousing himself in water after practising the humid and technical course at the first World Cup round of 2016, Julien Absalon is quite nonchalant about his use of a dropper seatpost.
Casual he may be, but it's a rather significant component choice and sign of the times regarding cross-country's ever more demanding courses. Absalon, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time world champion is a true veteran of the racing format and yet his bike is a showcase of the industry's latest trends – a surprising fact given how stubborn to change cross-country riders typically are.
Absalon riding the famed 'jacobs ladder' rock section. note the dropper post in use: absalon riding the famed 'jacobs ladder' rock section. note the dropper post in use Glen Jacobs – Cairns local and owner of trail building company World Trail – had told us back in 2014 that he designed the Cairns world cup cross-country course in hope of seeing many of the world's best take to dropper posts. While he was disappointed back then, it seems his wishes have come true and there are few riders in the world more influential than Absalon himself.
Fourstroke with extra carbon
For much of the season, we're told Absalon will pick the 100mm travel BMC Fourstroke 01 over the TeamElite soft-tail. This full-carbon frame is without question one of the more premium dual suspension race options on the market, and there are no team-only tricks here. Just as he did to win the 2014 World Championships, Absalon rides a standard medium frame.
Using BMC's long-proven APS suspension system, the 29in-wheeled Fourstroke offers a full list of the latest trends: 142x12mm rear axle, carbon Shimano press-fit bottom bracket shell and plenty of asymmetry.
Where the frame may be something you can by off the shelf, Absalon's race bike provides hints of what may be to come. There's a prototype carbon rocker-link on his main bike, just a small part but something that likely saves weight without loss in rear end stiffness. It's clear this part isn't quite perfected just yet, as his spare/training bike (as photographed) still has the stock alloy piece.
Shimano and Fox zap together
Absalon was one of three in the world to first race Shimano's XTR Di2, and two years on is still riding the flagship electronic group. Offering insanely precise and reliable shifting at the easy push of a button, Di2 isn't affected by mud, clutch-induced shifting resistance or a stretched cable and so makes plenty of sense for mountain biking. Such benefits certainly carry a significant price penalty for the non-sponsored rider, however.
While Di2 is still unusual off-road, the integration with Fox's iRD electronic lockouts is even rarer. Here, the Fox system is built to Shimano's E-tube wiring standard and even shares the Di2 battery.
Due to his preferred single-ring setup, Absalon's left hand is kept free to control his suspension and dropper post. Sitting between the grip and brake lever is a little trigger to lock both front and rear shocks in conjunction.
That suspension in itself is rather trick, with the front fork being the just-released 32 Step-Cast, Fox's lightest fork to date and something designed specifically for cross-country racing.
Tucked into the base of the steerer, there's a clever custom expanding wedge used to keep control of the Di2 wires coming from the fork and shift control unit. This then feeds on to the down tube.
Typically the Di2 battery is wedged into the base of the seatpost, but the use of a dropper complicates this greatly. To overcome this, Absalon's mechanic Sylvain Golay got creative and taped the battery directly to the dropper post's internal cable.
Looking to that single ring and Absalon seems to be riding an early prototype from the Japanese company. Shimano has just released an update to its original and short-lived single-ring design and so Absalon's use of a pre-production ring is not unusual.
Ensuring the chain doesn't leave its ring, Absalon's bike has a BMC-made carbon chain catcher. It's an item that bolts directly to the Fourstroke's down tube on a proprietary mount.