HADLEIGH, England - Julien Absalon came to the London Olympics hoping to make history.
He left without even finishing the race.
The French mountain biker was attempting to become the first three-time gold medallist in any cycling discipline at the Olympics when he started Sunday's race at Hadleigh Farm. But a flat tire over a technical section ended what could be his final Olympics far short of the finish line.
"The first lap was the worst thing that could happen to me, because I did hard work for four years to be 100 per cent today," Absalon said, "and to have a mechanical problem is the worst luck."
The four-time world champion was among the favourites coming in, along with Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic and Nino Schurter of Switzerland — the two riders who eventually dueled for the win.
Kulhavy edged Schurter to the line by a single second after nearly 90 minutes of racing.
"I don't know what happened. I didn't see Absalon," said Kulhavy, who surely wasn't disappointed that was the case. "I knew that any of the guys at the front could medal."
Absalon, who turns 32 later this week, had been in good form coming into the Olympics, winning a pair of World Cup races in France and Belgium as he tuned up for London.
He started off with the No. 1 attached to his jersey as the defending champion, and was in the select group of about half a dozen riders who quickly moved to the front. But over a rough section of the course called "the rock garden," Absalon realized that his tire was slowly going flat.
He was forced to change the wheel and lost nearly a full minute on the leaders.
"I lost motivation. It was not worth it because any chance of a medal was gone," Absalon said with a shake of his head. "I did not want to ride fast laps because I would have compared my times with the others' and I was afraid I would be even more disappointed."
Instead, he gathered up his gear and pedaled slowly across the rolling hills of Hadleigh Farm, in the English countryside east of London, and back to the French team's maintenance tent.
"Four years of hard work and to suffer that — I could have accepted to have a bad day, to be beaten. I was ready for that," Absalon said. "Not be able to defend your chances because of a mechanical, it's hard to take. Four years of hard work for nothing.
"After being an Olympic champion, there was no point of fighting for a 10th-place finish."
Absalon indicated that London may have been his final Olympics, even though he'd be nearing 36 — the same age as several riders in Sunday's field — for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"I cannot say that for sure, because I am disappointed," Absalon said, when pressed whether his Olympic career was finished. "But I think so, yes."