A total of 30 women go for glory on tomorrow's opening day of cross-country action on the 5km route in Essex, with 50 men vying for the title on Sunday's final day of London 2012.
France's Absalon triumphed in Athens in 2004 and Beijing four years ago, but Schurter won four rounds and the overall World Cup series title this season.
French rider Absalon, 31, who won World Cup races in La Bresse and Houffalize, said: 'In Athens I was very young and it was the start of my dominance in the discipline.
'In Beijing I was the hot favourite and I had to face a lot of stress and expectations. I've come here more relaxed.
'I'm not anymore the only man to beat. I would say there are three favourites. The big favourite this time is Nino Schurter, followed by Jaroslav Kulhavy (the 2011 world champion) and myself.'
The race distance is still to be determined, based on conditions and discussions in the team managers' meeting, but what is certain is it will be 45 minutes shorter than in the last two Games at around one and a half hours.
Absalon led a French one-two in Beijing and the silver medallist Jean-Christophe Peraud has returned to the dirt track after a 44th-placed finish in the Tour de France on July 22, including second place on stage 12 behind David Millar.
Peraud said: 'I'll do my best to get close to the podium. A few months ago perhaps I would have said a medal, now it's been difficult recovering after the Tour de France. I finished it not in the condition I had expected.'
France could dominate, with world under-23 champion Julie Bresset a contender in the women's race.
She said: 'I think I am capable. This season I had good results and I'd like to shine on Saturday. In my opinion the big favourite is Catharine Pendrel.
'She had three World Cup wins and she's the leader in the general ranking. Then we are five or six - Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa, who won the last World Cup and is really in form.
'There's also Annie Last, who races at home and really knows the course well.'
Dahle Flesjaa of Norway won in Athens in 2004 and should challenge world champion Pendrel of Canada, but defending Olympic champion Sabine Spitz of Germany is yet to find form this season, placing a best of sixth in the World Cup rounds.