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A beginner's guide to MTB racing and where to watch it
Feeling like getting into the competitive spirit this season? Here's all you need to know about where, when and how to watch the best mountain bike racing.
Now, it's important not to get too excited, but with the opening Mercedes-Benz UCI World Cup event just a month away, it's very tempting to get over hyped that we'll soon be seeing bicycles racing offroad.
Fancy getting amped up anyway, or simply fancy taking in your first season's worth of MTB racing? Then here's our guide:
Cross Country racing
Cross Country Olympic (XCO) is a multi-lap race around a course containing lots of climbs and descents. Red-line levels of fitness are married to extreme technical control.
Cross Country racing is an Olympic discipline (hence the 'O') and races are fascinating tactical battles of cat and mouse.
Riders to watch: In the elite women's race, pretty much anyone inside the top 20! It's some of the fiercest and closest racing on two wheels. Jolanda Neff is a firm crowd favourite, with Yana Belomoina and Emily Batty also having a big following among the fans. The last couple of years has seen Pauline Ferrand-Prévot return to form and dominate racing. Men's racing is ruled by Nino Schurter. The Swiss rider is a seven-time overall World Cup champion. Elsewhere, Henrique Avancini is now making good on early promise, while talented biking all-rounder Mathieu van der Poel has also been running Schurter close in recent years when he has raced cross-country.
Cross Country Short Track
The youngest of the MTB racing disciplines, Short Track (XCC) made its full UCI World Cup debut in 2018 and is run on the Friday evening of all XCO rounds.
It's fairly similar to a criterium in road-racing terms; there's a fast-paced start as the pack attempts to sort itself out and then the tactical battle begins!
Riders to watch: While Schurter is the undisputed king of XCO he's not so keen on XCC. This has allowed riders such as van der Poel and Avancini to dominate. There's also a new generation of riders coming through with Simon Andreassen and Milan Vadar chief among them. In the women's, Annika Langvad was one of the most dominant forces in XCC, but has now retired. Britain's Evie Richards has two XCC wins under her belt from Nové Město in 2020 and may be the queen in waiting in this format of racing.
Learn about the ins and outs of XCO and XCC racing below:
What is XCC and XCO Mountain Biking?
Downhill (DHI) racing is not for the faint of heart and features the highest speeds and the biggest risks. The premise is simple; get from Point A (generally at the top of a mountain) to Point B (the bottom of the mountain) as fast as your bike will carry you. The person who does it in the shortest period of time wins.
Riders have several days of training sessions to learn as much of the track as possible and, being a mountain sport, it often becomes a battle as to who can make the most sense of an evolving track and any changes in weather.
Jump on board with Gee Atherton to see just how terrifying downhill can be by tackling the UCI Downhill World Cup track in Lousã:
Gee Atherton previews the downhill course at Lousã
Downhill racing as a sport is thrilling and over the last 10 years or so has really grown up. The time gaps have never been tighter and (especially in the elite men's field) anyone within the top 20 really has a good chance of winning it.
First event: Mercedes-Benz UCI World Cup, Leogang – June 12 - 13
Riders to watch: Loïc Bruni has been downhill's number one man in recent years. That position still looks strong though fellow Frenchies Amaury Pierron and Loris Vergier have been providing strong competition. Greg Minnaar, Reece Wilson and Matt Walker are also racers worth noting for the 2021 season. For the women, Myriam Nicole and Marine Cabirou look best placed for honours, but they will be pushed by Vali Höll in her first season in elite ranks.
Crankworx brings the great and the good of all mountain biking together in one spot for some intense few days of competition across several mountain bike racing and contest formats like downhill racing, dual slalom, speed & style and pump track racing.
Athletes don't keep to one competition format and commit themselves to taking part in nearly every competition going in a bid to win prize money and points for the overall King and Queen of Crankworx title.
What makes Crankworx so special?
First event: Crankworx Innsbruck, Austria – June 17-20
Riders to watch: With athletes competing across many racing formats an all-rounder who can race but also have some tricks up his sleeve are the people who usually climb to the top of the standings. For the men, Adrian Loren and Tomas Lemoine routinely do well, while Mathilde Bernard is seemingly the woman to beat following results from Innsbruck in 2020.
Enduro is similar to a car rally in terms of format. There are numerous downhill stages across one or two days of racing, with riders having to make their own way back to the top of the next stage on a strict time limit. Enduro racing blurs many of the hardest parts of all the other disciplines to make something uniquely… well, hard.
One of enduro's big strengths is that the bikes used are warmed-up versions of the full-suspension bikes which most mountain bikers ride every weekend. With a carefully packed riding pack, anyone can race enduro and there are grass roots series and one-off local events all over the planet.
Where to watch: Highlights on Enduro World Series TV
Riders to watch: Sam Hill is the big name when it comes to the men in the Enduro World Series. That said there are plenty of talents capable of taking wins including Richie Rude, Martin Maes and Greg Callaghan. The women's Enduro World Series races have been dominated by Cecile Ravanel since its inception. The women's field is however wide open, and France's Isabeau Courdurier has been stepping into the breach in recent years and winning races. Also expect Israel's Noga Korem to feature at the top of any race leaderboards.