XC Mountain Bike Racing Guide

with Ronja Blöchlinger, Liv Factory Racing athlete

Mountain biking has always been a part of my life. Growing up, my family never had a car so we were always traveling by bike. Racing has been a part of my life for almost as long. I entered my first cross country (XC) mountain bike race when I was just five years old. I loved it right away – I liked the competition. I even won my first race and thought, “I’m good at this, I’ll keep doing it!” What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was the only girl and won by default!

I have always dreamed about racing against the world’s best athletes, but I started out racing small, local races. After years at the local level, I began going to some bigger national-level races. The great thing about XC mountain bike racing is there is something for everyone. If you’d like to get started, your local community likely has some great local mountain bike races for beginners. Just do a little research, sign up, go with friends and have fun on the bike! No matter what your racing goals are, having fun is the most important part.

Want to know more? Whether you want to become a racer or just a fan of racing, here’s what you need to know about the different XC mountain bike racing disciplines.

Ronja Blochlinger racing U23 XCO World Cup in Nove Mesto

A technical rock garden at the 2023 U23 XCO World Cup in Nove Mesto.

What is XCO racing?

XCO stands for “cross country Olympic” and it’s my favorite racing discipline. It is also the only mountain bike discipline raced in the Olympics. XCO races are about 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes depending on category, and consist of multiple laps on a four to six kilometer course. The courses are usually technical with uphill and downhill sections. When it comes to XCO races, there are a lot of puzzle pieces that need to match together to win a race. You need good technical mountain bike skills, race tactics, a good bike and components, physical and mental fitness, and having a team that works together helps.

Ronja Blochlinger winning the U23 XCC orld Cup in Nove Mesto

Winning the first U23 XCC race in Nove Mesto, 2023.

What is XCC racing?

XCC stands for “cross country short track” and it’s a relatively new discipline in mountain biking. Short track is really interesting because it’s an intense, short race, around 20 minutes. The course is short, allowing for multiple laps and it’s less technical than an XCO course. These elements usually mean XCC races are more tactical, which is fun.

What is XCM racing?

XCM stands for “cross country marathon” and refers to races held on longer courses, totaling 60 to 160 kilometers. XCM events are one-day races, but if ultra-endurance racing is your thing, you might also enjoy cross country stage races. XC stage races consist of multiple long courses raced on consecutive days, like Cape Epic.

XCO World Cup start

What is World Cup Mountain Bike Racing?

For every endurance mountain bike discipline, there are various levels of competition. You can race local grassroots races that are unsanctioned, national-level races sanctioned by your country’s cycling federation, or international races sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The highest level of international racing for XCO, XCC and XCM sanctioned by the UCI is the Mountain Bike World series. For some World Cup stops, XC mountain bike events are joined by gravity-fed mountain biking events – downhill (DHI), enduro (EDR) and E-enduro (E-EDR). For the XC events, there are elite and U23 categories.

Ronja Blochlinger warming up for a World Cup race

Where can you watch XC mountain bike races?

Watch Elite World Cup racing live by downloading and subscribing to GCN+ or Eurosport/Discovery+.

Watch U23 XCO racing for free live and find race highlights on Youtube.

Find the full list of World Cup races HERE.

Where can you find XC races near you?

For local races, you can usually find events in your area with a quick internet browser search. Better yet, head to your local bike shop to ask for information about upcoming races and events. Looking for national-level races? Look up your country’s cycling federation website for a list of races by location and discipline.

Ronja Blöchlinger

Ronja lives in Biel/Bienne BE, Switzerland and loves rider her home trails in the "Berner Jura". Learn more about Ronja and her Liv Factory Racing teammates.

Meet Ronja!