Cross Country mountain bike racing (XC, XCO, XCC) is a complete test of bike riding skills and fitness. Action-packed and fun for all, races are relatively short and consist of multiple laps loaded with features such as technical climbs, rock-gardens, singletrack trails, roots, drop-offs and jumps.

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What is Cross-Country Mountain Bike Racing?

Think XCO tracks are easy? Time to think again

So, you’re new to mountain biking, you’ve honed your skills out on your local trails and keen to test yourself against other riders, elbow to elbow in a real contest. Get a break down of what’s involved in XC racing in this guide on the what’s what of Cross-Country Mountain Bike racing.

So you’ve heard of cross-country, but what actually is it?

Cross-country mountain biking is a combination of phenomenal fitness, super-human strength and some pretty impressive skills to boot. It’s mud, blood, sweat, gears and tears. It’s physical exertion and exhaustion, grit and determination, tactics and dramatics.

The descents in a cross-country course call on a similar skill set that downhillers employ and today’s most successful racers are those with bike-handling credentials any gravity rider would be impressed by. It should be noted that cross-country races are now won and lost on the ability to gap doubles, take steep inside lines and pilot 100mm of travel through rock gardens.

What does a typical cross-country course consist of?

XC mountain bike racing (or XCO – short for Cross-country Olympics), is a mountain bike race format held over undulating, mainly off-road circuits which riders must complete several times. Courses in Queensland are generally as natural as possible but can have man-made features (such as berms, jumps etc) in them too.

Riders start at the same time in a mass start, racing between an hour and an hour and 40 minutes in A-Grade / elite men and women’s categories. Other categories will race for shorter time periods, determined by event organisers alongside Auscycling guidelines.

Queensland XC courses are generally between 4-10km long with racers competing over multiple laps. Laps that each category of riders has to complete is set to a guestimate of their overall race time. Locations that have a shorter track will have more laps and vice versa.

XC courses vary in technical difficulty across Queensland and can look (and ride) very different. A typical course features technical descents, singletrack & widetrack sections, short steep climbs, forest trails, rocky paths and obstacles contained within it.

A good start is essential!

Positioning is a key aspect of XC racing. With modern XC courses featuring lots of tight singletrack with little passing opportunity, getting a good start is all important. A good start order position at the start gate is extremely beneficial (Pro tip: the more races you do, the more points you get, the higher up the grid you begin the next race).

A top ranked rider doesn’t want to be stuck behind a bunch of riders on a track a few metres wide if he wants to win the race. Valuable time can be lost to a rival or the leader in this way and the gap may never be got back.

Race tactics, do I need any?

With XC mountain biking, you’re basically going close to full-speed for the duration of the race in order to keep position in the pack of competitors.

There is little time for recovery on modern XC courses and athletes are close to their maximum heart rate from the very beginning of a race.

In longer cross-country events, opening laps can be very frantic as riders jostle for position. The middle laps are where the riders race within themselves and are careful in conserving energy. The last two laps are where the racing really hots up with riders starting to attack each other to try and gain time gaps and move positions in the race. Mind games are always at play throughout between the competitors.

XC racing can be shoulder to shoulder for the entire duration of a race and this is what makes XCO the most exciting form of mountain biking and a hugely spectator-friendly sport. Sprint finishes in both XCC and XCO particularly gets the adrenaline running and fans hyped.

Do girls race XC?

The answer is … of course they do! Cross-country mountain biking women compete over the exact same courses as the men.

Australia has quite a history of outstanding elite women performances in XC UCI World Cups & World Championships. Current women’s Australian superstar, Bec McConnell, finished third at the 2019 XC MTB World Championships.

Find out more about Bec McConnell

Mountain Bike XCO


XC mountain bike racing (or XCO – short for Cross-country Olympics), is a mountain bike race format held over undulating, mainly off-road circuits which riders must complete several times.

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Mtb Racing Queensland


Experience the exhilaration of cross-country mountain bike racing first hand. Entering an XC event is easy and inexspensive. When can I race? Click the link below to find out more.

Masters MTB Racing Queensland


One of the best parts of getting into cross country mountain biking is meeting new people and sharing your experiences. Fortunately, Queensland is full of awesome mountain bike clubs.


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