5 Key Stats from World Cup XC Racers in the Pinkbike State of the Sport Survey

May 7, 2021
by James Smurthwaite  
Welcome to the 2021 Pinkbike State of the Sport Survey. This anonymous survey is designed to help shed light on key issues affecting the professional field and elite competition. We surveyed the best riders in the world to hear their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and criticisms on mountain biking in 2021. We invited any rider who had finished in the Top 40 overall of their chosen discipline in either of the previous two seasons in either XC, enduro, downhill, or slopestyle & freeride, as well as notable non-competition riders and highly ranked juniors. We then published them in full and publicly. To read the introduction to the survey click here, and to see all the other currently published SOTS articles click here.



Cross-country is mountain biking's longest-running and most prestigious race discipline. No other form of racing has yet to grace the hallowed medal tables of the Olympics and that has helped it attract huge audiences around the world.

With all of its history and prestige, it's perceived as the most professional and formalized discipline but this doesn't mean it isn't without its issues that may be bubbling below the surface. Of all the disciplines, it was probably the most affected by COVID-19, culminating in the postponement of the Olympic Games and a truncated season. It has also been rocked by numerous doping cases in the past.
XC Cohort Details

Number of Riders: 39
Men/Women: 18/21
Elite Race Winners: 8
Elite Podium Finishers: 11
Home Continent:
Africa - 1
Asia - 2
Europe - 28
North America - 2
Oceania - 4
South America - 2

Cross-country is also a discipline that has undergone huge changes in recent years. Full suspension bikes replaced hardtails, tracks have become more technical and different sub-disciplines have been introduced and withdrawn by the UCI. 39 elite XC racers replied to our survey and answered questions on all aspects of the discipline, the highlights of their answers are below.

XC racers strongly support the Olympics being held in 2021 but its postponement affected a number of them financially

First lap and fight for positions before rock dowhnills.

Despite swirling uncertainties around the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of XC racers would support the Olympics going ahead in Tokyo this year. The Olympics were originally scheduled to take place to take place in July 2020 but were pushed back by exactly 12 months as the virus spread around the world last year. The President of the Organization Committee has said the Olympics will take place this year, "'regardless of the pandemic situation" so we expect most of the elite XC racers to be heading to Tokyo this summer.

Of the riders surveyed, 58% of them strongly agreed with the Olympics being held this year while a further 25% agree. Three riders we surveyed disagreed to some extent with the Olympics being held this year but that only amounts to 8.4%. We sent out the surveys in March and since then the situation in Japan has significantly changed so we're aware that these numbers may not be the same if the riders were asked today.

I support the Tokyo Olympic Games being held in 2021

Strongly Agree: 58.3%
Agree: 25%
Neutral: 8.3%
Disagree: 5.6%
Strongly Disagree: 2.8%

The uncertainty around the Tokyo Olympic Games has affected me financially

Strongly Agree: 8.6%
Agree: 28.6%
Neutral: 28.6%
Disagree: 28.6%
Strongly Disagree: 5.7%

The postponement of the Olympics hasn't been easy on some athletes though. 30.6% of riders said it had an impact on their training and 37.2% of riders said it had affected them financially.

XC racers are paid better than other racing disciplines but a gender pay gap still exists

Of all the racing disciplines, XC athletes seem to be better paid than other disciplines. The median XC rider gets paid $30,000 - $40,000 USD while the largest cohort of riders was those earning $50,000 - $100,000 USD. Less than a tenth of XC racers earn 0-$5,000 USD, which is about a third of the amount in enduro and a quarter of those in downhill.

We would speculate that as riders could take their skills to cyclocross or road cycling, where there are mandated minimum wages from the UCI, it gives them better bargaining power in negotiations. Furthermore, XC riders are more likely to benefit from national funding as it's an Olympic discipline.

There is a clear pay gap in all disciplines of mountain biking we surveyed but it appears to be smaller in cross-country than in other disciplines. The median rider in the women's XC field is paid $20,000-$30,000 USD compared to $40,000-50,000USD for the men. However, 22% of the women surveyed earned more than $50,000USD, which is significantly higher than downhill or enduro. In general, it's clear that women in XC stand a far better chance of earning a living wage compared to any other discipline. We suspect the strength in depth of the XC field in comparison to other disciplines helps to push up the value of racers in combination with the factors mentioned above.

It's also worth us mentioning that several women in the XC scene have celebrity status and are able to draw non-endemic sponsors that push their earnings higher. We know that not all the top-level riders answered this question and anecdotally we're aware of some XC women who make even more than the figures quoted here.

XC racers don't want more technical courses

Full send.

One of the most obvious trends in mountain biking has been the move towards more technical courses. No longer are we seeing racers hack around grass fields on hardtails but now most races are taken on full suspension bikes with technical climbs, gap jumps and tricky rocky sections. A plurality of 38.8% per cent of riders disagree with the introduction of more technical courses while a further 33.3 % of riders answered neutrally, which we interpret as they are happy with the current status quo.
I wish the XCO and XCC courses were more technical

Strongly Agree: 5.6%
Agree: 22.2%
Neutral: 33.3%
Disagree: 19.4%
Strongly Disagree: 19.4%

Only 27.8% of racers want more technical courses, interestingly most of these racers were the most successful ones with all but two who advocate for more technical courses having either won or podiumed at an elite level in World Cups.

Performance enhancing drugs are a concern for a proportion of cross-country racers

n a

36.1% of respondents to the survey either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "Performance enhancing drugs are a problem in XC racing". XC racers have fewer concerns about doping than enduro racers, where nearly half of the racers were worried about doping, but 36.1% is still a significant amount.

XC racing has had some high-profile doping cases in the past for example, Dutch racer Bas van Dooren tested positive for EPO at the Kaprun World Championships in 2002 and Belgian rider Filip Meirhaeghe also tested positive for EPO in 2004, two days before winning the World Cup in Mont Sainte Anne, but the more recent cases have been outside of the World Cup level. A 2015 CIRC report also encouraged the UCI to investigate mountain biking's doping culture, saying, "The Commission was told of people who had crossed disciplines, from mountain bike to road cycling, and how one or two mountain bikers were already doping before they made the transition."
Performance enhancing drugs are a problem in XC racing

Strongly Agree: 8.3%
Agree: 27.8%
Neutral: 38.9%
Disagree: 8.3%
Strongly Disagree: 16.7%

XCO is overwhelmingly the most popular format of XC racing

The under 23 men woke up to treacherous conditions. A slight drizzle turned the course into a slippery journey.

XCO, XCC, XCE, marathon, XC racing is a minefield of distances, regulations and abbreviations but most racers favour the OG, XCO. This is the Olympic distance with mass start races that last about an hour and a quarter around laps of a short circuit. 97.2% of racers described this distance as their preferred style with 2.8 % (1 person) selecting marathon. No racers favoured the Short Track or Eliminator formats.
What is your preferred style of racing?

XCO: 97.2%
Marathon: 2.8%
XCE: 0%
XCC: 0%
Other: 0%

Select comments from XC Racers

bigquotesThe young riders in the race sometimes get really aggressive but this is getting better.

bigquotesAthletes with good/high exposure get away with bad behavior more easily.

bigquotesComing from a small country gives riders a huge disadvantage to get a team place or support from global brands.

bigquotesXCC should give more points for the ranking.

bigquotesStarting positions determine the result a lot, and they are allocated by UCI points collected at races. Small countries and overseas athletes have a disadvantage in collecting points.

Author Info:
jamessmurthwaite avatar

Member since Nov 14, 2018
1,770 articles

  • 36 2
 Is anyone gonna talk about how the interviewer is riding the Grim Donut in every one of these?
  • 39 0
 69.69% of XC athletes would race the Grim Donut. There you have it.
  • 32 0
 @chris6-6-6: Out of 420 asked, 69.69% of XC racers think the Grim Donut could use more water bottle mounts.
  • 36 0
 With the pedaling performance from 2030, it's no problem to keep up with world cup XC racers on the climbs.
  • 4 0
 The Grim Donut climbs really well.
  • 24 4
 More technical courses require better skills, and doping doesn't really help with that. Am I wrong ?
  • 25 0
 Fatigue leads to mistakes on technical descents, doping limits fatigue so yes it will help with more technical courses.
  • 3 0
 Also, skills can be trained. With some PED you can recover faster and get more training in the same amount of time. PED has its benefits not only on race day.

Some PED can also help with reaction times. Though with the speed that they tackle the technical sections, the benefit for XC athlete is not as large as for DH/enduro athlete.
  • 11 0
 The author has made a couple of mistakes in their conclusions due to units of measure and sample bias.

The XC sample may be more skewed towards the top ranked with 19 of 39 or 49% having podiums versus how many in the full 200? We don't know because the author changed the units to podiums from % in top 5/10/20/etc. So the higher XC salary may simply be that the XC riders that responded are ranked higher on average than the other disciplines.

A relevant comparison would have been average salaries by top 5/10/20/etc. across all disciplines to draw a conclusion. Then they could say the median salary when controlled for ranking is higher or lower by discipline. And they could also say whether one discipline pays deeper versus being an all or nothing deal or what ranking in one discipline would pay the same as another ranking in another discipline. How does a top 5 XC racer salary compare to a top 5 Enduro or DH?

The XC sample is also skewed towards Europe at 72% vs 62% for the population and very negatively skewed against Americas at 5% versus 23% for the whole. If you accept that XC is more popular in Europe which the number of European XC respondents suggests then it reasons they may get paid more than North America counterparts.

The only conclusion from this article so far is if you are going to be an XC racer you want to be a European male XC racer.
  • 1 10
flag Themissinglink83 (May 7, 2021 at 15:12) (Below Threshold)
 Way to overthink things
  • 1 0
 I strongly agree with you! I would want to see the salary rate compare to the top racers ranking, and than compare between discipline. Like any other sport, top player/racers get more paid. The difference is that in hockey for example, theres a low limit salary, wich is not the case here!
  • 9 0
 Kinda odd that pb didn't ask if they wished to keep short track. As an xc fan, not participant, I like having both. I mean, sure they prefer xco but does that mean they despise xcc and race it because they need to, or do they like it but like xco more. Seems like there should have been some followup questions.
  • 4 0
 I like the short track races too. I like being able to watch the extra race/content.
  • 2 0
 @retep1: I'm pretty sure when it was introduced, back in 2018, there was a season preview on Red Bull TV; and the teams asked for it. It's another chance for more exposure. 6-7 XCO races isn't a lot for a world class series, is it? So add the XCC, and you double the number of races.

In an ideal world, you'd have 10-12 XC World Cups - but that doesn't look like happening.
  • 10 0
 Meanwhile Van der Poel is enjoying his 2 million per year... Then again, he seems to be doing XC more like a hobby next to his 2 full time jobs of cyclocross and road cycling, so he doesn’t really belong in this list.
  • 1 0
 actually he loves MTB'ing the most, just earns a living road racing and happens to be the GOAT at cyclocross which doesn't pay too bad either. It's hard for him to choose, full time MTB means he's losing the opportunity to win races like the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix ....... kid has a hard life Wink
interview in English here www.wielerflits.nl/nieuws/van-der-poel-kijkt-uit-naar-zondag-schurter-fluckiger-en-pidcock-zijn-grootste-concurrenten
  • 8 1
 Casual photo of someone injecting themselves...
  • 14 1
 With the covid vaccine, duuhh get your mind out of the gutter.
  • 7 0
 Given the GIANT air bubble in the syringe, I'd certainly hope they aren't injecting whatever that is into their body.
  • 6 0
 @LeDuke: I mean really. I’d guess whoever that is has never had to bleed his own brakes.
  • 2 0
 Also not microdosing = amatuer.
  • 6 0
 So... turning over the names of the Strongly Disagree that doping is a problem respondents to the doping agencies?
  • 4 2
 Very interesting that no women are making over 250k. I truly enjoy and and have heard of way more women racers than men, maybe not in other areas ( downhill/enduro ) but certainly in XC.
  • 9 0
 I'm going to guess PVP and Jolanda Neff make more than 250k. Maybe Batty too, she has some non bike sponsors like Porsche.
  • 7 0
 Agreed, the female racers are way more active on social media and in producing content and just engaging with fans. It seems a lot of male racers either have someone from their team manage their social media or just aren't really active or engaged with it. As a fan you can have questions answered in the DMs or comments of most of the top women's xc racers, its easier to get to know them and become fans of them, I think in a lot of cases they should be paid more than the men. Look at the amount of content that is out there from Kate or Jolanda for example, there is a ton of stuff to keep fans engaged and follow along with their journey and get to know them.
  • 2 0
 @offpiste: Yeah, you see Neff on adverts over here that are targeted to normal people and not just an attempt to get us to buy more bikes Smile
  • 1 0
 The pay gap was pretty surprising to me. I follow ski racing and the prize money has been equal for quite a while For the last few years the top earning racers have been women. Mikaela Shiffrin became the first racer; male or female, to win more than $1 million in a season.
  • 1 0
 They did mention that some top female athletes didn't answer the salary question. We can speculate those were the top earners.
  • 2 1
 As someone who raced at this level (at the back, 20 years ago) I can tell you why people don't want more technical (this usually means narrow/singletrack) courses - because it makes it very difficult to create a shortish loop with decent potential for passing/real racing.

I did "technical" races where starting at the back of a 120-person field for a 5 lap race meant that you would literally be half a lap down before you could even get started. Being lapped out after less than half the race was over was totally normal because the bottlenecks that formed at every technical section meant you would literally stand around with your bike for minutes at a time.

You can make the races use longer courses, but then nobody can watch. You can make them wider but still technical but then one good line tends to develop and you're back to square one. You can do multiple race heats and then a finals like BMX but you'd have to spread the race out over several days.

I personally think XC should be time trial format only at this level. It's still exciting to watch, it's not a ton harder to put on a race, and it means you can put the best riders in the world on really hard trails and see them crush the climbs and descents.

  • 2 0
 FWIW, I can’t remember ever seeing a major XCO race where the leader lapped the field, at least not in the last 4 years.

There for sure have been some where you end up with stopped riders from bottlenecks, but generally for a second or two and only way back in the field. Seems course design at the WC level likely has taken steps to address this, but I could see it being an issue at the lower (but still professional) levels
  • 1 0
 @mtallman2: Yes, it appears they mostly make the courses pretty wide to avoid that problem - ie not very "technical", or at least not very similar to what most recreational riders enjoy riding.

20-25 years ago things were a bit less organized and most of our domestic nationals and the occasional WC were run on existing trail networks. As I recall every single US and Canadian WC event was held at a ski resort, with quite a bit of singletrack, because that's what they had to work with. There were a few nationals that went at non-ski-resort locations but they were rare.

Now the money exists to create a course mostly from scratch, so you see these 15 foot wide rock garden features and such.
  • 1 0
 @mtallman2: At the Albstadt race, 35 riders (of 142 finishers) were lapped, FWIW. I have no idea if that's typical these days, though.
  • 1 0
 I agree tracks need to allow for overtaking and some full speed action and it's probably not easy to combine that with technical challenges, but from a spectator's point of view most current venues do it well, with some biased one way and some the other, which adds variety. Taping wide is a good idea and I think the surveyed riders are right that any more technical than it is now would be overdoing it. It can't turn into some mild enduro hybrid.

What I strongly disagree with is your idea that XC should be time trials. The reason XCO is exciting to watch (often more than DH, blasphemy, I know) is that it's real head to head racing. As it is, watching DH WC outside the top 20-30 is already pretty boring, so I can imagine seeing single riders ride the same sections one by one like that, but much slower, would be a real snooze fest. Let's take road TT as an example. Anyone watches that on TV except for die hard fans/active roadies? While the actual race stages of major road races attract even viewers who have zero to do with cycling.
  • 1 0
 @waltworks: I made that comment before watching this weekend’s racing, there was indeed quite a bit of lap traffic in that race. Didn’t seem to create any issues but with as close as the finish was for many of the top 10, it was definitely not ideal.
  • 1 0
 @bananowy: re: XC as a TT, I agree 100% both as an XC racer as well as a WC spectator. My favorite part of racing XC is the cat and mouse games that happen in a group of very closely matched riders, and it would lose a huge chunk of its appeal without that. No different watching, close races are exciting to watch. I raced an enduro last weekend (my first) and the purely individual/nobody around you you’re competing against aspect was one of my least favorite parts of the format, but of course, necessary for such a race to work.
  • 1 0
 @mtallman2: I appreciate actual racers' perspectives from both of you guys Smile

I kinda get how TT is more "fair" in that there are less variables but as a spectator, that cat and mouse action that you talk about is the meat for me.
  • 1 0
 @bananowy: take my opinions for what they are, amateur weekend warrior here. I take it seriously but I’m no pro.
  • 3 0
 First drawing only further proves that the Grim Donut ™ is an all round 10/10 on any terrain it needs to tackle
  • 4 1
 Dude with the syringe might want to clear that huge bubble out. Why do your stock photos have to be so cringe-worthy?
  • 1 1
 I take medicine by prefilled syringes & there is always airbubbles in them, the airbubble volume equal to the bottom part of the syringe where the plunger cant reach, so the airbubble helps getting all the medicine out of the syringe, you wont inject the air into the body though Big Grin

  • 3 1
 @JesperA: that isn't a prefilled syringe pictured in the article, and you most certainly can inject the air-bubble into you if you hold it like the dude in the picture with the air-bubble collecting near the outlet of the syringe (instead of upright, collecting at the plunger).
  • 2 1
 @JesperA: BTW, I'm guessing you're taking subcutaneous injections, and also didn't bother reading the instructions of the medicine from your pic. LOL
  • 2 0
 Those air bubbles are harmless.
  • 1 0
 @JVance: Nothing of what you said is true, but yeah, keep being misinformed about airbubbles in syringes if that makes you happy
  • 1 0
 @JVance: "The lethal volumes of air in an acute bolus have been described and are approximately 0.5–0.75 ml/kg in rabbits and 7.5–15.0 ml/kg in dogs. The lethal dose for humans has been theorized to be 3-5 ml/kg and it is estimated that 300-500 ml of gas introduced at a rate of 100 ml/sec is a fatal dose for humans"


The syringe in the picture looks like a 10ml syringe, maybe 20, so you need 5-10 of those syringes filled with only air, inserted into your veins at the same time, plunging all of its air into your body for about 3-5 seconds straight to kill you. Good look achieving that.

This airbubble myth need to die, same with the "cramp-after-eating-while-swimming"-myth
  • 1 0
 @JesperA: an embolism doesn't need to be lethal to not have an impact on the body.
  • 2 2
 I'm sorry, you cannot talk about "gender" gaps in a career skill that favors the stronger athlete. This is not the corporate world where men and women can do the same job equally. Men will always be better cyclist than women, always, always. Pay in athletics is because fans want to see and be impressed. Men will go faster, take more chances and show more strength than women generally. No, we are not talking about the weak newbie man against the world-class pro female, I mean in general. The faster, more impressive athlete commands more salary. The woke cyclist sponsors seem to be artificially forcing equal pay, but this is them being nice, not responding to marketing success. In the same notion, women fashion models, gymnast or dancers get paid more than men because they are nicer to watch than a man. This is life.
  • 2 1
 "Pay in athletics is because fans want to see and be impressed"

Pay in sports is related to how much ROI is generated. Little to do with "going faster or taking chances". Especially when men and women don't compete in the same category.

"forcing equal pay, but this is them being nice, not responding to marketing success"

You really, genuinely believe that any business spends any money on anything "because they're nice" and not because they have calculated benefits from it? Come on man...

You can get salty all you want about it, but the top female racers who the article says didn't answer the salary question likely already earn more then most men (with the exception of those who get the real money from road like MvdP) because they market themselves very well and use modern, efficient and, most importantly, measurable ways to do it. Not least because their races are pretty damn exciting.

In the same way Gwin is still without doubt one of the top paid downhillers even though it's been a while since he won anything. Do you think Brendog finds a place on a big WC DH team year after year because of his race run times?

What you say about genders' appeal to fans might be true to some extent in DH where indeed we watch each rider individually and the difference in speed is clearly visible. But to be fair, like I said in another comment: this also applies to men outside the top 20 or 30 WC DH. Watching both men's and women's DH is repetitive and frankly boring until we get to the guys and gals actually fighting for the podium.

XC is very different and having matched competitors head to head, elbow to elbow, sprint-finishing etc. makes for exciting racing regardless if the ultimate pace is higher or lower than in another category. So that becomes a moot point. And on top of that athletes like PFP, Neff, Courtney, Batty and more are great at playing the digital marketing/social media game; making them super valuable to sponsors.
  • 2 0
 State of the Sport: Spectators. Just trying to find parts to remain active in the sport.
  • 2 0
 So the majority is more or less neutral in the surveys.
  • 1 1
 Beste XCC/XCO racer (VdP) is most likely the most drug tested racer in the field, loves the more technical courses and earns a more than decent living .......
  • 1 0
 I wonder what % of racers get paid directly.

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