|We want to go back to how it was 20 years ago, when mountain biking was in the mountains. - Thierry Issandou, Co-Founder, XMB Challenge|
If you were asked which part of the world has most influenced how people race mountain bikes, where would you say? It's hard to make arguments for either California, or British Columbia. Yet the one part of the world that has time and again shaped the way we race is the South-East of France. It's where mountain biking first came to Europe, where the first races on the continet were held. Today the Roc D'Azur just outside Nice is the biggest race in the world, in terms of competitors. In the 1990s riders like Nico Vouilloz, Anne-Caroline Chausson and Francois Gachet re-defined what was possible in World Cup downhill. They were succeeded by legends like Fabien Barel and Cedric Gracia. It is where a grassroots race format based on untimed liaisons and timed descents grew until it eventually surfaced in the mainstream consciousness as enduro. Now a couple of riders from the region are taking a looking at cross-country racing and trying to put the mountains back into that style of mountain biking.
The XMB Challenge was started in 2012 by Thierry Issandou and William Pianigiani. Thierry explains that, "The idea is that we want to go back to how it was 20 years ago, when mountain biking was in the mountains. The racing evolved to XC, where it is, let's say... more flat. With the XMB concept we want to go back to races in the mountains which are very difficult for both climbing and descending. To put on this kind of race you ride a loop, not like in XC where you do 4,5 or 6 laps. By coming back in the mountains, we want to come back to more interesting trails. We take existing tracks and try to make a race that is between 25 and 30km, where the top riders need 2 hours or 2 and a quarter hours to finish this race. Maybe the last riders need 3 or 4 hours." Walking up and down the start line there is every type of bike and riding clothing you can imagine; from lightweight race hardtails, to 160mm enduro race bikes; from full XC lycra, through to the full faces helmets and body armour. It's a style of riding we like to refer to as, "mountain biking."www.xmbchallenge.fr