XC racing is what got me hooked on mountain biking. The concept was simple enough for my 13-year-old brain to understand – ride fast, and try to be the first one across the finish line after a set number of laps. The fact that East Coast race courses always seemed to be muddy and technical helped too, since I've always been a glutton for punishment. While I was never the absolute fastest racer out there, those early racing experiences set the hook for my complete addiction to mountain biking.
I have nothing but respect for anyone that wants to line up and pedal as hard as possible for lap after lap, even though these days I'm more likely to sign up for an enduro race than an XC sufferfest. XC racing has had its highs and lows over the years as far as popularity goes, but with bike technology evolving and courses becoming more challenging (well, some of them anyways), the action between the tape is only getting more exciting for participants and spectators alike.
Here in the United States, cross-country racing is how many younger athletes are first experiencing the sport, thanks to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. In the years since its inception, NICA has seen steady growth, and in 2020 there were over 25,000 middle- and high school student athletes participating in the program. Those numbers are still much, much lower than the number of students involved in more traditional sports like track and field, but it's a start.
The XC World Cup returns this weekend in Albstadt, Germany, immediately followed up by another round of racing in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic. DH action is on hiatus until Fort William later in the month, which means all eyes will be on some of the sport's fittest riders for the next two weekends.
Have you ever tried cross-country racing? Are you considering giving it a go? Answer this week's poll question below.