Cross country Olympic mountain biking is one of the more exhilarating events at the Games, and that’ll be no different come the Rio Olympics in August.
While we would love to see downhill mountain biking in the Olympics, cross country is currently the only discipline included in the Games, and was introduced in 1996 for the Olympics in Atlanta, USA.
Cross country, or XC as it if often referred, has been in both the men’s and women’s category at every Olympic Games since it was first competed in the Games 20 years ago.
At the London 2012 Games, Czech racer Jaroslav Kulhavy beat Nino Schurter and Marco Aurelio Fontana into the top spot, taking the gold medal off the dominant French riders for the first time since Bart Brentjens won for Netherlands in 1996.
The big news for the 2016 Olympic cross country mountain biking in Rio de Janeiro is that road cycling World Champion Peter Sagan will be competing.
Before we get to the contenders and the history though, let’s take a look at the rules of the event:
Rio 2016: Cross Country Olympic Mountain Biking – What are the Rules?
The rules are pretty simple for the Olympic cross country mountain biking. In a mass start, each riders sets off to ride laps of the circuit course, and the first to finish a set amount of laps wins. The riders are normally on course for around one-two hours.
Riders are allowed to ride either a full suspension or a hardtail mountain bike, and are only allowed to perform their own repairs.
Riders can’t impede other riders with pushing or pulling, but are not required to let any other rider pass.
For a much more detailed read on the Olympic cross country mountain biking rules, read here.
Rio 2016: Who is Representing Team GB in Cross Country Olympic Mountain Biking?
Annie Last was the first Brit to qualify for the Olympic mountain bike race in over a decade at London 2012, but has been struggling more recently due to a chronic back injury. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Team GB are going to qualify this year for anyone to compete in the mountain bike cross country events.
Rio 2016: Who are the Main Contenders for the Gold Medal in Cross Country Mountain Biking?
As we mentioned above, the talk of the town in terms of Olympic XC mountain biking is that world champion road cyclist Peter Sagan has given up his place in the road race at the Olympics to compete in the mountain bike event.
As a junior mountain biking champion, and obviously an athlete of the top standard, it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on.
Also going for the gold will be two-time Olympic champion Julien Absalon, who was denied the win in London by a flat tyre, as well as current World Champion Nino Schurter and current Olympic champ Jaroslav Kulhavy.
Rio 2016: What is the History of Cross Country Mountain Biking in the Olympic Games?
After being introduced in the 1996 Atlanta Games, France have proved dominant in the men’s cross-country mountain biking, appearing on four out of five podiums so far. This includes winning three gold medals in a row, first through Miguel Martinez in 2000 at Sydney and then through Julien Absalon at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Czech’s Kulhavy put an end to the French winning streak at London 2012.
The women’s contest has been more diverse, with Italy having taken two golds, in Atlanta and Sydney, Canada having bagged two silvers, Germany winning a bronze in Athens, gold in Beijing and taking silver in London through Sabine Spitz and France the most recent victors through Julie Bressett in London.
Rio 2016: What is the Track For the Olympic Cross Country Mountain Biking?
The course for the Olympics cross country mountain biking will consist of singletrail, two main steep uphills and downhill sections and an array of manmade features in between. The circuit is 5km long, with men completing more laps of the course than the women will.
The exact course won’t be decided until very close to the event, but men will rider around 30 miles and women around 25.
The riders have been singing the praises of the XC track for the Olympics since a test event in October, with the UCI delegate even saying it would be “way better" than the London 2012 track.
The mountain bike centre is located at the Deodoro X-Park in Rio de Janeiro.
For a comprehensive guide to the Olympic cross country course, read here.
Rio 2016: When is the Cross Country Mountain Biking On at the Olympics and Where Can I Watch It?
You can watch all Olympic events including the cross country mountain biking on the BBC online or on TV if you live in the United Kingdom.
The cross country mountain biking is the last of the cycling events to take place at Rio, with the women’s finals on Saturday 20 August and the men’s on Sunday 21 August.
For more on the Olympic cross country mountain biking schedule click here.