Mountain Biking

Olympic Mountain Biking Course | What is the Track / Trail For Rio 2016?

From the rock gardens and steep descents to vicious climbs and rock jumps...

What will the Olympic mountain biking course look like? What will the route be for the Olympic cross country mountain biking?

We won’t know the exact route for certain until a few days before the race is set to take place on August 20, but it’s unlikely the course will have changed from the test event at the track which took place last October.

That test event in Rio de Janeiro was also an overwhelming success, with rider’s singing the courses praises and a UCI spokesperson even saying the course would be “way better” than London’s event at Hadleigh Park.

Let’s take a look at what we know so far…

The Olympic Mountain Biking Course: The Basics


The course was designed by South African course designer and ex-mountain biking pro Nick Floros, who has established himself as one of the best trail builders in the world for XCO in the past few years and also built the track at Hadleigh Park for London 2012.

The cross country mountain bike course for the Olympic Games will be a 5.4km long loop, on which the men and women will complete a specified amount of laps to compete for the gold, and can be found at the Mountain Bike Centre, which is located at the Deodoro X-Park in Rio, formally used as a military base and training centre.

The UCI rules state that every Olympic cross country mountain bike event must feature a lap length of between 4-6km and a race time around 1.30-1.45 hours.

The amount of laps will not be specified until much closer to the event date, but the men’s category will complete a few more laps than the women’s. In the test event, the men were meant to ride seven laps and the women six, but this was reduced by one lap for each due to the blue skies and 32 Degrees Celsius heat.

The course must include a variety of terrain, from forest-style tracks to singletrail, earth or gravel paths, and have a whole lot of climbing and descending along the way. Paved roads are not allowed to make up any more than 15% of the trail.

The course for the Olympic cross country mountain biking will be mostly man-made, and while riders admit they prefer natural tracks with roots and rocks, they’re happy enough to submit  this in order for good television coverage which will help get more people involved in the sport. While the London course had an impressive 60% visibility for example, the Rio track will have up to 90%.

There are, however, a lot of technical sections on the XCO trail. Let’s have a look at some favourites…

The Olympic Mountain Biking Course: The Specific Features


The key to the Olympic cross country mountain biking seems to be man-made but heavily technical features, with an abundance of rock gardens, jumps, pump sections, climbs and descents. It shouldn’t favour any one kind of rider over any other.

Rio XCO Course Feature: The Flip-Flops

The flip-flops are rock-formed obstacles in the shape of a footprint. The riders jump off the big toe of the foot, flowing through the sole and then riding onwards.

Course-designer Nick Floros said: “I wanted to come up with a Brazilian flavour and flip-flops are something everyone in Brazil has. You need to give the course its own character and a bit of local identity, and balance that with something that works well for the riders.”

Rio XCO Course Feature: Flag Mountain

A natural hill that is the highest point of land, and requires riders to climb around 1km to the summit, making it one of the longest cross country rides in the world.

Nick Floros said: “It opens the competition up to a broader range of riders. It’s not super steep, it’s pretty gradual, so the bigger riders should be able to stick with the smaller guys.”

Rio XCO Course Feature: Rio Rocks

A naturally rocky area that was exposed during the construction of the course, at the start of the descent from the top of ‘flag mountain’, and featuring a jump at the end.

Nick Floros said: “Whatever natural features were out there, we tried to use them. This one reflects topography around Rio.”

Rio XCO Course Feature: Coconut Beach

The dig for the cross country mountain bike Olympic track unveiled a lot of things below the overgrowth, including a trail which passes in front of two big rock faces that were previously hidden.

A batch of coconut trees surrounds the area and gives it its name, and this will be one the sections nearest the seats when the Olympic XCO race gets going in Brazil.

Rio XCO Course Feature: Rio 40 Degrees

A descent down a 40 degree staircase made out of wooden beams and dirt, with the occasional rock thrown in for good measure. The name also of course refers to the heat in the country – which will be stifling to say the least.

Rio XCO Course Feature: Downtown

A descent packed with rocks and bound to make the bikes shake. The segment points towards the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro, which is where it gets its name, and was made by Floros using rocks from a local quarry.

The Olympic Mountain Biking Course: The Preview Footage


Here’s some on-board race footage from French favourite Julien Absalon from the test event on the Rio course in 2015. Looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

…and here’s some more footage of the course from Italian rider Andrea Tiberi:

The Olympic Mountain Biking Course: The Details


The UCI’s rules and regulations also state that “the course for an Olympic format cross-country event should use an attractive lay-out ideally in a cloverleaf design, to encourage easy viewing for spectators and any television coverage.”

Some purists would say that this takes away from the course design in certain ways – of course, there are always certain elements of downhill mountain bike tracks that can’t be seen by the cameras, but no matter what your stance, it does make for a better audience viewing.

A few other specific details from the UCI’s enthralling document of rules for Olympic Cross Country Mountain biking:

  • The organiser must make the courses available and fully marked for training at least 48 hours before the start of the first race.
  • Double feed/technical assistance zones are “strongly recommended” and the course must be marked every kilometre by a sign indicating the distance remaining to the finish line.
  • The course must be marked out using stakes or banners and protected for its entire length.
  • The starting zone for the mass-start must be at least six metres wide for at least 50m before the start line and at least metres wide for at least 100m after the start line.

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