Cross country racing has endured some very bad press over the years, mainly due to the frequently expressed stereotype of XC riders as repressed metro-sexual, super arrogant foreigners who're obsessed with shaving their legs and wearing Lycra.
Yet despite this media assault, XC has been getting more and more popular every year. Riders talk of great atmosphere, great facilities and a competitive thrill you just don't get at enduros. Word on the trail is there's never been a better time to take up XC. So we decided to examine the factors that have led to this change in MTB consciousness.
The Enduro Factor:XC races are now part of the enduro weekend at NPS level, with XC on Saturday and an enduro on Sunday. Many thought enduro events would kill XC, but it seems, after cutting their teeth in enduros, riders want more recognition and a taste of competition so they graduate to XC. As SXC's Helen Findlay puts it, "I won the Selkirk 100km last year and all I got was a pair of socks."
The Trek Factor: "Without Trek pouring money into the National Points Series, there wouldn't be a National Series," says MTB journalist Luke Webber. More money means better facilities and prize money. Pro riders are drawn to higher status races. Non-pros are drawn to the party atmosphere and free showers.
The Kid Factor: People like their kids to be doing things that are active. Many XC events host races for kids as well as adults and these can be very competitive. This way whole families can enjoy the sport and get their children addicted to the kind of buzz that doesn't involve visiting dealers.
The Oli & Liam Factor:Liam Killeen's 2006 Commonwealth Games Gold medal win and Oli Beckingsale's consistent form over the last 10 years can only bolster the image of XC in this country. Our XC women riders aren't bad either, and Jenny Copnall does a great job of flying the flag nationally.
The Stealth Lycra Factor:Lycra is more flattering these days, with stealth Lycra often built into more cool baggy shorts and the garish colours of the mid-'90s have been replaced with more tasteful designs.
So, if DH is an extreme sport more like snowboarding than recreational MTB, and enduros are about competing against yourself, XC is the ultimate test of riding skill, resolve and physical fi tness. There is nowhere to hide on XC circuits and it's all about competing against other people. If you really want to fi nd out who you are race XC.
Our Justin's XC race tips
1. Double check you've got all your kit: Before you leave the house. You wouldn't believe how often people arrive at races and realise they've only got one shoe.
2. Take two sets of riding clothes: First so there's less chance of forgetting something and second so that you can check out the course before you race and still start clean and fresh.
3. Take warm post-ride clothes: You can get very cold after you fi nish a race.
4. Post race food: It's very important to recover all the energy you've used up.
5. Good, light tools: Last but not least, make triple sure you have tools and a pump.
FROM THE HORSES' MOUTHS
Luke Webber - WMB writer and and reporter for www.xcracer.com
"There was a huge marketing drive by the MTB press saying that XC riders were a bunch of cowardly fops and the central message was 'go get yourself a full suss and ride downhill or freeride'. I hope that's starting to change now."
Rob Lee - XC and endurance rider "XC is a lot more accessible to the average fi rst timer, add to that the fact that the media is realising that XC is here to stay, and wasn't ever actually dead, and growth is inevitable." www.extreme-endurance.com
Martyn Salt - runs the National Points XC Series "We have seen a 15% rise in people racing each year for the last three years. Most people have an urge to compete at some point in their lives so it's a natural progression from just riding your bike in a Merida marathon to actual XC racing."