What is XCC, and why is it important?

Jul 3, 2019, 10:22 AM

Cross-country  Short Track (XCC) is an exciting and relatively new format of cross-country (XC) which, since its inception early in 2018, has played an important part in the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. With the same world-class field as the headline cross-country Olympic (XCO) race, it’s a high-tempo blast that’s fierce for riders, fun for spectators and undoubtedly TV-friendly, as demonstrated by impressive viewing figures for Red Bull TV’s live coverage.

At each UCI World Cup fixture, ahead of the XCO competions, the 20-minute XCC race is battled over courses that range between 1km to 1.5km long – so around two to three minutes per lap – and typically use the XCO start/finish straight.

In the Men and Women Elite, the top 24 finishers in XCC are placed in the three front rows of the XCO race - a significant advantage in mass-start racing - and the top 40 receive World Cup points: 125 for first, 100 for second, 80 for third and so on.

XCC replaced the cross-country Eliminator (XCE), which was originally brought in at the competing teams’ request to have an additional event running over every UCI World Cup weekend. XCE now has its own stand-alone UCI World Cup series.

Details of the new XCC format such as track length and the weighing of points between XCC and XCO were discussed with the managers of the UCI Elite MTB Teams while the structure of the new short-course competition was being formulated.

XCC certainly takes up the mantle from the Eliminator. Its integration into the overall World Cup is two-fold; with the awarding points, and with the result determining the start order for the following XCO race. This means that XCC immediately enjoyed a very high take-up by the best riders, making it extremely popular with fans.

So how did short-course racing set the tone in 2018 and how is 2019 matching up so far?

The opening round of the 2018 Mercedes-Benz Mountain Bike World Cup in Stellenbosch, South Africa, did not feature the new XCC. However, the following two rounds perfectly mirrored the opening two rounds of 2019: Albstadt, Germany followed a week later by Nové Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.

2018’s Albstadt XCC events were won by Mathieu Van der Poel (NED) and Annika Langvad (DEN): the Men Elite podium was rounded out by New Zealand’s Sam Gaze and Switzerland’s Mathias Flückiger and the Women Elite by Swiss riders Jolanda Neff and Linda Indergand.

The fresh format started to mix things up immediately. Multiple UCI World Champion Nino Schurter (SUI) suffered an early mechanical and could not finish, making him the biggest name not to join the front rows of the XCO finals… he was forced to fight through the field to take the XCO victory.

Then in Round 2 at Nové Mesto the winners were Gaze and, again, Langvad. The Men and Women Elite’s top-three were completed by Van der Poel and Schurter, and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA) and Neff respectively.

The picture was familiar yet different in the opening two weekends of the 2019 campaign with Van der Poel again victorious in Germany (Switzerland’s Lars Forster taking second and Schurter third). But in the Women Elite race it was a new face on the top step, the young American Kate Courtney (from Neff and fellow Swiss athlete Kathrin Stirnemann).

Then in Nové Mesto Van der Poel struck again – closely followed by Maxime Marotte (FRA) and Henrique Avancini (BRA). And it was another new face in the Women Elite: American Chloe Woodruff taking the points ahead of Great Britain’s Annie Last and Neff.

In each of this year’s opening two fixtures we’ve already seen an XCC winner go on to win the same event’s XCO race: 23-year-old Courtney in Germany and 24-year-old Van der Poel in the Czech Republic. That feat was only achieved once in 2018: by Langvad, also in Nové Mesto. It suggests how closely the performances in the two different formats now map on to each other.

Throughout 2018, we saw XCC wins for four Elite Men: Van de Poel (2), Gaze (2), Schurter (1), and Avancini (1). Of them, only the imperious Schurter won XCO races (4), with Italian Gerhard Kerschbaumer and Flückiger taking the others – both having podiumed in XCC but not claiming the top step.

In the Women’s competition, Langvad dominated with five XCC wins, only Switzerland’s Alessandra Keller upsetting the sequence in Andorra. But the Women’s XCO victories were shared around more: Neff (3), and one each for Langvad, Maja Włoszczowska (POL) and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå (NOR).

2019 has seven races compared to 2018’s six, but how many different XCC winners will we see? Can Van der Poel and Courtney’s early form carry through the campaign? And besides the qualification for XCO starting positions, if the season remains tight, how much difference to the overall tally will XCC points make?

It’s tough to predict and will be fascinating to watch how the drama continues to unfold at Vallnord - Pal Arinsal (AND), Les Gets (FRA), Val di Sole – Trentino (ITA), Lenzerheide (SUI), and Snowshoe (USA). It’s also exciting to see how the short-course format delivers on attracting new viewers, trackside, on TV and online.