Understanding the Physiological Requirements of the Mountain Bike Cross-Country Olympic Race Format

  • Hays Arnaud
  • Devys Simon
  • Bertin Denis
  • Marquet Laurie-Anne
  • Brisswalter Jeanick

  • Performance monitoring
  • Acyclical
  • Power output
  • Heart rate
  • XCO mountain bike
  • Off-road cycling
  • Maximal oxygen uptake


Objectives: To evaluate the physiological requirements imposed by the current mountain biking Cross-Country Olympic (XCO) format. Methods: Sixteen Cross-Country cyclists competing at national or international level participated in this study. All participants completed a simulated and a real official race on a cycling-accredited race track. Oxygen consumption ((V) over dotO(2)) and heart rate (HR) values expressed as %(V) over dotO(2max) and %HRmax, respectively, were divided into three physiological intensity zones. The first zone (Z1) was the physiological region below VT1, the second zone (Z2) corresponded to a region between VT1 and VT2, and the third zone (Z3) was located between VT2 and VO2max . For power output, an additional fourth zone was considered above maximal aerobic power (MAP). Results: When competing in the current XCO format, 37.0 +/- 17.9% of the race is performed above the second ventilatory threshold at a mean intensity of 87% (V) over dotO(2max) and 25% of the race was spent above MAP. This contribution varied between laps, with a very high intensity during the first lap and more aerobic subsequent laps. The durations of most of the periods beyond MAP oscillated between 5 and 30 s. Between these short, repeated bursts, low-intensity periods of exercise were recorded. Conclusion: The current XCO race format is an acyclical and intermittent exercise comparable to high-intensity team sports. Moreover, our results highlight the relevance of (V) over dotO(2) values when analyzing XCO performance, they should be combined with commonly used HR and/or power output data.