Why the XC Eliminator is Bad for Mountain Biking

Pavement-heavy courses and lame ‘obstacles’ disgrace our dirt-driven sport.


Highway to Hell: The cathedral backdrop might be stunning, but the ‘downhill’ section of this course wasn’t the answer to our prayers.

Story by Brice Minnigh
Captions by The Commissariat
Photos by Marius Maasewerd

News flash to the Union Cycliste Internationale, our sport’s so-called ‘governing body’: Mountain biking takes place in the dirt. Preferably in mountains—or at least through some hills or rolling terrain. But, without question, we ride in the dirt.

We only ride mountain bikes on pavement when we are trying to get to and from the trailhead—or perhaps occasionally when we must resort to a paved road in order to link up various segments of singletrack. But we do not put fat tires with knobby treads on our bikes because we are going out to shred a bunch of asphalt.

For this reason alone, we at Bike magazine have been horrified to see that the courses for the new World Cup XC Eliminator—the UCI’s new short-course cross-country format—have been so, ummm, ridiculous. Not only have two of the series’ three races taken place almost exclusively on pavement, they have been fundamentally unchallenging from a technical point of view. When watching the last two XC Eliminators, our mouths have simply been agape.

Some of the most astonishing examples of the lameness are:

Laughable little concrete stair obstacles? C’mon, our sweet grandmothers would roll their cruisers down those without a second thought. Napoleon Dynamite could send it straight off them, land to flat and then legitimately say he got, like, three feet of air.

Four-inch log drops? WTF? Mark Weir’s kid is already hucking off bigger stuff than that—and he’s only a couple of years old. Honestly, those tiny log-overs would only make for cool features if they were on a climb—a climb in the dirt.

Wood chips? We would only find ourselves in a pile of wood chips if we were poaching the local kids’ park after a late-night bender….

I mean, we all love quaint European villages, and would love to ride our street bikes through them—with a tall can in one hand and our ladies by our sides, on our way to the local pub. Then again, this has absolutely nothing to do with mountain biking.

But don’t take our word for it. Take the word of Brian Lopes, who has won more World Cup mountain bike events than any male mountain biker in history—and who, by the way, podiumed in two of the XC Eliminator series’ three races.

“I prefer to race in the dirt. Isn’t that mountain biking?” Lopes told Bike shortly after taking third place in today’s XC Eliminator, the last one of the season. “The course in the Czech Republic I thought was horrible. There was one corner that you actually had to set up for and have a little skill to go around. Other than that, there wasn’t a corner on the course that you couldn’t pedal around. And the one bit of dirt lasted about five seconds and was far from technical.

“I think the UCI still has work to do if they want this discipline to take off and be taken seriously—starting with having some sort of fair, proper start gate.”

Like Lopes, we at Bike had high hopes for the World Cup XC Eliminator series. We had hoped it would help put mountain biking back in the limelight with a spectator-friendly short-course race. But instead it has misrepresented our sport as some sort of road-based sideshow.


This is not exactly our idea of a rock garden. It belongs more in a Japanese Zen garden than on a mountain-bike racecourse.


After the finals, they might as well have had the kids’ Strider race on this section.


How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck were Brian Lopes?


Cornering 101 for roadies.


Bridge to more pavement—unfortunately, it does not lead to any sweet singletrack in the forest beyond….


Easy boys—don’t want to get those shiny bikes dirty!


Seriously, this was the only patch of dirt on today’s course—there goes the damage deposit!


Brian should be ‘Flyin’—not simply riding down a little flight of stairs.


The XC Eliminator could have so much potential—if beyond the start gate was a rippin’ section of technical singletrack….

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Add a Comment

  • Trey Clay

    I totally agree! These athletes are world-class. UCI needs to provide a “world-class” challenging course on dirt!

  • Kevin English

    Stupid as he’ll!

  • http://mrpbike.com Noah Sears

    Horrible. I couldn’t believe what my poor eyes were seeing. Are they gonna move downhill to snow next? Seriously, much respect to the the riders, but those courses DO NOT SHOW what they are capable of. At least throw in a jump over a crocodile pit or something. XC eliminator should not be summer cyclocross. As I watched the first round I thought “okay, this one was kinda whack, but they’ll get better” – no, a concrete no. The second round looked like a fat-tire crit and this circus spectacle (minus the elephants and “little people”) today was a terrible joke. Hey UCI, want another viral video like Danny’s run in Champery? Don’t pull this garbage. But I concede that Rob Warner’s commentary during this race would likely have me puking my esophagus up from laughing. Unimpressed and amused only due to disgust. Let’s see a race format that shows Anneke and Brian’s ungodly skills – oh wait, they call that an Enduro race.

  • Albe23

    Looks like a cyclocross bike would’ve been better suited for that track. It really is saddening to see the UCI throw our sport under the bus like this.

  • Mikey

    Let’s see a race format that shows Anneke and Brian’s ungodly skills – oh wait, they call that an Enduro race.????????

    Really? the race format that shows the 4X world champions skills is 4X!

  • Bill Ridley

    No one complained about the fat tyre crit at the Cactus Cup way back when! Or the one at Napa World Cup when Cadel broke his collarbone hopping half a wine barrel! I agree that courses need to be in the dirt and technical to make for a spectacle, but then a lot of riders whose season is built around the XCO will probably bail in fear of injury. So that would leave the us back with a gate start and a field comprising mostly former BMX riders. For better or worse it looks like the UCI want a showpiece display in the towns connected to the venue and the real spectacle to happen in the XC, where, IMO, it should. (And so far this season, has)
    In the Europe there is now the Pro4X Tour that rose from the ashes of the UCI 4X. Maybe a separate XCE not connected in any way to the UCI events, and where the course can be designed to suit the demands of riders and fans alike. Sounds like a lot of hard work…

  • Earl

    One word. Lame.

  • B Pelkie

    Who made UCI in charge in the first place?

  • http://www.cvmtb.com Skifreak

    Years ago in Vail, the XC race course dropped into the village for parts of a lap, gave some great spectator opportunities, but ultimately sent the riders back up onto the mountain.

    The urban DH races at least have some solid technical jumps and some skill required…

    I guess this is why the best races in the world are not UCI races :)

  • KT

    Seriously? Last time I checked we had knobby tires for a reason, and it wasn’t to ride on pavement. What a stupid addition to the world cup, it shows the world that riders would rather ride their bikes on pavement instead off dirt. Might as well ride a cyclocross bike. This honestly doesn’t show of the skills mountain bikers like Brain Lopes have. UCI is being a terrible advocate for our sport and why we love it.

  • Manuel Weber

    You have got to be kidding me?! UCI is really spoiling the sport for us all. It proves also that people like Lopes are in this more for the money/credits than for the love of it. Sad, very sad

  • Bill Ridley

    Why do we need this anyway? Why did we need 4x anyway. What has 4x got to do with mountain biking? It is a showpiece to fill time and the format is slooooow. Anything with an uplift is destined to be slooow. At least BMX motors are non stop. I don’t think we need another rainbow jersey event at the world cups , and if this is designed to be an Olympic entry somewhere down the line then good luck to it. I’ll be watching the ping pong…..

  • http://www.groovalizacion.com Kiko

    Completely agree with this article.
    Last night, I saw this video interview with Brian Lopes and he nailed it on the subject. Check it out (Around 3:30)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zk4pfPE-so

  • ATXMTB’r

    Meh, It just needs a little work, I do like the sport of it but all the pavement riding needs to be changed around a bit. Better then watching 4x.

  • Dickie Trent

    Ridiculous.

    So why doesn’t somebody just race it on a cyclocross bike and smash the competition, then the UCI would have to re-think this poor excuse for a mountain bike event. On that note, it makes me laugh that all of the races are still using suspension forks while racing on pavement.

    Unfortunately, I have found the same problem with XC events everywhere. Fire roads, double track, pavement, do not belong in mountain biking. One word. Singletrack. I just did a race in Fruita, where over half of the course was fire road. This, in a place with more singletrack than one can ride in a month. Where is our sport going?

  • matt bodkin

    everyone is completely missing the point. this was never meant to take place in the dirt. it was meant as an exciting, head to head, sprint type race that could spice up a worldcup weekend and wasn’t so taxing that racers couldn’t recover before sundays big event ( it is a prerequisite that racers doing the eliminator MUST be registered for sundays xc). it is meant as a crit type course with a mix of surfaces, corners, obstacles etc.- those that have been around the sport for oveer 20 years know that 4x rose from the dual slalom discipline- ds back in the day was a boring course down a ski run with gates and no berms- point is 4x grew to be one of the most exciting gravity disciplines out there- but at first it was boring as hell
    it was also meant to be a low budget course not requiring big bucks to shape, create etc. ( those in the know realise that 4x, at the world cup level ,was jettisoned because the courses were extremely expensive to build and the small numbers of competitors racing at this level could not justify the course cost- btw eliminator did not replace 4x as some would lead you to believe)

    as far as quoting lopes- that little bitch wouldn’t even show up to the podium to receive his due and respect the athletes who finished in front of him- and then he gets all aggro with the cameraman who zooms in on him in an attempt to figure out why he wouldn’t show some respect. the sport doesn’t need a classless wanker like him anyways

  • chance

    @ATXMTB’r – “Better then watching 4x.” are you out of your mind? this is super boring compaired to graves on a 4x track!

  • Christiaan Hulleman

    I thought the first round was acceptable though still nothing compared to 4X. I did not realise it was only going to get worse with the next two tracks. The 2nd round had 1 ditch that was a little technical for the rest boring and the final round was even worse.

    I get that XC guys don’t want to risk sending 6 meter gaps the day before the XCO. If you look at the PMB XC course it seems that XC riders have enough skills to ride serious rock gardens. So there certainly is a balance to be found where more technical skills are required. I’m a downhiller but I can see how technical climbs should also be a part of this discipline.

  • Max Broman

    It’s like those super sweet DH races that happen in South America and such regularly. But for wimps. I’d ride that in a road bike. Save biking on pavement for bikes made for it. Next thing we know, people are gonma be racing dirtbikes down sidewalks. This is bull.

  • DF in OC

    I think Lopes is laughing in that woodchuck pic.

  • VRC

    Good article. Couldn’t agree more. There is definitely a way to make it exciting for fans and challenging for racers. Above all else, keep it on dirt.

  • http://www.striderbikes.com Strider Joel

    STRIDER employees are avid Mountain Bikers and we also think this is a sham. Love the call out to the STRIDER races, but have to say that this course doesn’t even look challenging for most of the little riders we have coming out to the Strider Cup races.

    Stride On,

    Joel

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