What is the difference between cross country and marathon mountain bike racing?

What is the difference between cross country and marathon mountain bike racing?

On this edition of the Ask Coach Parry Cycling podcast we look into the difference between cross country cycling and multi-stage or ultra marathon type of riding.  Our cycling coach Devlin Eyden, explains how one should approach the different types of rides and why it is important to stick to one or the other.

What are you training for?

Simply click on any of the images below to access our cycling training programmes.


David Katz:          You’re listening to the Ask Coach Parry Cycling podcast, I’m Mr Active, David Katz, joined once again by Devlin Eyden and we’re looking into the mountain biking space today and the Olympic distance. Again, Olympics is the theme, we talked about it in the last podcast, well we touched on it in the last podcast, but the cross country event will be coming right at the end of the Olympics, we’ve got a few riders there, including James Reid, the South African champion, but the one thing I wanted to ask because I’ve heard of this in the circles of guys who used to race cross country. Some of the older guys and age groupers and they’re not doing it now because a lot of the guys are saying that cross country is becoming too technical and it’s thus limiting the numbers who are able to and willing to participate. Do you see it going this way Devlin?

Devlin Eyden:      To be honest, again, it’s probably going to come down to a personal preference, but as far as I’m concerned, the short answer is no. I don’t think it’s become too technical in the sense of cross country has always been known for short, sharp technical riding. The guys are typically riding anything from 4-6km loops and the pros at the top level are doing 8 laps of that.

As a rider decide what you want to do with your bike rides

It is a short, sharp event, but it’s technical because that’s what the riders at that level are wanting. I think more importantly, we need to decide as a rider, what do you want to do? Do you want to focus on being a cross country rider or do you want to focus on being a marathon and a multi-stage and ultra marathon type of rider.

The problem that comes into place though is there is a lot, especially in South Africa now, there are a lot of stage races that have popped up. You can do a stage race every month, going on to a couple every month and a lot of marathons and ultra marathon series as well. While this is brilliant for the sport, it then becomes a thing where if you’re riding marathons and ultra marathon type events, your conditioning for a cross country type event is out the window because now you’re sitting for longer periods of time at a slightly lower intensity and a lot of these rides are also open district roads with a bit of single track and that sort of thing there.

You then start losing the confidence, losing the skill, losing the conditioning for cross country type riding. If you want to do cross country, it’s there to be technical. It’s there to be short and sharp and on the rivet, high intensity the whole time around. I don’t think it’s necessarily becoming too technical, I think the course designers are trying to keep the guys that are riding and at the top end of the field, they’re trying to keep them happy. The riders are wanting something more technical, they’re wanting more climbing, they’re wanting more of a challenge. Understand the difference between the two types of events and then focus, if you want to be a cross country rider, I think focus on being a cross country rider.

Cross country cycling is short, sharp and high intensity

Obviously the endurance and the ultra marathon type events will always help to a degree from a conditioning point of view, but I still feel that you’re getting a very different kind of conditioning in. It’s important to decide which one you prefer and which one you fit into and train according to that.

DK:         Devlin, just a quick add on there, before I let you go. Looking at younger riders coming through, we always talk about, in this country with marathon stage racing being so big that we’re losing youngsters to cross country, but it’s an important learning ground for technical skills isn’t it?

DE:         It is, without a doubt. One thing that does impress me is there’s a lot more cross country type events happening and a lot more circuit events that are around on the race calendar as well. I’m seeing it more and more in various cities that they are bringing in more cross country racing and I think that’s only good for the sport and only good for keeping the youngsters in the game.

DK:         It really is and only good for letting our South Africans get more of a chance overseas because it really is hard to go compete with the Europeans who often live, sleep and eat cross country racing.

Devlin, thanks very much once again for your time. If you want to find out more about Devlin Eyden’s coaching and how he can help you, just go to coachparry.com and click on ‘coaching,’ there’s lots of lessons to be learnt about cross country, lots of technique, you can learn a few things from Devlin.

From myself, Mr Active, David Katz and Devlin Eyden, we’ll catch up with you next time on the Ask Coach Parry Cycling podcast.

Subscribe to RIDE with Coach Parry

Subscribe on iTunes
Download via RSS