Here-in this page are posts that are relevant to avid mountain bikers and cyclists in general.
Within the sport of mountain biking there are several established disciplines: XCO and short-track, marathon (50-100 miles), 24 hour racing (yes 24 hours straight), downhill, and super-D. The mountain bike racing season ranges from March through Sept/Oct.
XCO: is the acronym for “cross-country olympic distance mountain bike racing” in case you were wondering. In XCO racing, UCI rules state that lap distance must be 4 to 6km (2.5 to 3.7mi) long and number of laps range from 5 to 6 typically. I primarily train for and compete in XC races. The actual course distance and laps vary by course and whether it’s UCI sanctioned or not. Courses generally have a combination of double & single-track, rock gardens, some small drops, and lots of climbing and descending. Racers need to have extremely good bike handling skills, quick reflexes, total body muscular strength, and most importantly a big aerobic engine. Race series I typically participate in are: US PRO XCT, Mountain States Cup, Mid-Atlantic Super Series.
Short-track: is 20-30 minutes of intense pain. The course is only about a 3/4 mile so you’ll do around 15-25 laps. The course is a combination of double-track, single-track, grass fields, tight corners, berms, …and is very fast and very hard.
Marathon: is cross-country style but much longer. Anything beyond 50 miles is considered marathon distance. Races may begin at ski resorts but then head out into the backcountry, such as the Firecracker 50. Other annual big marathon distance races are: Leadville 50 and 100, Laramie Enduro.
24 Hour Racing: Just like the name says you race from 12 noon on Saturday and don’t finish until 12 noon on Sunday. The 24 Hour National Mountain Bike Race Series has options: you can race on a relay team of 4 or 5 people, as a 2-person duo team, or solo. I have special admiration for those who do this solo. Training for marathon and 24 racing requires a much bigger emphasis on low intensity long duration rides than training for XC and Short-track.
Downhill (DH): Similar to alpine skiing the goal is to get from the top to the bottom as fast as possible. Racers bomb down single track, steep rock gardens, jumps, drops…at terminal velocity a race may take between 2-5min. DH requires superior bike handling skills, quick reflexes, total body strength, and a mix of anaerobic and aerobic fitness. The bikes are heavier, fatter tires, burly forks and frames, and more shock travel than XC bikes, they are so bouncy and heavy you can’t ride them very well uphill. This is the sport where you need to be equipped with body armor and full-face helmet.
Super-D: A combination of downhill and XC. You start at the top of the mountain and race down but sometimes you have to go uphill so you still need to be on a XC or all-mountain bike. Though not DH racing, it still a good idea to race with a full-face helmet.
To learn more about each discipline and the rules go to USA Cycling and Union Cycliste International.