Olympic mountain bike cycling at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

How will mountain biking work at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021? What is the history of XCO MTB at the Olympics? Here are five things you need to know.
By ZK Goh

The sport of cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 will be split into five disciplines, one of which is mountain biking.

Olympic mountain bike, also known as cross-country Olympic (XCO) mountain biking (MTB), will make its seventh appearance on the Games programme in 2021.

But who are the stars of the sport and where and when will the Olympic competition take place? Find out the top things to know about Olympic mountain bike.

Top Olympic mountain bikers at Tokyo 2020

The hot favourite in the women’s race is France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, a three-time world champion in XCO (she has also won five other world titles – three in cross-country team relay, one in marathon mountain bike, and one on the road).

Ferrand-Prévot, who could also compete in the women’s road race, is likely to face competition from two-time world bronze medallist Rebecca Henderson of Australia and Canada’s Emily Batty, who was fourth at Rio 2016.

Kate Courtney, the 2018 world champion, could be in the mix too.

On the men’s side, veteran Nino Schurter of Switzerland is aiming to win a fourth medal in a row, after bronze at Beijing 2008, silver at London 2012 and gold in Rio.

His team-mate Mathias Flückiger, a two-time world championship silver medallist, should not be discounted either, while France's Jordan Sarrou is the men's current world champion.

Olympic mountain bike competition format at Tokyo 2020

Both men's and women's events will be held as mass-start races over a set number of laps around the 4.1-km Izu Mountain Bike Course. The first cyclist across the line wins gold.

There is a vertical gain of 150 metres on each lap, with the course designed to be one of the toughest seen in Olympic history.

Olympic mountain bike schedule at Tokyo 2020

The men’s MTB race takes place on 26 July 2021, with the women’s race a day later.

Times are Japan Standard Time (UTC +9 hours)

Mon 26 July 2021, 15:00 - 17:00

  • Men's Cross-country
  • Men's Cross-country Victory Ceremony

Tue 27 July 2021, 15:00 - 17:00

  • Women's Cross-country
  • Women's Cross-country Victory Ceremony

Olympic mountain bike venue at Tokyo 2020

Mountain biking will take place outside of Tokyo, being held at a course in Izu, around 120 kilometres (75 miles) away from the capital.

It is not the only cycling discipline that will be hosted in that city; track cycling will also be held in Izu.

Olympic mountain bike history

Mountain bike has only been on the Games programme since Atlanta 1996, with both men’s and women’s races making their debut in the southern U.S. city.

Every male Olympic champion has won multiple medals in the discipline. In addition to Schurter, there have been Julien Absalon, a double Olympic champ from 2004 and 2008 and Ferrand-Prévot’s partner; his countryman Miguel Martinez – bronze in 1996 and gold in 2000; Netherlands’ Bart Brentjens, the first men’s Olympic champion and bronze medallist in Athens, and Jaroslav Kulhavy, the Czech champion in London who won silver in 2016.

Paola Pezzo of Italy, the inaugural women’s champion, successfully defended her title four years later in Sydney and is the only repeat women’s Olympic champion. The most-medalled female racer is Germany’s Sabine Spitz, who won bronze in 2004, was Olympic champion in Beijing, and took silver in London.