There’s something about attaching that race number on the front of your bike after an extended break that’s like nothing else. The struggle of the zip ties and whether to put the number under or over the cables. Deciding which way is more aero or which makes you look more pro. Ahhhh, bliss! Not because of any pedantic fixation with neatness, but because it marks the start of the cross-eyed inducing race season. For some the season can be all-or-nothing and for others a stepping stone to further endeavours.  

The Australian XC scene involves a lot of riders with overlapping priorities, which can leave you pulling your hair out trying to predict the winner of any specific race. For some people the national series is the pinnacle of their year and is what much of their training is based around. Then there’s the longer distance specialists who look to the series as a good boost to their race speed leading into their marathon series races and stand alone events – but don’t think they are going leisurely and won’t tear their rivals’ legs off! Then you have those few intrepid travellers who are looking further abroad for their peak racing fix and use the series as a bit of pre-season training or a UCI points scavenger hunt. 

It can be a little odd, as an Australian, to prioritise racing in a faraway land over your own country’s national series. It can also be a tad frustrating to be able to truly show your best form to a home crowd of people who know your name and not just your race number. Obviously, racing in Europe is a rip-snorting adventure but it requires a razor-sharp racing edge to perform. And I don’t mean to perform just at a World Cup. I mean any race! Even the smallest national round will probably have a handful of the world’s top 10 riders in attendance.

Obviously, racing in Europe is a rip-snorting adventure but it requires a razor-sharp racing edge to perform. And I don’t mean to perform just at a World Cup. I mean any race! 

To go with those few top 10 riders are another 30 trying to make it big and all ‘winter’, when our national series is on, they have been sharpening their swords. Either by battling the elements or jetting off to Majorca or South Africa to get in base miles, hard intervals and probably a sun tan. This is a key reason that a few Australian riders prioritise the European campaign sometimes to the detriment of their Australian season. If they were to race hard and be sharp for the Aussie season, it would add two, maybe three months, to an already long and arduous season that they need to be ready for. Setting them up to be at a disadvantage to the well-oiled and fresh machines frequenting the Euro circuit.  

Of course, the top riders are going to be the top riders but it does account for some of the variance seen, especially between early season races in January and the Championship events of March and then overseas. Another European influence on the Australian mountain biking scene is the technicality of our XCO race tracks. Both Armidale and Bairnsdale courses saw technical sections that rivalled many around the world and gone are the days when it was only Mt Stromlo and the Hammerhead that required riders to get off and scout lines in practice. This has been a welcome sight for the progression of Australian riders, especially for juniors.

The junior races at the national series have been another major talking point and a highlight - with each race boasting exceptionally large fields and then hotly contested. So much so that the top juniors are putting down lap times that have been faster than the elites! This is extremely promising, even if they do one or two laps less than the elites, as being able to put together a fast lap with good power and speed through the technical sections is not easy. It will be exciting to see what they can achieve at the home World Championships in September.

Whether it’s a priority or not or whether you’re the sharpest blade in the shed, XC racing is tough. Your legs hurt, your arms hurt, your pinkie fingers hurt, and it’s addictive. I’m convinced it even comes with its own set of withdrawal symptoms! Even though you beg for the pain to end, all you want to do when it does finish is jump straight back in. So - whatever your priorities are - sign up, line up bar-to-bar, clip in and rip! Apart from eating Toblerone, it will probably be the best thing you ever do!