photo by Keri Kahn courtesy USACycling.org.
The USA Cycling National Mountain Biking Championships were held a couple weeks ago at SolVista resort near Granby, CO and the headlines that followed in local newspapers around the country say it all: “Garage Door Technician Wins National Downhill Championship,” and “Essex County Mom Wins National Mountain Biking Competition.” If you weren’t a mountain biker you might get the idea that the competition isn’t very serious (it is) or that there’s a single national champ for each event (there isn’t). Either way, the USA Cycling National MTB Championships are fairly unique in that almost anyone has a chance to stand on the podium. Here’s a look at what it takes to be crowned an MTB National Champ.
For most races at the MTB Nationals, riders must qualify before lining up at the start. There are essentially 7 qualifying event types held throughout the year including state championships where the top riders from each event/category/class get a spot. Short track XC, single speed XC, and super D competitors are not required to qualify – just show up and at the end of the week you might be crowned best in the nation!
Single Race Determines the Winner
The MTB Nationals are not part of a point series so whoever crosses the line first during the race is crowned the National Champ. Some events like 4-cross and short track may hold qualifying heats while others like XC go off in a single race. Of course this single event, all or nothing format can cause some riders to make risky decisions as this article about the SolVista bike patrol point out. The format also doesn’t account for individual riders’ schedules, illness, mechanical failures, etc. so the season’s strongest riders may not always be represented on the podium.
This is where the racing and titles get complicated and it shows how an amateur rider like the mom from New Jersey can be crowned national champion. Like most races, there are age group categories in each event, some with as many as 7 age groups not including masters and juniors.
Beyond age group categories there are also classes based on rider ability. Serious racers are probably already familiar with the classes (PRO, I, II, and III) and each class typically has its own race with appropriate course lengths and difficulty. So the mom from New Jersey is actually the “Women’s Cat III 30-39 Cross Country National Champion” which doesn’t really lend itself to a reasonable headline. The garage door tech actually gets a slightly more impressive title: “Men’s Cat I 25-29 Downhill National Champion.”
Of course there have been and always will be complaints about how USA Cycling crowns its champs so it’s helpful to at least understand the pros and cons of the current system. Start training now and you should have a decent shot at lining up at the Nationals next year!