Friends and family of mountain bike racers will attest to the boredom that comes right after the start of a cross-country (XC) mountain bike race. Once the mass-start roars by and all the riders disappear into the tree line, the only thing left to do is sit and wait — sometimes over an hour — before the bib number you are waiting for makes a quick appearance.
Then its back to reading that book or chasing that butterfly for another hour before they return again.
For a spectator, this is yawn city! To make matters worse, most race promoters use low tech timing gear (e.g. stop watches, clip boards, and bib number hand-tracking) which means you will most likely have no clue where your rider is until after the results come out long after the race is over.
If only there was a mountain bike racing format that catered to spectators too.
Enter Short Track Cross-Country (STXC) Racing!
This very short XC style event takes a course roughly 1- to 1.5-miles and creates a short, sharply exciting event that is designed to be spectator friendly from the ground up.
Sometimes raced on trails only a little wider than the usual single-track mountain bike trails, short track mountain bike racing combines elements of a road criterium, cyclo-cross (without dismounts), and BMX, with riders returning to the start/finish line in 1- to 3-minute intervals.
This not only keeps the pace red-lined during the entire event, but keeps the crowd excited as they see the race unfold before them.
The excitement is additionally primed by the understanding that the pack leading the race is truly the front runners, making Short Track XC easy to understand, simple to follow, and continuously entertaining.
XC mountain bike riders are also challenged with Short Track XC courses.
Most find riders find themselves testing their speed skills against peers in this elbow-to-elbow slug match that often consists of multi-heat, anaerobic throw downs.
Not unlike MTB Enduro-style events, Short Track XC can include either dual heat formats, endurance grinders over as much as 60-minutes, or power laps that include 15-20 laps during a single race.
Additionally, because STXC is so quick, races can be run back-to-back without little down time, keeping the audience entertained for hours; and a happy audience is an audience that will stick around for awards, stay for other events, and even spend some money at vendor tents.
All things race directors like to see.
In an age where every dollar counts, race directors owe it to themselves to consider including Short Track XC onto their race calendar.
The short courses, quick turn-around times, and spectator friendly format provides all the ingredients needed for a festival-like atmosphere.
Which is exactly what any race director worth his or her salt is looking for in a successful event.
Spectators might come to cheer only their one racer, but if you can get them to stay to cheer on the other racers too, then you just might create that experience that keeps them coming back again and again.
And who knows?
A Short Track XC course just might be that special something that makes both your racers and spectators try your events more than once.