Everything you need to know about the Olympics XCO – when it's on, how to watch, who's racing (including Team GB' Tom Pidcock), the rules, and course preview

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The Paris Olympics is less than three weeks away, with the mountain bike cross country racing taking place on the 28 and 29 of July. Here’s our run down of the Elancourt Hill course, the Team GB riders taking part, where and when to watch the action and crucially, whether Tom Pidcock can win Gold again.

Need to know

Evie Richards won gold at the XCO 2021 Worlds, proving she’s got the talent to win Olympic gold too

Team GB men’s and women’s riders

Riders taking part in the cross country represent their nation states rather than the XC race teams that pay their salaries at the World Cup. That means you’ll see the likes of Tom Pidcock in a white jersey instead of Ineos red and blue. (Tom and Evie Richards will probably still wear their Red Bull helmets though.)

More importantly though, it limits the number of riders at the XC to just 36 men and 36 women, (there are 40 at a World Cup) and for the first time Team GB has earnt the maximum four rider places.

Competing for Team GB in the women’s mountain biking will be Ella Maclean-Howell and Evie Richards, while Charlie Aldridge and Tom Pidcock will race the men’s event.

Tom Pidcock has won the Nove Mesto World Cup four years on the trot

Can Evie and Tom win gold?

Nino Schurter is currently ranked favourite for the men’s gold, but honestly our money’s on Tom Pidcock. Yes Nino’s got a wealth of winning experience between the tape, but Pidcock won gold just three years ago at the 2020 Olympics (postponed until 2021), and he smashed the XC field apart at the World Cup this year, and just won the Nove Mesto World Cup.

Just before the Tokyo games Pidcock correctly predicted winning gold, telling me “I’m going to win.” Let’s hope he’s that confident this time around.

That said, he’ll have just eight days recovery from finishing the Tour de France, which will either have knackered him out or put him in the best shape of his life. He’ll also be concentrating on the Olympic road race, but fortunately that happens after the XC, on the 3rd August.

Evie will swap her Trek jersey for a Team GB strip in Paris

Switzerland’s Alessandra Keller, and Puck Pieterse from The Netherlands are the women’s favourites, but don’t rule out Evie Richards just yet. She suffered a concussion in May racing the World Cup in Brazil, but she’s the’s the current Commonwealth champion, a former world champ, and an incredible rider.

Under-23 world champion Charlie Aldridge and twice national champ Ella Maclean-Howell are not to be underestimated either.

Olympic mountain bike schedule

The opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics is on Friday 26 July. The XC is one of the first events then, with the women’s cross-country on Sunday 28 July at 13.10 BST, and the men’s cross-country on Monday 29 July also at 13.10 BST.

How to watch from anywhere in the world with a free VPN

This one’s a little confusing, because although the BBC has said it’ll cover some 250 hours of sport it’s not yet clear exactly which ones it’s talking about. Our guess is that the mountain biking will be covered though, it’s one of the main events happening on the two days it’s scheduled for, with Matt Payne already down to commentate. The Beeb also says it’s launching an additional channel on iPlayer called Olympics Extra.

If you’re not UK-based then Olympic coverage will also take place on the BBC world feed, it’s an advertising-supported service but available globally. If you don’t fancy watching the ads though, you’re resident in the UK and are temporarily abroad, you can still watch the BBC coverage for free with an Nord VPN subscription.

Setting up a VPN is simple – just download, install, open the app and select your location.

Try out Nord VPN for its speed, security and simplicity to use. It is also compatible with a range of devices and streaming services (e.g. Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Xbox, PS4, etc.), giving you the option to watch wherever you want.

A VPN is a piece of software which offers both online privacy and ability to change your IP address, meaning that you can access on-demand content or live TV like you would back at home while in another country. There are other great options out there, of course, and plenty of free VPNs but our sister site TechRadar recommends the paid-for ExpressVPN, giving it a 4.5 star rating.

Finally, Warner Bros. Discovery actually holds the rights to broadcast the Games, with the Beeb licensing its coverage, so you could also watch on Discovery+ if you have a subscription.

The Elancourt Hill course looks sandy and relatively mellow, which should lead to some fast racing

Olympic mountain bike course

The course is a 4.4km circuit and climbs 110m, it’s expected to ride extremely fast. Here’s what it looked like at the course test event last year, from the eyes of Anneke Beerten…

France is not short of mountains and we can think of a dozen places that would be great as XC hosts for the Olympics – the Haute-Savoie, which just hosted a round of the World Cup would probably be top of the list.

Instead Paris has gone with Elancourt Hill, a fake hill built from mining spoil and now the highest point in the Paris region at a whopping 231 metres (750 feet). If the surfing can be held 15,000km away in Tahiti, then surely the mountain biking could have gone somewhere more… mountainous?

That said, it’s the racing that makes the entertainment, the jostling for position and the sheer grit, power, technical skill and luck that we want to see. That can happen anywhere, and is almost guaranteed at the most important race of the year. Also, we’re told you can see the Eiffel Tower from the top, on a clear day.

If you’re expecting an Olympic course akin to the Crans Montana World Cup track you’ll be disappointed then, 95% of the track is based on existing paths and there aren’t too many really technical bits to help the more skillful riders out.

Crans Montana proved properly gnarly in the wet

Cross country format and rules

XC is a mass start event, the 36 riders then complete a set amount of laps and first across the line is the winner. The exact number of laps gets decided the day before and is influenced by how long the event i expected to run – somewhere between one and two hours by convention.

Sadly the short course XC racing we love from the World Cups isn’t an Olympic sport – and neither is downhill racing :0( – so there are just two gold medals at stake, the men’s and women’s.

Competitors have to allow faster riders through to overtake them (no sharp elbows here then), and if they crash off the course they have reenter at the spot they exited. Finally, get lapped or drop below 80% of the lead rider’s time and you’re out.

Don’t forget the BMX

We’re also going to watch the BMX racing, which isn’t strictly mountain biking but is great entertainment. It’s happening on Thursday 1 and Friday 2 August. There are two events, BMX Freestyle Park and BMX racing, with Kieran Reilly and Charlotte Worthington competing in the former: and Kye Whyte and Beth Shriever racing in the latter.