Series Report: Subaru WC XCO Series 2016 from

I have wanted to ride XCO since I first saw Burry Stander riding in the Olympics in 2012. Never mind that at the time I hadn’t touched a bike since I was nine years old- a trivial detail. To me XCO is the ultimate athletic achievement- it requires above average bike handling skills, strength and some crazy cardiovascular fitness.

This year I decided to live the dream, and with some trepidation, entered the Subaru WC XCO series. The first race at Rhebokskloof knocked my socks off. I had not imagined anything half as scary or as fun.

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Getting a good start is vital in XCO. Photo credit: Chris Hitchcock.

I can only describe it as a distillation of all the best bits of mountain biking: the sense of achievement you get from cresting a killer climb, combined with the reward of dealing with a tricky descent or a terrifying drop off. All experienced repeatedly, in a short space of time, without all the boring bits found in marathon racing. Every single line choice and decision made out on the course can mean the difference between coming out in front, or languishing at the back of the pack.

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Ariane Kleinhans attacking the Rhebokskloof course. Photo credit: Ewald Sadie |

The highs are high. The lows are low. I crashed. I was frequently terrified of the A-lines. I was pretty convinced I was going to have a heart attack on many of the climbs, and I was on more than one occasion put to shame by a ten-year-old. I also had to be rescued from the bushes after some over-enthusiastic cornering and found myself doubting my life choices while face down in the mud on a rainy Friday afternoon during course practice.

In short- XCO is brutal. That said, each time I got up from a fall, smashed an A-line, or reached the top of a hill alive, I felt so good that I forgot that I had ever been scared or sore, and couldn’t wait to try it all again. I have learned a lot about myself both psychologically and physically during the course of the series. XCO has been by far the most rewarding racing format that I have tried.

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The racing is fierce but friendly amongst the younger riders. Photo credit: WP MTB Commission.

On a more pragmatic note, if you are keen to brush up on your skills or work on your cardio, while enjoying a fun family event, the XCO series is an excellent way to spend a Saturday morning. Each event I attended ran smoothly, and the effort put into making the courses both challenging and rewarding was remarkable. There are usually B-lines for the less adventurous, and the lap format means that it is very spectator friendly, so you can drag your family and friends out to cheer you on (read: hold your bottles and feed you gels) and it is a lot of fun to watch the other categories race over a cold steri-stumpie afterwards.

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Cherie Redecker entering the A-line rock garden at Helderberg. Photo credit: Chris Hitchcock

It is also inspiring to see the number of young riders developing incredible skills racing these events. If they are anything to go by- the next generation will have far fewer bottlenecks on the single track at races.

Unfortunately, the WC XCO series is over for 2016, but there is one last event: the WC XCO Championships is scheduled for 28 May at Bloemendal. If nothing else it will force you out of your comfort zone, and teach you a thing or two about your limits- in the most enjoyable possible way.


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Knowing when to eat or drink (and having an attentive feeder) is a critical part of race strategy. Photo credit: Nicolé Dale Kuys

(Originally posted over at