The Most Challenging Mountain Bike Races You Can Enter in 2019, From XC to Downhill
If you are looking for a mountain bike challenge, these ten events will test your limits, regardless of discipline.
Most of these events attract world-class athletes, so set your sights on personal goals rather than winning. Keep training simple and focused on getting into the best shape possible. Simply finishing any of these events is a huge accomplishment in and of itself.
Single day XC events
Photo: John Shafer, provided by Rider: Larissa Connors.
One of the few true point-to-point races in North America, riders won’t traverse the same section of trail twice. This race is over 90% singletrack over a total distance of 75 miles with around 12,000 feet of climbing, all while traveling through two of the country’s premier mountain resorts.
The P2P is a true adventure-style event, just like the old days of mountain bike racing. Since the course is not closed and there’s no guiding tape, racers will want to prepare, study the course map, and bring a GPS unit with the route pre-loaded. The mental challenge at the P2P is nearly as great as the physical.
- Park City, UT – August 31, 2019
Part of the National Ultra Endurance Series (NUE) of races, finishing the High Cascades 100 is no mean feat. This race has an 85% completion rate, but don’t let that fool you, as the registration webpage has many warnings to deter unprepared parties from entering. While tough, this race takes advantage of the unparalleled trails of Bend, Oregon and incorporates over 75 miles of rolling, high alpine desert singletrack into the course, as well as countless breathtaking vistas. Not that you will have any breath to spare.
Expect a stiff pace at this event, thanks in large part to the litany of competitors focused on improving their standing in the NUE. But don’t fret if you can’t hold the wheels of the front group. Earning a top five finish will net you a novelty check, but the grassroots origin of this event is still strong, with every finisher receiving a growler to fill with complementary beer from 10 Barrel Brewing as a reward.
XC multi day
Upgraded to a UCI-C1 event for 2019, the Breck Epic just got harder, as the pace will be set by some of the strongest marathon XC racers on the planet in search of UCI points to earn large paydays and points toward a starting spot in the Olympics. The race promises six days of big backcountry loops, each between 50 and 80 kilometers long. Each day’s loop starts and finishes within a mile of downtown Breckenridge and covers trails located in Summit and Park Counties.
If you have the legs for about 220mi (350km) of riding and 40,000ft (12,000m) of vertical gain over a week, as well as the mental fortitude and arms for 30 hours in the saddle and 40,000ft of vertical singletrack descending, then this event is for you. If you’ve made it this far into the description and still think you’re ready, remember that Breckenridge starts at about 9,600ft. (3,000m) above sea-level, so all that climbing takes place in thin air. Train your legs, heart, lungs, and mind for the accomplishment of a lifetime and a sweet western style belt buckle.
- Breckinridge, CO – August 11-16, 2019
Often described as the toughest mountain bike stage race in the world (and one of the hardest athlete events in general), La Ruta consists of three days of cross-country racing across Central America. Dip your wheel in the Pacific Ocean, pedal several hundred kilometers and up more than 30,000ft. (10,000m) of vertical elevation over three days, and finish with a dip in the Atlantic Ocean. Experience Costa Rica’s freezing volcanic highlands, humid rainforests, and raging rivers as you pedal next to some of the most hardened athletes on the planet.
- Costa Rica – November 1-3, 2019
Often noted as the bucket-list event for many seasoned mountain bikers, the BC Bike Race is a seven day cross-country stage race spanning from West Vancouver to Squamish, British Columbia. Aside from the 280km distance and constantly undulating, diverse terrain, the weather across Western Canada can take this race from challenging to grueling. Riders may start a day’s stage in warm sunny weather, but thanks to fickle coastal mountain weather, the day could end in freezing rain.
Race hardships are generally erased from memory thanks to an abundance of quality singletrack through loamy forests and a communal group setting at the event basecamp where you will be camping and eating en masse, preparing minds and legs for the next day. If this is your first XC stage race and you are a skilled descender, I HIGHLY recommend training to stay with the lead group on the early fire roads to ensure you are not stuck behind a few hundred roadies who don’t have equal bike handling skills.
- British Columbia, Canada – July 4-13, 2019
Looking for even more mileage and rugged terrain than the BC Bike Race and Breck Epic have to offer? Trans Rockies is likely the event you’ve been looking for to push your limits. Traversing 340mi (550km) and climbing nearly 50,000ft. (15,000m) over seven days while crossing the dramatic peaks of the northern continental divide, Trans Rockies has earned its place next to La Ruta as one of the hardest mountain bike stage races on the planet.
Stages are remote, there will be river crossings, hike-a-bikes, and long, grueling climbs, but all will be rewarded. Daily catered meals, therapeutic massage, hot showers, and bike mechanics will be waiting at camp to prepare you day after day on your way to claiming one of the most respected completion belt buckles in cycling.
- British Columbia & Alberta, Canada – July 22-28, 2019
Photo: Peter Wojnar @ transBCenduro.com. Rider: Dillon Osleger
While it may leave you tired, bruised, and battered at the end of each day, no event this hard has ever left such a lasting smile on my face. Every one of the six race days is filled with singletrack in a variety of conditions, from pristine, machine-worked trails to old mining paths.
Megan Rose and her work team spend the dry months scouting British Columbia for the finest, and sometimes least-known trails in order to create one of the finest and most challenging enduro experiences on the planet. This isn’t a get rich quick scheme for any of the team, with much of the money going back to the host communities and their respective trail-building coalitions.
Riders should plan on 4-6 hours of riding, 18mi+ (30km) distance, and 5,000ft+ (1600m) of elevation gain each day. This adds up to a week consisting of 30 hours on your bike, 125mi (200km) covered, 26,000ft (8000m) of climbing, and thanks to shuttles, 40,000ft (12000m) of descending. Prepare your legs, arms, and mind.
- East Kootenays, British Columbia – July 8-13, 2019
The anti-grip of the Chilean Andes has been made famous by recent rounds of the Enduro World Series (EWS). If lack of traction in the dirt is enough to compose one of the hardest two-day enduro races in the world, imagine five days of blind enduro racing along ancestral singletrack across diverse Chilean geography. Your bike will need to be as strong as your body to withstand endless transitions from dust to rock garden over 40,000ft (12,000m) of descending throughout the week and a total of 140mi (225km) in distance.
Beyond the complementary bicycle shuttles pictured above, life is made a little easier by the event organizers’ goal of providing a cultural experience alongside the mountain bike trip of a lifetime. A tent is set up for you each day within a different valley village, while locally-sourced breakfast, lunch, and a gourmet dinner are provided.
- Chilean Andes, Chile – February 18-24, 2019
With regards to the enduro discipline of mountain biking, the best of the best have been competing in the Enduro World Series (EWS) since 2013. In the past, entering these races required qualification via placing well in regional races and accruing qualification points. New for 2019, EWS has introduced the EWS 80 and 100 to accompany each stop on the EWS calendar. EWS80 and EWS100 races are open to the public, without qualification, on a first come registration basis and are respectively comprised of 80% and 100% of the regular pro EWS round.
Registering for and racing these events is not as low key as your local enduro circuit, but isn’t as high pressure or investment-intensive as dedicating yourself to racing the regular EWS. You may not be competing directly against the fastest men and women straddling enduro bikes on the planet, but you’ll need to be in your best physical shape to take on the long and technical days they endure.
- Rotorua, New Zealand – March 24, 2019
- Derby, Tasmania – March 30-31, 2019
- Madeira, Portugal – May 11, 2019
- Val Di Fassa, Italy – June 29, 2019
- Les Orres, France – July 6, 2019
- Whistler, Canada – August 10-11, 2019
- Northstar (Tahoe), California – August 24, 2019
- Zermatt, Switzerland – September 21, 2019
If the thought of starting in a mass group atop a glacier, pedaling your heart out across 12mi (20km) and down 8,500ft (2,600m), and passing fellow racers along winding singletrack sounds appealing to you, then “the Mega” is a race that should be on your calendar. This track has every condition any DH rider should master: sliding across snow, high alpine rock gardens, open alpine fields, tight switchbacks, and loamy straight lines.
- Alps d’hues, France – July 8-14, 2019