France's Julien Absalon pulled away from a pack of mountain bikers at the start to defend his Olympic title in the event with a gold-medal time in 1:55:59. Absalon also enjoyed his teammate Jean-Christophe Péraud taking home the silver in 1:57:06, as the Frenchmen climbed on top of the podium with a spectacular 1–2 finish. Meanwhile, Switzerland's Nino Schurter delivered an exciting sprint challenge for the bronze in 1:57:52, edging out his teammate, three-time Olympian and reigning world champion Christoph Sauser by two seconds. Among the 50 mountain bikers who competed in the cross-country race, only twenty-eight of them managed to complete the full distance.
The competition began at 15:00 with a mass-start in which riders are positioned according to their current world ranking so that the higher-ranked riders are near the front. The cross-country race also involved six laps, with 172 m of elevation change for each, around the 4.8 km course at Laoshan Mountain Bike Course.