Thursday, April 10, 2008

Racing - Category > Age

When I first started racing I felt totally lost. A couple enthusiastic racer types helped me find my way, getting me enough information to get a license, join a local club, and get out there and training. It's difficult to realize the magnitude of the undertaking, especially in those "postage stamp mail" days, at least until I get hit by some of the most innocuous questions.

"Do I need to bring my own number to the race?"
"Do I need a license?"

And some of the more standard and just as ubiquitous ones.

"I'm a Junior/Master and I'd like to race the Junior/Master race."
"I'm sorry, your license says you're a Cat 5. You can't enter the Junior/Master race here at Bethel. All Cat 5s have to race the Cat 5s."
"But I'm a Junior/Master!"

You, in USA Cycling's eyes, exist at three levels. Well, four. The first is whether you exist at all, i.e. you paid them money. Once you pay them money, you are broken down into the following:

Male or Female

You are a sum of all those parts. All of those parts must be taken into account when you enter a race.

Your gender rules the roost. If you are Male, you belong to an exclusive group that cannot enter other gender's bike races. In other words you cannot enter Female (Women's) races. Unless you're a he-she, but then that gets really complicated, and I still wonder how that guy entered the women's race at Fitchburg, but that's a whole different story altogether, and I'll have to think about that one at some other time.

For the sake of argument though, let's say most people are either male or female. XY or XX chromosomes.

Next is your age. If you are 18 or over, you cannot enter a Junior race. If you are under 30, you cannot enter Masters races. The latter depends on the Masters race's age range - a 40+ race allows riders 40 and over to enter, a 55+ allows 55 year olds and older, etc.

Since gender rules the roost, a woman 20 years younger than the race's range can enter a Masters race. A 35 year old woman can enter a 55+ men's race.

Finally your Category. With a gender exception (since gender rules the roost), you cannot race outside your category.

A Category 1 racer (aka "Cat 1") cannot enter a Cat 3 race. A Cat 5 cannot enter a Cat 4 race.

A mixed race allows multiple categories to enter - a Pro-1-2-3 lets Pros, Cat 1s, Cat 2s, and Cat 3s to compete together. A Cat 3-4 race allows Cat 3s and 4s to enter.

An age graded race (i.e. Juniors or Masters), unless specified otherwise, is open to all categories. However many promoters do not allow Cat 5s to enter age graded races.

Women, since gender rules the roost, can enter a race one category easier than their actual category. This means a Cat 4 Woman can enter a Cat 5 Men's race.

It seems pretty easy right? I mean my explanation was a bit complicated because I named exceptions. But think of your sex, age, and category. It's pretty clear which races you can enter.

Or perhaps not. It took me a lot of courage, as a Junior, to enter a Senior race. I was absolutely deathly afraid that all these grown men would pummel the little shrimp into the ground. Instead I won the race, taking all five or six primes as well, and suddenly I wasn't so intimidated.

Although I'd like to take credit for this performance, it's really, at that time a soon-to-be-pro, Frank McCormack who should take the bow. After racing against him in the Junior race, well, my expectations were extremely high in the Senior Men's Cat 4 race.

The Junior race, as it ends up, was a lot harder than the Cat 4 race. This was because of the following Rule of Thumb:

Category > Age

Your ability to race a bike is usually reflected in your category. Your age has nothing to do with it.

If you are a Junior, i.e. you haven't e, it doesn't matter one iota unless you're under, say, 15 or 16 years old. Gear limits, now required of Juniors regardless of the race's age, would handicap them in downhill sprints, any race with very long descents, or a massive tailwind section.

However, your Category is absolutely critical.

Are you a Junior who is a Category 5? Or a Junior who is a Category 1?

Those two creatures are miles and worlds apart.

A Junior Cat 1, if properly upgraded (i.e. actually deserves to be a Cat 1) will be able to race comfortably in a Pro-1-2 race. Maybe not for 100 miles, but definitely for a short 50 mile crit.

The same Junior, the Cat 1, can enter a 12 mile Bethel Spring Series race.

Which do you think will determine how fast the race is? The fact that he's a Junior? Or the fact that he's a Cat 1 racer?

Yeah, you got it.

It doesn't matter how old you are if you can drop the proverbial hammer on the bike.

This goes for those old guys too.

Too often I hear, "Oh, I'm too old to race."
"Really?" I reply. "How old are you?"
"40." (Or 45 or 50 or 55 or whatever.)
"Oh, that's funny. I got slaughtered by a 57 year old last year in a big race I wanted to win. And a 52 year old beat me in another one held at the same course."

Then the person, obviously having given up on living life, says "Oh, but..." and comes up with a different excuse.

Yeah, whatever.

The guys winning the Cat 3 races in the summer are often much older than you might think. Logic figures it should be some kid in college, arranges his schedule so he can train 2 hard days a week, race both weekend days, and works so he can train whenever he needs to in the summer, well, he should be winning races, right?


Okay, some do. And they rapidly go through the ranks and become a 2. But many, many top 10 Cat 3s are 40 years old or over. A bunch of them are over 50. And they still place in the money in the 3s.

This is because Category > Age.


Rebecca H. said...

I'm confused about the rules for women in Masters races -- I'd heard, first, that the rule was that women can race 10 years older than their age, but (as you know) people do get these things wrong. But if it's 20 years, what does that mean exactly? I can race only 20 years older? I can race my own age OR 20 years older? I'm 34 -- what can I race in? (hypothetically speaking -- I'm not wanting to try masters races out yet!) At what point could I ride in, say, Bethel's 40+ race?

Aki said...

I forgot a critical piece of information. Women who are 35 or older can race in Masters races open to their age + 20 years.

Also, Cat 1 women can race 2 steps below, i.e. Cat 3 men's races.

Page 20 of the rulebook at here.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right about the age and ability problem. Most of us racing here in New England take it as a given that the Masters are going to be some of the fastest and strongest guys out there. I'm also happy to say that at 40 I'm beating guys half my age! That is so cool.

Ron George said...

Is it just me or do I think the new USA cycling licenses look a bit odd with color?

josh said...

so true...I'm 21, and I know more guys older than me who can kick my butt than I do guys my age/younger. And there are a lot of guys my age/younger who can kick my butt. :)

Anonymous said...

Young guys and new racers forget that the masters guys Cat3 and up have been racing for years. These guys have more miles in there legs and races under there belts then all the young racers combined. This experience and milage goes along way in racing. I find the Masters 30plus to be the hardest field by far with the exeption of maybe a Pro1 group.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with the others here that say masters races are tougher than category races. Of course, depends on the category, but generally speaking as a 39 yr old Cat 4 I'd much rather race against other Cat 4s (even if they're strong 20-somethings) than against 39+ year old Masters racers (that could be "retired" Cat 1s).

Aki said...

ron - you've inspired me to do a post. Look for it soon.

everyone else - yes, it's easy to see how age has little to do with racing ability (or results) but it's such a big limiter for potential new racers I wanted to address it.

Also the missus pointed out this post wasn't typed very well - I have to admit that my thumb hit the touch pad, went bananas, and I just hit "Undo" until it looked about right. I have to figure out what happened and what I'm missing, but I've yet to do that.