So, once again, I see one of those cycling rule changes I have to sit back and think about. Is this good for the sport? My team? Me?
Categories, how to set them up, how to split them in a race, and how and when to move up, probably one of the best ways to set off a cat fight among competitive cyclists. Once again, the USA Cycling folks are trying to stir things up. Last week, there was a quiet announcement detailing changes to the upgrade rules for USAC racers. Here is the sum total of the detail from the Borg on this
Pretty thin, but shows some changes from the current rules for sure. Here I will try and summarize what the Current USAC rule is for 2012, What BRAC/ACA had prior to the assimilation (As best as I can find/remember, as I have not been able to find an old listing of the specific wording...), and the upcoming 2014 rules. It changes by category and also have to split Road & Cross upgrade criteria as well, as they are quite different. Also show the "CAN" upgrade qualification, and the "Mandatory" up you go, kicking & screaming limits
For Cross (My obvious priority here..)
WHEW..... THAT was a mess. What the hell does this all boil down to? Why do I suddenly feel like a lawyer with all the small type? Kinda hard to really tell, but here we go.
GENERALLY, it seems that for Cross, it got a lot EASIER to upgrade (Or GET upgraded...) into Cat 3 or 2, harder to upgrade to a Cat 1. Definitely more specific mandatory upgrade criteria based on points, not wins & field sizes.
For the Road, It got HARDER to get an upgrade across all Cats. Like cross, much more specific mandatory upgrade criteria on points, not wins & field sizes.
Mixed messages road to cross make it hard to Divine an intent here, outside of Cat 4 upgrades in Cross. USAC rules are going from a "race a few times, get a few points and you CAN upgrade" with nothing forcing a rider to upgrade, to a "10 races & off you go to the 3s no matter what" deal. Pretty big change. I would guess that this sudden move to empty out the Cat 4 ranks is intended to address both Sandbagging in the Cat 4s and more likely to make Cat 4 more of a "beginner" field, and a less intimidating first race environment. If that truly WAS the intent, the "10 & Out" plan will definetely do that, and in pretty short order. Cat 3 fields might get pretty big, may become the new 35+ Cat 4, Rolling Armageddon every weekend.
I have seen that in spite of the "less than specific" USAC mandatory upgrade criteria for moving people out of Cat 4, over this season, no Cat 4 that got more than 25 upgrade points has STAYED a Cat 4. My Cyber-stalking seems to show that a "not so official" 25 point mandatory upgrade criteria is in use for Colorado. Sniffing around the comments section of the online world, It seems that at least some other parts of the country have a more apparent sandbag problem. We might well be thankful (Again...) that we have a certain YVG here to quietly do the right thing, in spite of the system. I think the legacy system from the BRAC results/upgrade database is also making it easy for both the powers that be and for us to watch being their backs for any sandbagging. Why those other keepers of the upgrades have never heard of Crossresults.com is a whole different question.
I come at this from the perspective of the "Cat4ever" or "Career Cat4" kind of racer. In spite of WAY too many years of trying, Never have I scored a SINGLE upgrade point. While I can certainly race a Masters Open race, or even 35+ Cat3, it is just plain not going to be as motivating to be fighting to not get lapped, or getting out of the bottom 10. I'll not be totally bummed to be a 3, and just race 45+ (or 55+ in a year or so.... ug). I even had the long term goal of GETTING that upgrade point, and upgrading. May never get that chance, boo hoo for me.
I know that the USAC for sure, and a lot of racers as well, do not get the concept of what I call "Recreational Bike Racers". Those people who ride a lot, race a little, and are not really that hard-core, get-faster-train-hard-podium-focused-give-me-the-hardest-competition-skinny-race-dork. I really think that the race speeds and level of competition in the 4s suits that level of rider quite well, allowing them to shoot for "top half" finishes, maybe a few Cross Cup Points, without a huge commitment. I think there are a lot of back of the pack Cat 4s, particularly in the 35+ and 45+ Cat 4 groups who would be VERY much de-motivated to be booted up to the 3s, and getting shuffled right back to getting lapped. I can't quite understand why racing at that level is the subject of the semi-derision it is. if you want to (and CAN...) kick ass, get the results and move up, Great. if you want to invest enough to race mid-pack 4s and and are happy with that, Great. Sure, it may not be "real" bike racing, but so what? Not everyone wants to make the Olympic team. (Someone in Colorado Springs just shuddered violently...)
What will this change do if really implemented? After the first 5 weeks or so, you start to see a LOT of Cat 4s suddenly moving into the Cat3s. With 3 separate fields feeding only 2 CAT 3 groups, those 2 already large races are going to get a LOT bigger. With a points minimum to upgrade anyone out, and so many coming in, how big are those fields going to get? Pretty damn big. The current bunch of 3s are about half again faster than the bulk of 4s (Lap times don't lie), so you will end up with a larger spread of rider speeds in a larger field, a GREAT recipe for conflict and chaos.
How are those "bottom 20" cat 4s today going to feel about racing a masters open or cat 3 race every weekend? Probably not going to be very motivating. Pushing people who are finishing in the bottom half of a Cat 4 field up into the 3s, even with a lot of the riders around them moving up at the same time is NOT the way to encourage people to CONTINUE with racing bikes. Even if they are getting lapped with a bunch of the riders they were in that bottom half with, no one REALLY likes getting lapped every week. Everyone needs a small success here and there. A REAL beginner field May well bring in more riders (less intimidating level to start in) but again, just about the time you get them hooked on this new sport, you toss them to the wolves.
Think this will be a mess, but again thought the USAC merger would be a mess, and that is working out OK. Course, given what I see today, Colorado may just quietly go our own way on upgrades, just as it appears is happening today.
Course, there is always the WWMD* approach
* What would Adam Myerson Do?
See you all at states. We'll have a full High Peaks Masters compound in operation on the team tent row. stop by!