There was a question asked many times, about road racing categories and which category should a beginner cyclist join to attempt their first race? Hopefully, this will clarify some of these questions for beginners as well as give some racers a better idea of what to expect from teams and team strategies for racing in higher categories.
While this may seem like a basic question to the common racer, it is a often asked question from outsiders of the cycling racing scene.
I can only write about things that I have seen and experienced from racing in the categories and some USPro races in the South Eastern US.
Here in the US we have USA Cycling Federation that creates and enforces most regulations of ‘sanctioned’ races.
But as I look over their website, it seems based for riders that are into racing, not riders that are looking to get into racing. So, I thought I would compile the basic categories and some info on what to expect in each.
MEN Categories are as follows:
Beginners = Category 5, nearly all racers must start in this category. There will be 1st time racers as well as some folks that are used to doing group rides and are now starting to get the hang of what it is like to ride steady and finish a race.
To’upgrade’ from this category you Experience in 10 mass start races. Mass starts are groups starts – IE. criterium or road races. NO Time trial starts will qualify.
Category 4 = These riders have competed in a minimum number of cat.5 races. There will be riders here that are still getting their feet wet, and some riders that like racing in this category and can win many races.
Expect the pack to roll along usually together, and chase most attacks from other riders, but usually no counter-attacks, Therefore, most races in this category will come down to a sprint finish.
20 points in any 12-month period; or experience in 25 qualifying races with a minimum of 10 top ten finishes with fields of 30 riders or more, or 20 pack finishes with fields over 50. 30 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade
Category 3: These racers are really starting to get strong. These riders are usually frequent group riders. They will have fairly good bike handling skills. Some racers will want to stay in Cat3’s and not upgrade – for a variety of reasons.
Expect these races to be often aggressive, but many still only attack the climbs, then keep a steady tempo, and chase any attacks. Therefore, many races may come down to sprint finishes.
Expect to see some team tactics, both failed and ones that work well. This is where team strategies will start to play a factor in the outcome of ‘some’ races.
Expect more climbers to show up at hilly races & more sprinters are flatter races.
3-2: 25 points in any 12-month period
40 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade
Pro1,2: These races are where the racing really hits the fan!
These are the guys that have ridden 100-200 miles each weekend over the winter. Some maybe moto-pacing. On group rides, they are the guys that are either chatting at the back of the group (because they know they won’t get dropped) or on the front, pushing the pace. These guys can ride tempo on the front of a group at 20 mph and still hold a conversation with you about drinking last night.
2-1: 30 points in any 12-month period**
50 points in 12 months is an automatic upgrade
Attacks are the norm for this category! expect most races come down to a sprint – a sprint of who is still left in the break! Sometimes, the break gets shattered and the riders will come-in 1-2 at a time due to the speed, attacks, heat, terrain. Sometimes chaotic, sometimes controlled, the pace will vary based on who and if any Pro’s show up that weekend.
The pace may slow down just in time for you to breathe, but usually before you actually recover, someone will be flying off the front again!
Expect team-mates to be organized and team-members that are not afraid to be a sacrificial domestique for their team leader & chase anything down that they don’t like.
Master’s categories: In most Master’s races you can expect a steadier pace than in a Pro1,2 race. The attacks are there, but usually not quite as aggressive – these guys all know they have to go to work on Monday – they usually have families and don’t take some of the chances that the lower categories may try. The racing team tactics can be fierce! Expect the pace to be only slightly slower than a Pro1,2 race.
Some fields require a Master’s fields have 2 requirements:
A) ‘racing age’ over the category. So, if you are turning 35 in December or earlier you racing age for that year, then your ‘racing age’ is 35.
B) to be a cat4 or higher (no cat 5’s) but each race may have different rules.
I hope this helps clarify the questions about where to start off as a new racer, and a little of what to expect in each of the categories, and the differences to expect once you upgrade.