Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why Cat1 upgrade requirements are ridiculous, an example.

In yesterday's post, I explained why I thought eliminating the SemiPro category would not solve (long term) the problem of small Pro fields. Today I'm going to show you exactly what I was talking about by analysing the result of one of the (very few) races that actually count towards an upgrade. I really wanted to do this exercise for Sea Otter, since the large fields would show the true ridiculousness of the upgrade requirements, but finding information on Cat1 race length compared to Pro race length proved to be difficult. Couple that with the Pro race being shortened to one lap plus a portion of a shorter lap because of extreme heat; heat that wasn't present a day earlier for the Cat1 race, and you find that comparing the two races isn't really apples to apples. So I decided to go with Fontana instead.


Here are the top 10 overall Cat1 racers, with times: (Excluding the 5 age groups that only did 3 laps)

Grim news:

Cat1 racers did 4 laps (except those 16 and younger or 50 and older), Pros did 5 laps. I read something about the Cat1 loop bypassing a super-gnarly downhill that the Pro loop ran, but let's ignore that. Number 5, Mike Hileman is the last racer to earn any sort of credit towards a pro upgrade. Now, if we take his lap time of 24:29:75 and extrapolate it to 5 laps, we get a total race time of 2:02:28:75 Now if we take that race time and compare it to the Pro results, we find out that Mike would have placed 22nd of 103 Pros that started the race, right behind Rob Squire of the USA National U23 team. Wow. Without going through the names of the freaking crazy fast Pros that Mike would have beat, let's just say, wow.

So in order to meet the minimum requirements, for the minimum amount of credit towards a Pro upgrade, you have to be faster than over 75% of the Pros. You have to be just about as fast as members of U23 National Team. Minimum. Sounds simple enough.

It gets worse:

But we have another problem here. Sandbaggers. While doing my research pertaining to upgrade requirements yesterday, I came across this blog entry about #4, Johnny O'Mara. Basically he's won just about every mountain bike race he's ever entered, and he's still Cat1. If you look at (former NEBCer) Gary Douville's results, you'll also see that he's has won an awful lot of mountain bike races in the last year.

The point is, at Fontana at least, it appears that each of the 5 guys that earned any sort of credit towards an upgrade, already meet the requirements for an upgrade, but have no interest in upgrading. This proverbial butt-plug at the top of the Cat1 results pretty much guarantees that any Cat1 racers with intentions of upgrading will never even sniff a Pro license. The old upgrade requirements included a caveat that read "USA Cycling reserves the right to upgrade Experts or Semi-Pros at any time," but the new requirements do not contain this clause. It is the racer's decision to upgrade.

(Quick Rant: O'Mara has 3 national championships in 4 years. When you pretty much prove that you are the fastest Cat1 in the country, three f'n times, shouldn't that earn you an automatic upgrade? Of course that would involve USA Cycling putting forth a level of effort above "zero," so it's not going to happen.)

Nope, not done, it still gets worse:

I emailed Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling-Mountain Bike & Cyclo-Cross Program Director, and he confirmed that the only races that count towards an upgrade are the 14 on the National Calendar. So that means you're doing one of two things:

1) Racing the one or two National Calendar events per year within driving distance while patiently sandbagging 20 other local Cat1 races. This approach could take years, or more if you are sick, or have a mechanical in the one race that you can actually attend. While you are dilligently working towards your Pro license, all the local Cat1's will develop a deep hatred of you. This will become obvious when you hear the random "SANDBAGGER!" heckles that pop up here and there when you are called to the podium. Or,

2) Spend thousands of dollars to travel the country in an attempt to turn in a race time that is faster than over 75% of the Pros. Basically this is the pro lifestyle, if you're lucky and super fast you'll only have to do it for the entire year. A Cat1 racer would have to be clinically insane to commit this level of time and effort.

Pile it on:

There were 185 Cat1 racers at Fontana. There were 350 at Sea Otter. For some reason USA Cycling decided to set the number of places that earn upgrade credit at a hard number instead of a percentage of the overall field size. So this means you would have to be faster than 98% of Fontana Cat1 field to earn anything, and 99% of the Sea Otter field. Of course what you would earn is one third of what you need to upgrade. So not only does earning a solid result get harder as the field sizes increase, but the actual upgrade requirements get stricter as well. Double whammy. Awesome!


So you don't want to be a sandbagger? You actually want to upgrade to Pro? Well, all you have to do is be faster than 75% of the pros, 99% of the Cat1s, travel the country with your bike, and avoid illness, mechanicals, and off days. Oh, and don't travel to the popular races, with those field sizes you don't stand a chance. The good news that you only have to do it 3 times, unless the Sandbaggers that refuse to upgrade show up (and they always do), in that case you get NOTHING. Yes, USA Cycling did this for you, to make it easier for you to upgrade from Cat1.

(not done more tomorrow)


  1. In O'Mara's defense, he's 47, and if he upgraded to Pro he wouldn't be able to race (and get beat by, once) Kevin Hines for the 45-50 National Champ jersey each year, because it's an expert-only race.

    Of course the silliness keeping a 45+ semi pro or pro out of his age group nat'l champ race is a whole other set of stupidity.

  2. awesome recap of why usac sucks. sure, they do some stuff well (like taking liability insurance for promoters), but this example shows how they give seemingly negative amounts of thoughts to other decisions.

    Americans have been pretty weak on the international mtb scene and a lot of them say the lack of financial support from usac and the lack of effort to grow the talent pool is a big factor for why other countries have dominated while the americans are finishing further and further back.

  3. Americans being pretty week on the international scene and the community blaming the governing body and lack of talent pool growth sounds a whole lot like another sport that Colin and I follow.

  4. Kevin,

    you've done a really good job of pointing out the flaws in current system. I hope you sent something like this to Gully. You might actual be the catalyst for change.

    I'm not often serious, but I'm being serious here. Nice work.


  5. Yea, the new upgrade rules are whacked. I was denied also and after that felt really stupid for even requesting it. Last year I won 5 MTB Expert races and got 3rd at Nationals so though it was logical. This year I started racing the Pro/Cat1 open and got good results at the first couple races placing as the top Cat1 and getting a podium in one race. Doesn't count at all.

    Seems their plan is to dam up the Cat1's and make it really competitive (over time). Then only the best go pro.

    Oh yea, wasn't Johnny O. a pro in the old days (he was)? That was his 2nd career, after being a top domestic pro motocrosser back in the day. Kevin Hines was another top pro motorcycle racer (enduro) and has long ties to MTB from his brother who was a co-founder of Girvin which later became ProFlex.