I just read some discussion on another thread and this topic was touched on. Road/crit races used to offer a category called "public" now they call that CAT 5. It was supposed to be an introduction to racing, you know, the type of category where a guy would show up with hairy legs and shifters on his downtube to find out if he liked racing or not. And to a large extent that is what it was. Look at a Cat 5 race today and you will see carbon bling, local team jersies, shaved legs, etc. So much so, that I didn't have the heart to suggest to a couple of my friends that they enter a race for fun this last summer. They are average guys that ride a couple of group rides per week during the summer. They would have been dropped from the pac immediately. There is no place for them.
As Cross grows, it needs a Cat 5 or "Public". Cat 4 fields in our series are large and fast, and the cream of the crop doesn't want to upgrade untill the end of the season because of the series cup standings. It is not Newbs, although with nowhere else to go, they are in there, its local team riders, etc. In one of our most recent races, we had 73 Cat 4's racing at the same time, and then a race for 8 Cat 3's, and then a race for 12 Cat 3 Masters. The front half of the 4's is an entirely different class of rider than the back half.
Is there no place for a REAl newb that wants to try Cross. If there were a Cat 5 "Public" division, I think a lot more people would have a lot more fun. If the automatic upgrades were enforced, the fields would level out. Eliminate the option to updrade based on the number of races completed, and base it soley on results. That would eliminate the bottle-neck at the Cat 3 level that others parts of the country experience.
Here in Portland we've got A's B's and C's with age graded options thrown in i.e.35+ 50+ 60+. We also have a beginners category that can include somewhat competitive guys and guys in jeans on a mountain bike. That's where our newbies race. It seems to be a good time for all.
PS: I'm a Masters 35+C. I entered a race and there were over 200 racers in my group alone!
I have to agree there is a definite opening for a cat 5 class in cross in areas of the country where cyclocross has grown to huge fields. In areas where there is still a smaller field a cat 4/5 combined field would work. I would think the ideal way to force riders out of the cat5 would be a no series points for cat5.
Obviously some race promoters are recognizing this need by creating the beginner races.
The flipside of this is there is only so much time in the day for races and it might be a tough call for promoters to squeeze in one more race in the day. If you squeeze the races too close together you start to get riders doing lined up behind the last place rider or trying to poach a pre-ride during races.
That's the situation in Portland as well - multiple groups on the course at the same time.
On possible approach is to have "beginner races" at the September and October events, when the days are longer. People who try it and like it can get a few races in before having to join the 4s later in the season.
If you have 73 4s and 8 3s, that's a separate issue and it seems like your association needs to start enforcing upgrade rules.The ACA has gotten stricter about that this year, and although it probably will take a couple years, the imbalance is starting to get less ridiculous.
I agree with the problem, but I don't see an additional category being the answer. If you look at the numbers in Seattle, for example, Cat 4 and Cat 4 35+ are around 80 riders each. Cat 3 and Cat 1/2 are around 30. There are plenty of categories for the number of racers. But Cat 4 needs to become the beginner/public/citizen division.
The problem is too many Cat 4 sandbaggers, and I say this not because I want a trophy (I'm going to be DFL in any category). 150 riders is too many for these courses, especially the first lap, and losing a lap because 5 guys who should be in Cat 3 race (or even 1/2) does not encourage participation. The problem is that there is absolutely no incentive for a Cat 4 racer to move up, and the lap times indicate that plenty of Cat 4s should. The current culture is bad. If a guy wins more than one Cat 4 race, or is consistently in the top 5 (or 10), he/she needs to feel like an idiot and move up. A few ideas:
No series points for Cat 4.
No additional equipment in the pits - only for adjustments/repairs. If you want your spare Ridley or extra carbon wheelset at the ready, upgrade.
Mandatory upgrades at race management discretion.
Do not rely on road racing categories - cx brings a very different field. I would imagine many/most cx cat 4s have never even considered a road race, but I think the fastest cat 4s are there because that's their road category.
Don't congratulate the Cat 4 winners! Heckle them! They should be embarrassed as hell to win the loser race! The Cascade Cross series is hard on sandbaggers - it works well. Their categories are evenly numbered.
The popularity of cx is great for the sport, but it needs to be managed or it will turn into road racing: very intimidating, non-welcoming, and too expensive for the vast majority of people. When participation drops, there will be fewer venues, fewer series, fewer races, and no one to race with!
I believe OBRA (Oregon Bike Racing Assoc) has mandatory upgrades. Not a problem for me...yet.
I started the "other" discussion specifically because I feel there is no real way for a real beginner to get started. Our Cat 4 races, in New England, max out at 125 or 150 racers and typically sell out. Additionally, racers are seeded by points, so a completely new rider will start at the back of the pack and potentially get pulled when he (she) gets lapped. If the organizations that "manage" the sport aren't going to enforce upgrades, then I think a beginner race should be implemented. I remember my first 'cross races, being lined up on my MTB (oh, I still race on a MTB but that's another story), next to riders in team skinsuits on full-on 'cross bikes with pit bikes better than my "A" bike. It's still that way. I understand that it's not about the bike, but c'mon... if you're rockin' a $1K 'cross bike, you're not a beginner.
Oh, I respectfully disagree about letting "beginners" have access to pit bikes. Maybe that's because I have lots of bikes, but I have a good friend who's pretty damn new to this sport and he throws his SS MTB in the pits and races his geared MTB. If gets a flat or whatever, he can at least finish the race...
hmm .. .with number of smaller races in New England, I think there's plenty of opportunity for a beginner to get started and see what it's all about. Yes, the Verge Series races pull big numbers - and those can be intimidating, no doubt - but the fields at the smaller races are totally manageable and welcoming for the beginner.
I think it's important to remember that Cat 4 isn't just for riders trying cx for the first time - it's also for riders who want to be competitive at their fitness/skill level. I'm sure there are Cat 4s who should upgrade, but the fastest 4s (save the all-stars who just got licenses will essentially pass "go" straight to the elite field), i.e., those who have earned a point based upgrade, are probably mid-pack 3s, at best. if you're generous, that might get you 60th-75th at a race like Northampton last weekend - which isn't bad considering how deep our Cat 3 field is right now. but the majority of 4s are where they should be, and true beginners should realize that not everybody they line up with will be doing it for the first time. If that's the experience they're after, clinics might be a better option.
I honestly think there should be less categories (same speed same cat) Matthew 35+C's looks harder than anything I've seen, thats a lot of traffic man. I'm 36 in the beginners cat, racing a single speed and I ain't gonna race in that class I gunna race C's instead.
I like what the Chicago CX Cup series does. They break the Cat 4's into A and B with the A's being the serious types that wanna "Cat" up and the "B's" being the newbies and "just for fun/trying it out" types. I race Cat 3/4 Masters and I will also jump into Cat 4 just for fun. The more riding the better.
Growth has created issues even in the smaller womens' fields.
Last year, the Beginner Women category at the Cross Crusade races was so large that OBRA is talking about creating a Womens' "C" category for 2012. Beginner womens' numbers have increased yet again this year, with most Crusade races seeing over 90 Beginner women!
I know a ton of women who are planning to sign up for Womens' C as soon as it is offered. Only issue is, it will still be run at the same time the other womens' categories are being run; it will just be scored separately.
Another thing that has helped at least a little bit has been the addition of a Saturday race series (GP Molly Cameron, in its inaugural run this year), which has definitely helped relieved some of the overflow from the Sunday Cross Crusade races. My Master's Women 45+ age group is averaging at least 6 to 10 fewer women on Sundays this year and I think it's because some women are electing to race the much smaller fields on Saturdays instead.
Since there are only so many hours of daylight -- and daylight decreases as the 'cross season progresses -- adding new categories will not necessarily shrink start fields. This is a big reason why I was very gently asked by organizers and officials to stop lobbying for a separate Womens' SInglespeed category and to either race my singlespeed bike with the 200+ [almost entirely male] singlespeeders or in my Masters' age group. Since, according to OBRA rules, my age group is not split into A's and B's -- and remains the smallest of the adult womens' categories -- I can race there virtually forever, even if I finish DFL (as I've consistently done all year). There has been some joking at the staging area about the number of women in our category who are now over 50, and that perhaps adding another age group (55+?) may be in order soon.
IMHO, the growth of the sport is a good problem to have. I'm confident that cooler heads will prevail to manage the growth wisely and fairly.