Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rethinking My Cyclocross Priorities

Do I want to become the fastest slow old guy or the slowest fast old guy? (Dave Thorpe photo)

When the current cyclocross season began I was determined to accumulate USA Cycling upgrade points as quickly as possible. I wanted to move up to Cat 3 to take advantage of the later start time and the longer race time. I reasoned that a 45-minute race at 2:30 p.m. would be better for me than a 30-minute race at 9 a.m. because I have the endurance for the longer race and I surely would benefit from warmer temperatures and a dry course. (At last Saturday’s race, frost still covered much of the course at 9 a.m.)

Now that I am just 1 point away from the voluntary upgrade threshold, I am less sure that I should upgrade at the earliest opportunity. I’m no sandbagger, lingering in a category I have outgrown just to scoop up easy victories. My results show something quite different:

In the Cat 4 Masters 45+ field, I am consistently good but never great. Are those the palmar├Ęs of someone who should upgrade into certain obscurity in the Masters 1/2/3 field? Should I choose to upgrade if I get one more 4th place finish? Should I be forced to upgrade if I get three more 3rd place finishes? I want to be competitive within my category, and right now I am. I’m riding my guts out just to make the podium; I haven’t really challenged for 1st place in any of my cyclocross races, ever.

I will race with the Cat 4 Masters at Sun Prairie on Saturday, making every effort to get the last point I need to reach the voluntary upgrade threshold. If it doesn’t come there, then perhaps it will come at Doyne Park in Milwaukee on Sunday. I want to be able to upgrade on my own terms, so I will chase it until I get it. But then perhaps I should take an intermediate step up before condemning myself to permanent pack fodder status in Masters 1/2/3. Maybe I should compete in the open—i.e., not age-restricted—Cat 4 field. It’s a much larger pool of riders and making the podium would be almost impossible. Similarly, earning more upgrade points would be almost impossible. With my progress toward a mandatory upgrade on hold, I could get stronger and still enjoy the competition.

The open Cat 4 races begin at 10:30 a.m., so on a typical day I would race in conditions that are better than those at 9 a.m. but not quite as good as those at 2:30 p.m. That’s a compromise, but there’s compromise in all of these calculations and maybe the open Cat 4 race would be enough for me.

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly what you mean Dave. I’m in the same boat with 21 or so cat 4 road upgrade points this season. I’m just past the voluntary upgrade threshold of 20. I’m tempted to get caught up in self-pride, going from cat 5 to cat 3 in one season but I’m holding off for the same reasons you mention. I did have one win among a few top-3 and top-5 and top-tens, but racing with cat 123 riders will be a whole other league. Race distances are doubled or tripled, and of course there’s the futility of competing each weekend against Chris Phipps who, while a nice guy, is the 2013/14 National Masters Road Champ.

    Racing with the cat4 (open, or out here they’re called “elite” 4s) is an option for you to get longer races in, but sometimes those fields can be a bit more squirrely.

    I’m leaning towards staying in cat 4 a bit longer when the road season starts up again in January. I feel like I need a bit more experience.