Which is better to race? The Masters category or my USA cycling category?

 In Discussions

Cycling is a great sport that engages people of all ages. There are many categories in which cyclists can compete, and it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you. In this blog post, I will compare the Masters category with my USA cycling category and help you decide which one is right for you.

When it comes to competitive cycling, there are a few different categories and classes that you may be eligible to compete in. If your are over 30 years old, you can race in your age group class, masters categories, or you can race your category. In this blog post, we will compare the decision to race in the Masters class to the USA cycling category and help you decide which one is better for you!

The Question

The other night, sitting around after a camp group ride, I asked the question that I get each year from many of my newer racers. Should I race my category or Masters’ races? The answer, like most things when it comes to bike racing, is complicated.

What are USA Cycling Categories?

According to USA Cycling, road racers compete in five categories of racing, whereas mountain bikers only have three. Cat 1 represents the most competitive amateur, whereas Novice is the lowest of the categories. Elite is short for those who are currently on one of the USA Cycling recognized Domestic Elite Teams.

Points are needed to advance from one category to the next, and they’re gained by the rider. These points are given out based on your finishing position as well as how many riders were in the race.

However, the USAC upgrade points criteria are standardized, and it may be more difficult to accumulate in a specific location owing to a few reasons. The competitiveness of the racing, the number of available races, and the number of racers have a far larger influence on a rider’s ability to upgrade categories than we give them credit for.

The Urban Legend

There’s an urban legend that can help decide which race to join for a new cyclist. Category 5, now Novice, cannot race with Masters racers. According to USA Cycling, the Novice Category can race with other categories and it is up to the event organizer on how they create their schedule. A race director can include all categories in a Masters event if he or she so wishes. Each region is slightly different. In the Mid-Atlantic, generally in a road race, Masters races exclude Novice/Cat 5. However, in Florida, I have seen Masters (1/2/3/4/5) races. Also, it is worth mentioning, that at Masters Nationals Road in 2021, Men 35-54 were restricted to men’s road categories 1-3. Men’s 55+ open to all men’s road categories 1-4 and Novice. Women’s racing 35-44 was restricted to categories 1-3 and 45+ open to all women’s road categories 1-4 and Novice.

What was the question?

Now the group sitting around the campfire was primarily older masters racers who had climbed the category ladder from Citizen, back in the day, changed to Category 5 and now Novice, to category 1 with a few who made it to the elite level, having been on a Domestic Elite Team. I pretty much knew their answer but it was a fun conversation.

The common answer?

Masters category or age group racing is the difference between being pack fodder in the Cat 1/2 races or competing for the podium. When masters racing is done correctly, it allows for safe, fast, and exciting racing for people who have families, mortgages, or jobs that prevent them from training and competing in elite category races. They can compete with their peers in the same age group on 10-15 hours each week of training and have fun racing.

This is not to suggest that the Master’s race is simply a slower or safer one; in fact, the experience is quite different than that of the higher category races. While the average pace is slower, attacks are just as intense but they are fewer thus giving more time to recuperate for an aging body.

Elite and higher category racing is very different. You must be willing to take risks and be capable of getting yourself out of tricky situations. The races are often decided in just a few laps when there is very little recuperation time.

Yeah, that is the CAT 1/2s but how about us 3s?

This brings us to the Category 3 and 4 races. There are numerous Masters that started racing late in life or came from other disciplines that did not make it to the category 1/2 levels. They can select between the Masters races or the 3/4 races. Many of them, especially criterium racers, will decide they want to do an eight corner high-speed tactical race along with their category peers for the pure thrill and challenge.

Novice Category? Category 5 cyclist vs masters

For the new racer that just started their racing journey, things are a little different. Back when the beginner category was Category 5, you have to toe the line for ten races to gain race experience before you could upgrade to the next category. Looking at the May 2021 creation of the Novice Category, replacing Category 5, the rule still applies to the new racers. However, Novice Category racers may find the Masters race much harder than racing against their novice peers. A comment that I have heard before is that I will race masters because it is easier. Once again, this comes down to the location and the competition in the race. I remember doing a masters race at the Tour of Somersville. By the time they called up previous national and world champions, then current champions, I found myself on the fourth row of the race, seeing rainbows and stars and stripes on a dozen riders in front of me. Yes, the race was shorter, but it was fast and smooth. If there was a space open, no reason to take it it was a bad spot to be in, all the good spots were filled with tacticians far beyond my capabilities.

Okay, but what should I race coach?

Should Category 4 and Novice race Masters category or their category? Well, it depends on the athlete’s goals for the year. If their goal is to upgrade to the next higher category, then yes. If their goal is to race at Masters Nationals Men’s 34-54, then they will have to be a Category 3, so yes. If it is their first race? Absolutely no. Outside of that, it would depend on where is the race venue, the depth of fields, possible teammates, and a variety of other reasons. It could even be the time of day in which the race starts. Unlike Category 1/2 whose races may be the showcase event, the 4/Novice Master might find their race starting at nine in the morning. Some find that time great and works well into their schedule, others find it much too early and would rather race later in the day. Again, lots of considers for the question.

The Master’s category is a great way to race if you are looking for a more relaxed and tactical experience but still at a very high level of competition. If you are an experienced cyclist and are looking for a challenge, to try and beat up on the kiddos, the USA cycling category may be better for you. Keep in mind that both of these categories have their benefits and drawbacks – it is up to you to decide which one is better for you!

In a nutshell, the article argues that there are benefits to racing in both the Master’s category and USA cycling category for a road race – it all depends on what the racer’s goals are. For those looking to upgrade to a higher category, racing is your category racing is a must. However, for those who are seasoned and looking for great competition but not the time nor desire to put in those 20 hour weeks, Masters racing is the way to go.

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