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Old 06-03-14, 11:30 AM   #1
AERO63
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Cat 5 Question

I bet you all love reading that in the title!

I'm a new racer this year. I've got 7 mass starts and a few TT's under my belt is all, so totally new to the sport.

My understanding of Cat 5 was that the category is designed for new racers to "learn" how to race. Now of course there is going to be a competitive aspect to it all, that's expected and welcomed. It's still a race after all.

I like being competitive. I've done fine in the races, I'm not winning but I'm not getting lapped, pulled, or dropped. I'm definitely trying to be safe and learn how a bike race is supposed to be ridden.

Around here, there are almost no Cat-5 exclusive races. Everything is combined 4/5. So here's the question...am I crazy, or is Cat 5 kind of useless when everything is combined with 4's as well? Is it mainly 4's that are riding these 4/5 races like their mortgage being paid depends on the result? (That's a slight exaggeration...haha). USAC races that I've ridden will show secondary results inside the overall results ranking the Cat-5 guys, so in those it's easier to tell if it's the 4's doing the damage or not but in the local crit stuff you never really know. So am I nuts? I don't know much, but I kind of feel like Cat-5 needs to be it's own dedicated race to accomplish what it's supposed to??

Aside from any of this, I'm enjoying racing so far. Learning lots, or at least trying to.
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Old 06-03-14, 11:45 AM   #2
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The 5 designation still prevents some strong triathlete from coming into your 4/5 races, winning 2, and racing 3s as his 3rd race. So, while not the segregation it was probably intended for, it's not totally useless.
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Old 06-03-14, 11:53 AM   #3
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The 5 designation still prevents some strong triathlete from coming into your 4/5 races, winning 2, and racing 3s as his 3rd race. So, while not the segregation it was probably intended for, it's not totally useless.
Good point.
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Old 06-03-14, 12:13 PM   #4
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In many ways the Category model is broken, mixing the 5's with 4's is just one example. Category 5 is supposed to be for racers to learn the craft, but its just treated like any other race.

My last race was a technical crit, corners no wider than 6 feet, and no way people can go into them with any speed or do any passing. Our race probably had at least 5 people racing for the first time. There was no briefing about the corners, or any other pre race advisories (holding lines, crossing wheels)...just a whistle. So what happens? 2 guys end up in the hospital because they go into the corner too fast and cross wheels.

Not everyone learns the craft prior to going to a race. Some guys just buy a bike, and go to a race, they have no clue about pack safety, and the Cat 5 format only really ensures these guys only endanger other Cat 5's. USAC could do some things better that would make it useful, (puts on flamesuit) but its treated like any other race.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, Cat 5 is pointless in its current model.
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Old 06-03-14, 12:23 PM   #5
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There are two dynamics going on here. One is the structure created by USAC to promote racing and create a safe and viable method for holding races. The second is the work of the promoter putting on the races.

USAC created Cat 5 to create a channel for new racers to learn to race and limit their potential damage to other, more experienced racers. But that only works if there are enough racers.

Promoters have to structure events to maximize their gains vs. their costs. Few people are making money putting on races, and if it is financially viable to run separate events for the 4s and the 5s, then promoters will do it.

This is an even bigger issue in women's racing, where women 4s (All women start as 4s) are often placed in women's open events, meaning new racers are going against 3s, 2s, 1s and sometimes pros.

Another thing to consider is that field size varies by region. In some parts of the country, they can fill two Cat 5 fields and two Cat 4 fields in one day. In other parts, they can hardly fill a single 4/5 race.
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Old 06-03-14, 12:25 PM   #6
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In many ways the Category model is broken, mixing the 5's with 4's is just one example. Category 5 is supposed to be for racers to learn the craft, but its just treated like any other race.

My last race was a technical crit, corners no wider than 6 feet, and no way people can go into them with any speed or do any passing. Our race probably had at least 5 people racing for the first time. There was no briefing about the corners, or any other pre race advisories (holding lines, crossing wheels)...just a whistle. So what happens? 2 guys end up in the hospital because they go into the corner too fast and cross wheels.

Not everyone learns the craft prior to going to a race. Some guys just buy a bike, and go to a race, they have no clue about pack safety, and the Cat 5 format only really ensures these guys only endanger other Cat 5's. USAC could do some things better that would make it useful, (puts on flamesuit) but its treated like any other race.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, Cat 5 is pointless in its current model.
They probably think running, tri, and bike racing as similar "endurance sports". With running and tri, you just buy the equipment and "race" (more like participate).
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Old 06-03-14, 12:28 PM   #7
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In many ways the Category model is broken, mixing the 5's with 4's is just one example. Category 5 is supposed to be for racers to learn the craft, but its just treated like any other race.

My last race was a technical crit, corners no wider than 6 feet, and no way people can go into them with any speed or do any passing. Our race probably had at least 5 people racing for the first time. There was no briefing about the corners, or any other pre race advisories (holding lines, crossing wheels)...just a whistle. So what happens? 2 guys end up in the hospital because they go into the corner too fast and cross wheels.

Not everyone learns the craft prior to going to a race. Some guys just buy a bike, and go to a race, they have no clue about pack safety, and the Cat 5 format only really ensures these guys only endanger other Cat 5's. USAC could do some things better that would make it useful, (puts on flamesuit) but its treated like any other race.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, Cat 5 is pointless in its current model.
I jumped into racing May of last year having done one or two group rides. Looking back...probably not the best approach, but the officials were quite helpful and we had a mentor that was helpful for those of us that were out of our element. The mentor would offer advice and guidance during the race like "we're coming up to a corner, dont cross wheels". After the races, we'd debrief and I learned a good amount of info about what to do/not to do, when to do, etc.

Earlier this year in a Cat 5 race I was watching, the lead official collected the guys that had fallen off the back (maybe 10 guys or so) and regrouped them as a chase group. Their instructions were that they stay together and race as a group since that was the intent of cat 5. I thought this was a great approach. These guys have already been dropped and were learning nothing, but the official made sure they got more pack time in the race.

So, there are some merits to cat 5 racing, but it is tough as you get a rather large spetctrum of abilities amongst the racers.
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Old 06-03-14, 01:06 PM   #8
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I jumped into racing May of last year having done one or two group rides. Looking back...probably not the best approach, but the officials were quite helpful and we had a mentor that was helpful for those of us that were out of our element. The mentor would offer advice and guidance during the race like "we're coming up to a corner, dont cross wheels". After the races, we'd debrief and I learned a good amount of info about what to do/not to do, when to do, etc.

Earlier this year in a Cat 5 race I was watching, the lead official collected the guys that had fallen off the back (maybe 10 guys or so) and regrouped them as a chase group. Their instructions were that they stay together and race as a group since that was the intent of cat 5. I thought this was a great approach. These guys have already been dropped and were learning nothing, but the official made sure they got more pack time in the race.

So, there are some merits to cat 5 racing, but it is tough as you get a rather large spetctrum of abilities amongst the racers.
That sounds to me like what Cat-5 is "supposed" to be. But maybe I'm wrong? My first race (and every other race since) there has been nothing, just a whistle and go, every man for himself. The pace in every single mass start I've done so far has had only one gear, high. Sometimes I wonder if the shorter crits and shorter distance RR's in the 4/5's has something to do with that too...strong guys can just go. In a 30-mile 4/5 RR this weekend, guys were out of their saddles sprinting from the line and at least half the group was gone in the first few miles. Nothing wrong with that really in terms of racing, good for the strong dudes to be able to push it like that...except that's really no way to "learn" for a brand new Cat-5 is it? I really don't know I guess.
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Old 06-03-14, 01:07 PM   #9
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There are two dynamics going on here. One is the structure created by USAC to promote racing and create a safe and viable method for holding races. The second is the work of the promoter putting on the races.

USAC created Cat 5 to create a channel for new racers to learn to race and limit their potential damage to other, more experienced racers. But that only works if there are enough racers.

Promoters have to structure events to maximize their gains vs. their costs. Few people are making money putting on races, and if it is financially viable to run separate events for the 4s and the 5s, then promoters will do it.

This is an even bigger issue in women's racing, where women 4s (All women start as 4s) are often placed in women's open events, meaning new racers are going against 3s, 2s, 1s and sometimes pros.

Another thing to consider is that field size varies by region. In some parts of the country, they can fill two Cat 5 fields and two Cat 4 fields in one day. In other parts, they can hardly fill a single 4/5 race.
Good points and very true.
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Old 06-03-14, 02:31 PM   #10
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I think it varies per location. For instance, I was a Cat 5 last season here in Texas. I raced 4 road races (Cat 5), 4 crits (Cat 5), 2 crits (Cat 4/5), and 2 stage races (TT, Crit, RR) (Cat 5). There were plenty of races I did not do simply because there was no C5 category only 4/5 and I did not feel ready. I am a 4 now and when I race 4/5 races there are guys who have been racing as a 4 for a couple of years who are going balls out while first-timer 5's are trying to hold on and survive. I think it pushes some of them away from the sport. I understand promoters need to make $, but I have yet to see a Cat 5 race that wasn't close to selling out in this region.
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Old 06-03-14, 03:01 PM   #11
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My last race was a technical crit, corners no wider than 6 feet, and no way people can go into them with any speed or do any passing. Our race probably had at least 5 people racing for the first time. There was no briefing about the corners, or any other pre race advisories (holding lines, crossing wheels)...just a whistle. So what happens? 2 guys end up in the hospital because they go into the corner too fast and cross wheels.
The problem here with lack of instruction is acknowledged, but I'm going to tell you that, if anything, your incorrect assessment of what went wrong here emphasizes the size of the problem. First, what exactly can an official say at the start line about technical corners to get Cat 5s safely through them? Yes, a warning that there are challenging corners on the course is good to have, but beyond that, what? "Hold your line"? One of the differences between a Cat 5 and a Cat 1 (or a typical Cat 3, even) is that a Cat 5 thinks "hold your line" is an instruction that conveys some kind of useful information to the riders hearing it. But it doesn't, and that's part of why we laugh at it as a tedious cliche around here. What these riders need is practical instruction on how to approach corners, both solo and in a large pack. And the only practical way to do that is on-the-bike clinics and instruction, which USAC doesn't want to make mandatory. "Hold your line" is a joke. Well, okay, what if you hold your line, but your line is dangerous and terrible? Or you think you're holding your line, but you aren't? And "don't cross wheels" is similarly supposed to do what, exactly? I think it's safe to say that these guys probably didn't want to cross wheels. They just failed to prevent it. Might as well tell them "don't crash."

And second, there's no way that these guys crossed wheels and crashed because they went into these technical corners too fast. Crashes in a Cat 5 race almost never have anything to do with speed. They happen because guys get into situations, in corners or even on straights, where they are going too slow, they're going all over the place in different directions, someone gets tangled up with someone else and down they go.

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I guess what I'm trying to say is, Cat 5 is pointless in its current model.
Let's not get overly dramatic, okay? There are lots of problems and limitations in the way that beginner racers are handled by USAC. That's a far cry from Cat 5 being pointless. It's better that we have Cat 5 than not. That's a pretty long way from the system being perfect, or even acceptable. But the basic concept served by Cat 5 is a good idea, even if it ends up being combined with Cat 4 sometimes. The problem is that just having a Category 5 is not sufficient by itself to address the needs of new racers.
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Old 06-03-14, 03:09 PM   #12
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The problem here with lack of instruction is acknowledged, but I'm going to tell you that, if anything, your incorrect assessment of what went wrong here emphasizes the size of the problem. First, what exactly can an official say at the start line about technical corners to get Cat 5s safely through them? Yes, a warning that there are challenging corners on the course is good to have, but beyond that, what? "Hold your line"? One of the differences between a Cat 5 and a Cat 1 (or a typical Cat 3, even) is that a Cat 5 thinks "hold your line" is an instruction that conveys some kind of useful information to the riders hearing it. But it doesn't, and that's part of why we laugh at it as a tedious cliche around here. What these riders need is practical instruction on how to approach corners, both solo and in a large pack. And the only practical way to do that is on-the-bike clinics and instruction, which USAC doesn't want to make mandatory. "Hold your line" is a joke. Well, okay, what if you hold your line, but your line is dangerous and terrible? Or you think you're holding your line, but you aren't? And "don't cross wheels" is similarly supposed to do what, exactly? I think it's safe to say that these guys probably didn't want to cross wheels. They just failed to prevent it. Might as well tell them "don't crash."

And second, there's no way that these guys crossed wheels and crashed because they went into these technical corners too fast. Crashes in a Cat 5 race almost never have anything to do with speed. They happen because guys get into situations, in corners or even on straights, where they are going too slow, they're going all over the place in different directions, someone gets tangled up with someone else and down they go.



Let's not get overly dramatic, okay? There are lots of problems and limitations in the way that beginner racers are handled by USAC. That's a far cry from Cat 5 being pointless. It's better that we have Cat 5 than not. That's a pretty long way from the system being perfect, or even acceptable. But the basic concept served by Cat 5 is a good idea, even if it ends up being combined with Cat 4 sometimes. The problem is that just having a Category 5 is not sufficient by itself to address the needs of new racers.
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Old 06-03-14, 03:19 PM   #13
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As a newer racer, I think a clinic would be a great requirement prior to racing. Something like "clinic instruction on the following topics are required prior to entry into a race: insert items here".

However, there seems to be a shortage of these clinics. We have them in NorCal, but they are in January and not too many new racers are thinking about clinics or racing in January. If there were clinics available on a stand alone bi-monthly basis or prior to races on a montly basis, that could be beneficial. There seems to be a lot of experienced folk that offer up "go to a clinic, go do drills, etc", but there aren't a lot of clinics nor a lot of experienced folks readily available to run through bumping drills with cat 5s. Most 5s aren't on teams, so they likely don't have those resources/people at hand. As a result, it tends to come down to learning by doing in the cat 5 races. In the long run, it works, but might not be the best option.

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Old 06-03-14, 03:22 PM   #14
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On-bike clinics and/or instruction seems like something that could go a long way...I guess a big problem with them is if they're not mandatory they would probably not be well-attended.

I guess it's a complex subject really when you think about it. Cat-5 racers like myself have to learn sometime, and for me it's been baptism by fire in the 4/5's, which hasn't been all bad I guess. I suppose a silver lining is with a bunch of 4's in the race hopefully you've got some experienced and safe riders, even if they are in it more for competition and to win that some of the 5's in the same race would be.

I'm lucky that I haven't been dropped to solo or been pulled in crits, so at least I've been able to finish races in the pack and get a little experience. It's hard to imagine a new Cat-5 racer "learning" much in terms of racing when they're dropped 5 miles into a RR or pulled 10 mins into a crit. We'd learn that we're not fast enough to hang and I guess that's a lesson in itself but not really the lessons that Cat-5 is designed to teach. Complex issue.
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Old 06-03-14, 03:44 PM   #15
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On the issue of being dropped, for me there were 2 reasons I've been dropped:

One was in a 4/5 crit - my first crit after a crash in a cat 5 crit. I was dropped in 3 laps. Lack of confidence was the definite issue there. For confidence, you really need pack experience.

But the other reason is lack of repeatable top end power - you don't get that unless you are racing or doing some serious interval work. But that can be built relatively quickly. We have a local Saturday fast group ride. I was dropped twice the first time, once the second time, and after that I was helping reel in breaks and contesting sprints. It took me all of 2 weeks to build the fitness needed. Granted, that was after I had at least a bit of base fitness, but there's gotta be some way to let all cat 5s everywhere know they won't keep getting dropped forever!
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Old 06-03-14, 04:12 PM   #16
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Old 06-03-14, 04:13 PM   #17
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On the issue of being dropped, for me there were 2 reasons I've been dropped:

One was in a 4/5 crit - my first crit after a crash in a cat 5 crit. I was dropped in 3 laps. Lack of confidence was the definite issue there. For confidence, you really need pack experience.

But the other reason is lack of repeatable top end power - you don't get that unless you are racing or doing some serious interval work. But that can be built relatively quickly. We have a local Saturday fast group ride. I was dropped twice the first time, once the second time, and after that I was helping reel in breaks and contesting sprints. It took me all of 2 weeks to build the fitness needed. Granted, that was after I had at least a bit of base fitness, but there's gotta be some way to let all cat 5s everywhere know they won't keep getting dropped forever!
I hear you. I don't think getting dropped due to fitness is the main issue. Everyone is gonna get dropped at some point, even if it was just one bad day or something like that. Cat-5 doesn't need to be "easy" racing so that everyone gets a ribbon, it just needs to be a good learning experience. At least that's my understanding of it. Like you say it's more the whole confidence and pack experience thing, which makes it tough...you don't have it, you get dropped in 4/5's. You didn't gain anything in that race. Then next time it happens again.

Group rides are great to help, but even fast group rides are quite a bit different than a race in my limited experience.

Clinics would be great as someone mentioned, but it might be hard to get guys to attend.

At some point I guess it becomes just get out there and do it, 4/5's or whatever be damned...seems like that's how it works. But I'm not sure that's how USAC has Cat-5 working in it's mind is it? That's the big question.
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Old 06-03-14, 04:31 PM   #18
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just to clarify there was an additional beginner race clinic on May 18th in NCNCA (nor-cal) so it does exist mid season for some lucky people. i would also say that most of the bigger crits around here have a cat 5/mentored field and the mentors are typically masters 123s....seasoned types


also Hack...cat 3 in 12 months....nice man

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Old 06-03-14, 05:40 PM   #19
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This issue came up at our last local Association meeting. It was suggested that the local racers get together and submit a proposal on how they would like the Cat system to work. Here is what we came up with:


Cat 5s line up at the back of the Pro 1/2 race. When they get dropped by the 1st or 2nd lap they will quickly learn what bike racing is really all about: humiliation & self loathing.


For those that have the stones to come back 10 times they get moved down in categories gradually until they can complete an entire race.


Upon reaching this ultimate category they will be awarded an official "Pack Fodder" jersey which they must wear until they can podium races consistently (or at least top 10 with a valid excuse*).


5 podiums, 10 top 10s with a valid excuse*, or 8 top 10s with at least 3 awesome excuses** = UPGRADE!

* Excuses such as "I'm tapering", "I drank too much last night", "I forgot my gel", "That dude didn't hold his line", etc... = Immediate Downgrade


** Awesome excuses would be: "My cleat broke & I had to sprint with 1 leg", "I swallowed my inhaler", "The follow car hit me", etc...
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Old 06-03-14, 08:16 PM   #20
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In Lambra you have a lot of people who are cat 1 in mtb, cyclocross, or cross country. They show up for their one or two road race a year, blow everyone out, then not show up till next year. I'm not sure if everywhere is like this but a 44 mile cat 5 race averaging 23.8mph seems relatively quick?

People finally started upgrading this year since last year the top 10 people were like this. One upgraded to 4 and his first 4 race got 3rd.

I know this year if you race in a 4/5 race as a 4 it doesn't even count towards your point in our area. They have enough people and are forcing people to upgrade finally to stop it. The funny thing is, there are barely in 1 or 2's then too. The 1 cat 1 guy got blown out by 40 places by a cat 2 from Texas that I know in the Fayateville stage race both in the road and tt section.
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Old 06-03-14, 08:25 PM   #21
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just to clarify there was an additional beginner race clinic on May 18th in NCNCA (nor-cal) so it does exist mid season for some lucky people. i would also say that most of the bigger crits around here have a cat 5/mentored field and the mentors are typically masters 123s....seasoned types

also Hack...cat 3 in 12 months....nice man
Ha...thanks. Got lucky in flat crits where I could hide for 44.75 minutes then sprint.

Also, I did do that mid-year clinic last year. It was helpful and we covered a wide range of topics:
-bumping drills
-rubbing wheels drills
-avoiding sudden braking
-cornering solo and with others
-some sprinting

I wish we had covered more pack riding though, but ran out of time.

Ultimately, it seems there is no real cat 5 solution and it will vary region to region.

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Old 06-03-14, 09:08 PM   #22
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I agree, mixing the 4's in with the 5's is just not a good idea. Naturally the 4's are going to push the pace faster, maybe more than what the 5's are comfortable with, and then you risk accidents or the 5's end up getting dropped, defeating the whole purpose of the category 5.
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Old 06-03-14, 09:12 PM   #23
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The problem here with lack of instruction is acknowledged, but I'm going to tell you that, if anything, your incorrect assessment of what went wrong here emphasizes the size of the problem. First, what exactly can an official say at the start line about technical corners to get Cat 5s safely through them? Yes, a warning that there are challenging corners on the course is good to have, but beyond that, what? "Hold your line"? One of the differences between a Cat 5 and a Cat 1 (or a typical Cat 3, even) is that a Cat 5 thinks "hold your line" is an instruction that conveys some kind of useful information to the riders hearing it. But it doesn't, and that's part of why we laugh at it as a tedious cliche around here. What these riders need is practical instruction on how to approach corners, both solo and in a large pack. And the only practical way to do that is on-the-bike clinics and instruction, which USAC doesn't want to make mandatory. "Hold your line" is a joke. Well, okay, what if you hold your line, but your line is dangerous and terrible? Or you think you're holding your line, but you aren't? And "don't cross wheels" is similarly supposed to do what, exactly? I think it's safe to say that these guys probably didn't want to cross wheels. They just failed to prevent it. Might as well tell them "don't crash."

And second, there's no way that these guys crossed wheels and crashed because they went into these technical corners too fast. Crashes in a Cat 5 race almost never have anything to do with speed. They happen because guys get into situations, in corners or even on straights, where they are going too slow, they're going all over the place in different directions, someone gets tangled up with someone else and down they go.



Let's not get overly dramatic, okay? There are lots of problems and limitations in the way that beginner racers are handled by USAC. That's a far cry from Cat 5 being pointless. It's better that we have Cat 5 than not. That's a pretty long way from the system being perfect, or even acceptable. But the basic concept served by Cat 5 is a good idea, even if it ends up being combined with Cat 4 sometimes. The problem is that just having a Category 5 is not sufficient by itself to address the needs of new racers.
That's my point, just having a race of newbies doesn't really do anything at all. There needs to be something extra. I could be the sketchiest rider out there, and other than a few yells there really is no corrective action for it. @hack's race seems like a perfect model but its a tough sell for promoters to add extra resources if they are scraping by already. Clinic's are a tough sell as well because many are just going to shun racing all together than attend one. Personally, I think a 1 minute pre race speech (akin to a Miranda) could go a long way. When I was new to cycling, I had no clue how vulnerable my front was, or that chopping a racer was dangerous. The goal of Cat 5 should be to produce skillful racers, but if you ask the guys that have been around that doesn't seem to be the case.
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Old 06-03-14, 10:45 PM   #24
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I agree, mixing the 4's in with the 5's is just not a good idea. Naturally the 4's are going to push the pace faster, maybe more than what the 5's are comfortable with, and then you risk accidents or the 5's end up getting dropped, defeating the whole purpose of the category 5.
As if there was ever a cat 5 racer who said "hold up guys, this speed is getting unsafe."
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Old 06-04-14, 01:56 AM   #25
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Got lucky in flat crits where I could hide for 44.75 minutes then sprint.
This explains 95% of my results as well ... good job on your upgrade. I have been trying for the last two years to improve on my ability to get in breaks and improve my threshold riding, but by far the best way for me to get a result is hide and wait. It is nice to know where you fit in the puzzle.
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