You may hear a cyclist you know boast about being a "Cat. 3 road racer" or a "Cat. 2 mountain biker."
So, is that good? And how exactly did he get to that level?
The USA Cycling rider categories are a little complex to outsiders. But the No. 1 thing to remember is that the lower the number, the more proficient and experienced a rider is.
For road and track racing, the grouping starts at Cat. 5 and work up to Cat. 1 in men's racing, and starts at Cat. 4 and work up to Cat. 1 in women's racing. Cyclocross racers start at Cat. 4 and work up, and mountain bike racers start at Cat. 3 and work up.
Here's a breakdown of each type a rider and an overview of how they can work their way toward Cat. 1:
All men start at Category 5 and all women start at Cat. 4. For the men to move up to Cat. 4, the most traveled route is to complete 10 massed-start races permitted by USA Cycling. The races must be at least 15 miles long if it's a road race and 10 miles long if it's a criterium.
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Once a rider is Cat. 4, the upgrades start to blend experience and performance, while the race-length minimums increase. To move from Cat. 4 to Cat. 3, a rider can do either of the following:
- Compete in 25 qualifying races with a minimum of 10 top-10 finishes with fields of 30 or more riders, or 20 pack finishes with fields of more than 50 riders.
- Compile 20 upgrade points in a 12-month period. Points are awarded based on a chart. For example, finishing 3rdth place in a road race with 35 starters earns you 5 points. Finishing 2nd place in a criterium with 17 starters nets you 3 points. (Complete charts can be found in the USA Cycling Rule Book).
To move up from Cat. 3 to Cat. 2 requires 25 points in any 12-month period. Moving from Cat. 2 to Cat. 1 requires 30 points in a 12-month period. Once you're looking to upgrade to Cat. 2, sanctioned stage races can earn you points.
Attending a USA Cycling Development Camp is also a way to earn upgrade points toward any category except Cat. 1.