Cat 3 35+ Mythbusting

Sep 14 2014

cat3As a recent transplant to Colorado, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the handful BRAC Colorado’ Cross Cup races I’ve done so far. But I will say I’m a little confused by the number of separate fields these events jam into single day of racing.

I think many of these races could be combined, but for the moment, I’m going to focus on the split that most closely affects me: there are separate fields for Cat 3 racers—one “Open” race, and one reserved for those age 35 and up.

The result is two small fields (24 and 46, respectively, at my last event) of similarly skilled and experienced riders starting a minute or two minutes away from each other—which doesn’t make any sense. So I’ve started asking why the series splits these two races, instead of simply scoring a masters category separately. The responses I’ve gotten haven’t been particularly well-thought out.

I shouldn’t have to race against a bunch of 20-yr-old college students

According to USAC’s 2013 member survey, the average age of a ‘cross racer is 39.72. So assuming even age distribution across categories, for half the 3 field to fit this description, the other half would need to be 60. According, at the BRAC season-opener in Castle Rock, CO only 3 competitors in the Men’s 3 field were below the age of 30.

It’s tough to be raising a family, only getting to train a couple times a week

Then shouldn’t we have “married with children” fields, rather than 35+ fields? After all, those under the age of 35 are very capable have having these responsibilities as well—I’m told some even do. Conversely, I’m racing age 33 and currently am not raising a family. It’s not impossible this will still be the case in two years—what would be the logic of me having a separate field?

USAC didn’t ask about family situation in their 2013 member survey, but “family obligations” were only cited by 27% of respondents as a reason they didn’t do as many races as they wanted—a far distant second to “not enough nearby races” at 76%.

The older guys can’t afford to crash and be out of work

My experience, in just under a decade of racing ‘cross, is that the overwhelming majority of Cat 3s are employed professionals, whose livelihood relies on their ability to get to work on Monday. Certainly the age numbers above would seem to back that up, as would the USAC survey’s income question, with 87.5% of respondents reporting incomes above $25,000 a year.

The young guys are riskier

As noted, these “young guys” are very likely above the age of 30—but more importantly, is this allegation of recklessness accurate? A 2011 study at the University of Oregon seemed to indicate competitive risk taking peaks at 50.

I’m not sure anyone keeps data on ‘cross race “crashiness”, so I don’t think it’s fair to say that younger fields or younger riders—especially not ones as old as 34—are more likely to crash.

Less-experienced riders are almost certainly more likely to crash, but that’s kind of the point of the category system: group riders of similar experience and ability. You can’t just self-select as Cat 3—you’ve got to put in the race starts to get there.

Are there other reasons it makes sense to split the Cat 3 field like this? I’m more than willing to accept that there are—my inclination isn’t to eliminate Masters racing, but to make the experience of ‘cross more fun for racers and promoters. I think fewer fields to manage, more battling for position, and less dirt-track time-trailing is a winning proposition for everyone.

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