Race Categories are Meaningless

Sly got kicked out of 24 Hours of Moab because some wanker(s) complained that he is a Pro (actually he topped out at Semi-Pro but that means Pro to the organizers). All he wanted to do was have fun cranking the night shift, hang out with his team and other riders, and enjoy the event. Fox admits he's not in Semi-Pro form, and while he's still a strong rider, his recent race results (or lack thereof) back up his claim. So it boggles my mind why anyone would care if he rides. Will Fox be an asset to his team? Sure. Will he be the ringer that puts them on the podium? Probably not. So why not let him ride?

Fox pointed out that the categories in MTB racing cause a lot of problems (like his), and I agree. I hadn't thought much about the categories before, but when you really think about it, they're arbitrary, ripe for abuse, and well, silly. Silly because racers pick their category and there are no uniform rules that force racers to move up (based on race results or some other objective criteria). Nor are there allowances for racers to move down if their performance drops. There is at least some logic behind age grouping since in general it's harder to reach a level of performance as a person gets older. And while you could describe a Beginner, just exactly what is a Sport or an Expert? Pretty nebulous.

It goes against what we're used to, but why not dump the categories? I know one reason why - awards and points. It's fun to get a ribbon and score some points. Without categories there'd be a lot fewer winners. But what does it really mean to be the winner of the Sport category? I'll admit that it is fun to get ribbons and rack up points. But if it doesn't mean that much, are we just feeding ourselves ego junk food? Can't we be happy with ourself if we simply rode a good race, even if we finished 18th out of 25 racers in the 30-34 group?

Amidst the artificiality of organized competitive events (the categories, awards, points, etc.), there is purity to be found in racing, but it's usually at an individual level - being in the zone, putting together a top performance, beating you best time, etc. Friendly rivalry can also be rewarding as you see "who's got it today". But for me, I find more purity in just riding - cranking some sweet mountain single-track, or cruising the desert trails, or flying downhill carving turns, or finessing a technical challenge.

No matter how you get your kicks, "riding" is the soul of cycling. And this snafu over categorization with Fox sucked some of that soul away. Is it worth it?


Utah Mnt biker said...

I have to disagree, with respect to Fox he raced at Semi-pro level this year. Results? He even got on the podium at a couple of the national races. Just because someone isn't riding as well as they were a month ago does that mean they should get to move down?

One way to eliminate the hassle for the 24 hour race is to require a NORBA license that way when someone checks in with their license they are racing in the proper category.

The USA-mountain bike system is pretty much broken for categorizing racers. You are supposed to move up after 5 top 5 finishes but they don't enforce it. If they would enforce it, it would be a better system similar to road racing.

There are allowances to move down in category. Using Fox as an example, years ago he was racing semi-pro or pro. He dropped out for a couple of years and was able to return as an expert rider then petitioned for a semi-pro license.

Too often I see a lot people that race strictly to win and when they get to a level where they can't stay at the top of the podium they simply quit instead of race just to race.

KanyonKris said...

Good comments.

With respect to Fox, even he seems to admit he's in a gray area so maybe I shouldn't have ranted about his case so strongly. It just bums me out when riders can't ride.

I agree with your comments about categories.

And I've seen the same thing, some people race just to win. I had fun last year racing ICup Beginner, and it was cool to win some ribbons, but even then my interest was fading. This year I moved to Sport because I wanted a longer race. I liked the longer distance, and was OK to finish well off the lead. I would just rather ride the trails most days than race. So I've settled into hitting a few races each year to give me that jolt you only get from racing and the rest of the time I cruise the single-track or hit the roads. I like variety.