"Dear Joe Biker, The following request to change your USAC category has been approved by USA Cycling: Cyclo-cross Racer Request to change category from Cat 3 to Cat 2." It’s 10-12 weeks till cyclocross season, and I’ll need every single day to let my sphincter unclench. Obviously, the race results I used to support the upgrade request are at least six months old. Much like the seven years it took for me to get the courage to propose marriage, the decision didn’t come lightly. However, the best reason I can give in support can be summed up with one sentence. After making the news Facebook official, a CX buddy commented: “Congrats Joe…I’ll fill up that Cat 3 spot for ya!”
I like that. A lot. Someone’s going to take my spot in the 3’s and do it proud. That’s the stuff that makes men tear up. Before hearing from him, my main reason for requesting the upgrade was simply because I earned it. I’m proud of the season I had. Like the BikeReg.com roadie bitch cap I won in the first cyclocross race last season and like the silver medal I won in the Ohio State Championship, I earned it. I ate a few salads. I did hill repeats on Mt. Adams. While I had a few bad races, more of them were good, and down in the bottom of the bag of swag I won was 13 upgrade points. I have no illusions; I’m over 40 with a mortgage and a career. I’ll never go pro. However, I still have the opportunity to compete in the World Championships, National Championships, and the Ohio State Elite Masters Championships. If I ever happened to win one of those jerseys, I certainly would wear it. So I got my little #2 sticker, and I’m going to proudly affix to my license. Then I’ll probably stare at it for a good half hour and show it to my mom next time I visit.
A few months back, there was a story out of the Leadville 100 where a woman who decided not to race gave her race number to a friend. That friend proceeded to snag a podium finish in the original woman’s age group. Uh oh. To say the least I can imagine it was an awkward podium moment. It brought up huge cries of foul, cheating and some legal issues. Despite all the ballyhoo about this little race in Colorado, the blogger known as Fat Cyclist brought up a good point. The situation denied a whole lot of other racers a chance to be one place higher.
I don’t want to be THAT GUY, not Fatty, the guy who denies others of their chance at doing one place better. Wait a second Mr. Biker! Isn’t racing all about denying the person behind you the chance to do one space better? Sure it is. However, they way I see it, when I got up over my 10 upgrade points that was USA Cycling’s little way of saying, “Hey Blogger with the devil horns! You’re at the top. You really can’t get one spot better.” Maybe it comes from Catholic guilt or that I’m a fairly generous soul, I don’t want to have a jersey pocketful of upgrade points and spend another season at the front of the field, essentially denying other racers the chance to experience the fun I had last season, the chance to run out of spots. It was really cool. If I can step into Cat 2 MTB shoes, I should do it.
I also don’t want to be the bench mark for upgrades. I spent more than six months mulling this over. I came to the conclusion if I stayed in the 3’s essentially I would become the hurdle, the barrier for riders to cat up. That makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to be the guy driving the front of the Cat 3 Masters group saying, “If you can beat me, you can move up to the next category.” Hup hup buttercup! No. I’m not that pretentious.
The second to last thing I considered was the ridiculous exercise of where I might finish in the higher category if I were to upgrade. I’m not immune. Like we all don’t crunch the numbers or check the rankings on CXresults.com. I did. If I can save anyone else considering an upgrade a little time, here is the answer I arrived at: if I cat up I’ll be between a guy who’s faster than me and a guy who’s slower than me.
I’ll still be competitive. There will be someone dangling in front of me and someone else a slippery turn from catching. The opportunity to snag a piece of the extra deep extra sweet 1/2/3 payout pie will be there too. Getting a #2 sticker on my license doesn’t guarantee me squat, nor should I have any illusions about it. It’ll take a few more salads, a few less beers, a couple more sweltering Indian summer hill repeats and even then all I’ll ever get is an opportunity. The question becomes more of a commitment. Can I commit myself to train at least as hard or a little more than last year? Yes. I can.
Still, I don’t want to move up and finish DFL on day one. Joe…Joe…stop freaking out. It’s not going to happen. I’ve been DFL before and it wasn’t because I was racing a category I didn’t belong in. It was because I was stressed out from late nights at work, moving into a new house, from putting my dad in hospice care, from life. I was tired. I didn’t eat enough. It was too hot. There’s not a Cat 2 Masters racer that isn’t immune to that. That day may come again. It took less than an hour for USA Cycling to grant me the upgrade. It would take less to downgrade if need be.
So before I click “send” on the USA Cycling website, I considered my current situation in life. It’s because of this that I’ll never outwardly criticize those that stay in the same category from one year to the next. I am not in their shoes. They could be expecting twins. Someone in their family could be dependent on an IV bag. Their boss may have given them the promotion to 3rd shift supervisor. While I haven’t asked my wife to pee on a stick, two years ago my father passed away and my cycling went to crap. The stress of the funeral and closing the estate put a wicked mooglie in my back and time on the bike. Life gets in the way sometimes. No matter how much carbon flair is in my garage, bike racing is not priority numero uno. So while those points itch and poke in my jersey pocket, I took inventory of personal baggage. I’m not carrying a whole lot this year, so I think at least I’ll be as fast as last year, with luck, even faster.
So, my Cat 2 cyclocross upgrade sticker is in the mail. Now I have 12 weeks to lose 4-5 pounds, crush some hill repeats, practice dismounts and get ready to reach out and try my hardest to stay behind someone and keep someone behind me in the next Masters 1/2/3 race. If there’s one perk about an upgrade, it’s great motivation.
You sure you’re not pregnant honey?