A little something to consider when thinking about upgrading.

The category on your license is not a lifetime achievement award, nor is it really a statement of how strong you are or your potential.   It’s just a number that affects what races you can enter when you aren’t racing age-based events.  Because some rider you know or know about was a cat 2 when they were 14 or 15 or even 16 does not DOES NOT mean it is the right thing for you or that it was even the right thing for them.

There are numerous cat 3’s who’ve done just fine internationally in the junior ranks.    If you want to train like a “cat 2”, then that is up to you and your coach to determine if you are ready, but don’t disregard learning HOW to race in the 3’s just to get that “2” on your license.  Don’t disregard that finishing well regularly is not a statement that you need to move up just to pay money to get harder races.  In most parts of the country, going from 3’s to 2’s means going to the 1,2’s…and for what?  Internationally, at 15-16y old race isn’t longer than 40 miles or so.  Really.

Enjoy the process.   If you can already get your upgrade points in the 3’s, great!   If you do it from the sprint, start trying to get in breaks.  If you are in breaks, then start sorting out the sprint.   Help your teammates.  Work on having patience and watch the race develop.   Hit some races from the gun and make the race sort out.   Stop worrying about every single race needing to be some résumé builder.   It doesn’t work like that.  Be in a category that if you make a mistake in a race, your race isn’t over.

There was a time when I supported the upgrade to the 2’s for some of my riders at 14 and very early 15 years old.   I learned from several mistakes that this caused.   Riders had missed out on some things needed at the higher level.  Simply because they were able to place in the upgrade points at 13 and 14 did not mean that they truly had developed enough to be competitive in the higher categories.

I’d worked with these kids since 10 and 11 years old, so it seemed (then) like the right progression, but it clearly wasn’t.  They managed a decent result in a cat 2 race here and there, but it requires (required) such focus in training that it can be difficult to maintain enthusiasm for the sport.  When they had the talent and fitness to ride in every break, it meant that they didn’t learn how to maneuver and manage in the pack well.  And for some, just finishing with the 1,2’s field  became the main motivation for training.   And that’s not right!

You are on the right track if upon entering a race or pulling into the parking lot, your competition thinks, “Uh oh.  This is going to be hard.”  Particularly for junior riders aiming for elite development, if you are overlooked in a race or otherwise a nonfactor, then you’ve upgraded too soon or aren’t ready for the category you’ve entered.  Conversely, you are in the wrong category if you are looking at the pre-reg list and hoping some good riders aren’t showing up or that you hope the race is an easy one.

I understand if you want to avoid the “sandbagger” label.  I understand if you want to be challenged with better and better competition.   But “sandbagging” the 3’s as a junior isn’t really possible.  Well, it is _possible_, but only those competitors and coaches of other riders are going to be clamoring for it.   14, 15, and 16 year olds, even the very talented ones, don’t _need_ to be a cat 2 or 1 to develop.   There’s still a real growth spurt that happens in those years, and training to be competitive in 80-100 mile races against physically mature adults can delay or event stunt that growth.   For what?  For better competition?  If you aren’t able to compete for the higher placings, then you aren’t really competing.

For training purposes, you don’t need to be a cat 2 to train harder.  That is very much up to you.  If you can’t train like a cat 2 or even 1 regardless of what your racing license says, then your discipline level isn’t up to elite standards yet.  And that is ok.

Seriously, my job with Slipstream Sports is to develop junior riders to be ready for the elite ranks.   The fact that someone is a cat 3 does not pose a liability to me.  In fact, it can actually be an asset.

Consider this:  Who is getting the better experience/workout/development?  The rider who tried to breakaway five times in a 50min Cat 3 criterium, or the rider who was gapped off in the crosswind of a p,1,2 race with 45miles to go and rode it in steady?    Sure, one needs to learn to ride in a crosswind and put themselves in a good position in the pack, but you have to have the strength to do that in the first place.  That comes from training.   When you suit up for a training ride, it doesn’t matter what your license lists as your category.  It’s all you.

Upgrading shouldn’t be about your ego if you are truly looking to develop your athletic potential.  Juniors should upgrade because you’ve not only mastered your current category, but also because you are capable of competing in the next category up as well.

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