Update 10/19/11 12:26PM: Post updated to reflect combined 35+ Open and 35+ Cat 3 times.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, cyclocross has unique needs for categorization. Compared to road racing, with the minimal presence of team tactics and less chance of pileups due to new riders, it is less important to segregate riders by experience, and more important to segregate them by speed. It is true that a roadie new to cyclocross may have similar lap times to an experienced rider, compensating for poor technique on technical sections with more power on the straights, but that is simply an extreme example of the nature of the sport itself: balancing power with finesse.
Cyclocross categorization seems to be an ever present debate, generating lots of discussion on 303cycling. Hopefully some data analysis will help racers understand the requirements for a good categorization system.
The ACA has been kind enough to give us a nibblet of data to work with. The new chip timing system is already paying dividends, and lap times for the first Colorado Cross Cup have been released “for select categories”. I took the data and made a chart of lap times for this particular race. Please note that the course conditions / weather did not change drastically during this race day.
Each category’s times are fit into 15 second ‘bins’ for each column. For instance, there were about 10 laps under 6’30″, all in the SM Open category. I’ve included the major Men’s categories, with the exception of 45+ (I’ll get to this in a minute), and 35+ which is included in 35+ 3.
You can see that a few things are working properly with the categorization system: The Men’s Open is the fastest. Men’s 35+ 4 is the slowest, although to me it seems that 35+ 4 should be called “Cat 5″ or “Beginner” to be more inclusive to new racers of all ages.
The 35+ 3 category is where things get hard to decipher. The lap times are for mixed categories, Cat 3 combined with Single Speed and 35+ 3 combined with 35+ open. It is possible to sort through the results, but not by an obvious way that I could easily automate. It is clear that 35+ Open/35+ is faster than Cat 3/SS.
The justification for the 35+ 3 category is often “But where do 35+ 4′s go after they upgrade?” The 35+ 4′s feel that the Cat 3 field is too serious, after coming out of the ‘beginner’ group. As you can see from the data, the top of the 35+ 4 leaders are in fact well behind the majority of the Cat 3/SS Category.
If 35+ 4 were “Cat 5″ or “Beginner”, then the progression would be to move up to Cat 4, which is supported by the data. A rider placing in the top of the current 35+ 4 category would be placing in about the top 1/3 of Cat 4.
Master’s and Women’s Categories
Now, I’ll get to the ‘Open’ master’s categories: 35+, 45+, and 55+. I believe these categories are absolutely necessary to support master’s racing. Firstly, they are legitimate categories at the National and World level. And secondly they are needed to respect our older racers. After a certain age (although maybe 40 instead of 35), a racer can no longer compete with racers of all ages. The ‘Open’ master’s categories allow for appropriate age group competition in cyclocross.
Women’s fields are smaller and don’t require as much segregation. I think it is important to keep the Women’s Open race as the only race on course as a sign of respect, and keep all women’s categories organized with the goal to promote increased participation.
Data and References:
I took the lap times from the bottom pages of the data released by the ACA which appears to show individual lap times. The first lap times are 00:00.0, which is the first time the timing mat is crossed after completing the first lap. Thus, all the lap time data above is for lap 2 through the finish.
I parsed the data by removing zeros and obvious bad data (laps > 9 minutes or <6), and imported them to an Excel Spreadsheet to create the chart.
For further analysis, it would be nice to have data from multiple races. It would also be nice to be able to distinguish between categories with mixed fields, but from the data that has been released so far it would be quite difficult/time consuming.