Ok folks, I know I’ve gotten you all riled up now. In fact, whipped into a lather may be a more accurate a description. Anyway, I know there were some issues with my data and analysis from the last set, so I’ve improved it with yesterday’s well timed release of last weekend’s lap times (in handy excel format).
I want to solidify my points as well, but first: the data. The excel files have lap times. For some categories (Men Open) the data provides the time of each lap. For others (Men 3), the first lap time is missing, but easily found by subtracting the total finishing time. For Men 35+ 3, the times are offset by the staggered start delay, but I was able to easily approximate this to exactly one minute based on first and consecutive lap times. Lastly, for Cat 4 field, the data lacked the first two laps, so I took the liberty to average the first two laps to create the times for the first two laps.
Lastly, I accounted for differing field sizes by ‘normalizing’ the frequency of lap times for each field (A value of 100 represents the most commonly occurring lap time for a particular category).
First, a few comments on the data, and then I’ll re-state my conclusions. It is important to note the first deviation (left most rise) of each category. These are the fastest racers turning their fastest laps. The categories follow expected trends, with the masters categories trailing just behind. The peak of each curve represents the median time, or the ‘middle of the pack’. Lastly, the trailing end of the curve represents the back of the category.
Also note the slowest lap times are coming from the shortest races, and the fastest lap times are from the longest distance race. The standard men’s cyclocross race is 60 minutes. It would be great to run all categories full distance, but there is simply not enough time in the day. Shortening the race does not seem to increase the speed of the race beyond that of a lower numbered category with a longer race.
Field Sizes: Season averages would be helpful, but these numbers are for this race:
Men Open: 30
Men 3: 34
Men 4: 61
Men 35+: 33
Men 35+ 3: 52
Men 35+ 4: 77
There are a few opinions I have, which are also supported by field size and lap time data.
The 35+ 4 field should become Cat 5: The race is by far the slowest category of the day, and would be more inclusive to beginning racers of all ages as a Cat 5 (or ‘Beginner’) category.
The Cat 3 Field is being marginalized by the 35+ 3 field: The Cat 3 field is weakened by dilution in numbers by the 35+ 3 category. Racers from both categories at the Cat 3 level are facing decreased competition. It is easier to upgrade to Cat 2 and racers are finding themselves well at the back of the pack after upgrading (as you can see from lap times). Also note that the Cat 3 lap times show the least variation of all categories from lack of depth.
I believe if the Master’s sub-categories were eliminated, with 35+ 4 becoming Cat 5 and the elimination of 35+ 3′s, the distribution of racers would increase the depth of competition in each category. The 35+ 4 field is already occasionally overflowing. As a Cat 5 field, riders could easily upgrade and be competitive in the Cat 4 field leaving Cat 5 to the slowest racers.
35+ 3 is already combined with 35+ Open using a staggered start. The elimination of the category would not affect the race-day schedule. The data shows the fastest 35+ 3s would be well suited for Cat 3, and the slower in Cat 4. Unfortunately the 35+ 4 field has given many riders an ‘easy’ upgrade and the slower half are left mis-categorized. If the 35+ 4 field had originally been added as Cat 5, then the progression would not have necessitated the creation of the 35+ 3 field which is now cutting into competition.
I know everyone has their own (often self-interested) opinion on how to fit hundreds of racers into a winter schedule with limited time and sunlight. My goal in this post is to present the data that has been made available to us in a useful manner to facilitate the already ongoing discussion of racing categories and scheduling.