Lap Times Redux – Monarch

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 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.

Monarch CX Lap Times by Category

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.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 2 road racer and lining up with the PROs.
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6 Responses to Lap Times Redux – Monarch

  1. says:

    Interesting analysis. Three thoughts I had:

    1. The slower peak on the 35+ open category is made up of 8 cat 3′s and cat 4′s (including myself), who chose not to race the 35+ 3. Taking us out shows that most of the 2′s and 1′s in the 35+ cat would do just fine in the open.

    2. The differences in the 35+ 4 and 4 and the 35+ 3 and 3′s may be due to courses like Monarch speeding up throughout the day and/or smaller fields. After racing both the 35+ 4 and the 4′s for state last year, I don’t think there is much difference in field speed.

    3. I think that running slower fields for shorter times (like 4 laps for sw open and 35 4′s) decreases the ability to become stronger and improve bike handling. Running the men’s open for 72+ minutes won’t benefit them nearly to the same degree as running other cat’s for 50 min.

    • says:

      Good points. A few brief responses:

      Yes, the 35+ leaders do quite well in Open, but will be hard pressed to ever win a race. Open master’s categories are a fine way to continue the sport, but perhaps 35 is a few years too young (B. Dwight, P. Webber, C. Case all are 35+ and can win racers in Open)

      Obviously the officials made a mistake and added an extra lap for the Open race. 1:10 for the winner is just too long. Good point about time on course for newer racers.

  2. brian says:


    Obviously you are a very anylytical and objective guy as your series of data graphs clearly illustrate. I applaude the effort and agree that some changes need to be made in the master’s categories. I say this as a master racer who is a cat 3 both road and cross. The problem is not the sub categories (35 3 and 4), these are outcomes because of what 35 open has become…a shortened pro race and and in many ways a myth / institution. We pick on the 35 -3 and 4 but not the 35 open….

    First of all the age of 35 and it’s implications on athletic performance has changed over the years. Many top level pros are racing beyond 35 very sucessfully. I would suggest that a more appropriate age would be 40 to start a master’s regemine. 35 should still stay in senior age racing. But I have a family and a job and need consideration? Understood and maybe that puts a dent in the 40 age arguement.

    Secondly is the idea of upgrading in the masters fields using sm categories. Your point about how the fields become un-competative is well taken except that it is interestingly opposite of what I have heard previously. You seem to be arguing that the cat 3′s are suffering from a lack of competition and achieving upgrades too soon? I have always thought the prevolent arguement to be that the masters are getting easy upgrades due to their dilluted talent pools. Again I say this as someone who has upgraded through the masters division, but there should be a modified upgrade procedure in masters categories which does not so closely reflect the sm categories. An ABC system would be more relevant for us. If you want so badly to get your “upgrade” then race SM group. In my way of thinking there should be a reshuffling that looks like this…..SM35=A….SM35-3 =B….SM 35-4=C Upgrade from C to B to A not 3-2-1

    Nationals. A major goal for many (but not all) in cross (especially compared to road) is to compete at nationals. I have not been realistic about this and am as guilty as the next with my ability to participate. The fact is that you must race your age group a nationals and that all of the best in your age group are there. To be competative you need to be able to ride at the front of at least the A group. My point here is not to say that lower racers shouldn’t participate, but rather that the current ACA categories don’t translate to the biggest stages. (with the possible caviate that to participate in nationals you now need to be at least a 3)….

    Lastly, and I am still banging this drum… the length of races. You had mentioned that there is a standard of 45 min and 60 minutes and generally that is true. 35open should have the same length of race as the open men. Why not? Additionally why not have them start 30 seconds behind the open race? The elite sacred cow I suppose? SM3 again has an extra 5 minutes compared to 35 open and 35 3. Why are the masters races shorter if there is no reasoning behind it? I would see it as beneficial as a masters racer. A reason to to participate in the sm cat. Boulder cup has the sm3 race the 60 min…. Is the shorter race an arguement to keep the masters cats and not combine them as you suggest?

    Love your blog and heal up fast.

    • says:

      Thank you,

      On the subject of..

      40+: I agree!

      Master’s upgrades: It is a difficult problem to have different levels of competition in the same category.

      Race length: I think it is mostly a practical consideration for race-day length.

      “Sacred Cows”: I believe the top category is attainable for any dedicated racer. After one has put in the time and effort required to reach the highest level of competition, they should be afforded the most respect of any field racing. This means full length/distances, limiting other racers on course (no mixed cyclocross fields) and preferential treatment on the road (neutralizing other categories if needed).

  3. Brian P says:

    Regarding sacred cows, won’t the faster fields overtaking the slower fields on the road always neutralize the slower field? Not sure how it works close to the finish, but I suspect that this still holds true.

    • says:

      Yes, but we had some problems last year where the P12 field was riding slower and was overtaken by a different category.

      Road racing is a set distance, Cyclocross is a set time… It doesn’t matter how fast you race, just who crosses the line first. There were conditions that led to the Pro/1/2 race being overtaken by other categories last year and a couple times the P12 field was neutralized with a break up the road, which quite possibly gave the breakaway they extra breathing room to stay away. (Candela’s circuit and Morgul Bizmarck road race both had the field neutralized and the break stick to the finish).

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