ACA Cyclocross Categories – Rant + Analysis

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 . 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.

Frisco CX Lap Times by Category - Note: 35+ 3 includes 35+ Open

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 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 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.

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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9 Responses to ACA Cyclocross Categories – Rant + Analysis

  1. B says:

    Interesting. Some comments:
    - the 35+ Cat 3 data from the ACA includes the 35+ open finishers.
    - the 35+ Cat 3 data is approx 30 seconds off; they start 35+3 30 seconds after the opens, but only use one time (from the start of the 35+).

    • says:

      Good Catch. That would explain why the 35+ 3s appear to be faster than the Cat 3s.

      As for the staggered starts, using laps 2-finish will account for individual lap times regardless of start time.

  2. Brendan says:

    Another interesting aspect is the difference in race length between the categories. Turning in a fast lap every lap is far different from turning in progressively slower laps, consistency seems to be a key to winning races. Being consistent take different amount of endurance in the different categories SM 4 (43 minutes for the winner), SM 3 35+ (43:53 minutes for the winner), SM 3 (50:35) and SM Open (58:55 for the winner). Although I agree with your premise, I’m not sure how to account for the differences in race length.

    Creating cat 5 and cat 2 races while eliminating the 35+ 3 and 35+ 4 categories would serve all racers better then the current configuration without changing the number of races in a day.

    • says:

      Agreed, except there probably aren’t enough Cat 1s to fill the Open field to a reasonable size if there is a Cat 2 race.

  3. brian says:

    The big difference here is not lap times but rather race length (number of laps).

    SM open: 10 laps! Ave 8min a lap (top ten finishers)
    SM35: 5 laps Ave low 8 min
    SM35c3: 5 laps Mid 8 min.
    SM3: 6 laps Mid 8 min.
    SM35C4: 4 laps Low to mid 9′s

    The lap times between sm open and 35 open are not drastically different, but the length of the race sure is! Same with SM3 and 35-3. An extra lap is considerable.

    So I disagree with the arguement that particular categories are faster or the fastest. The endurance required (less for Masters) is definately evident. Why did we need a 10 lap open race?

    • says:

      From my reading of the data (look for winner Allen Krughoff’s transponder # 4511 in the Men’s Open file), which appears 8 times, for 8 laps for the Men’s Open race.
      Edit: I think we’re looking at different data. I was reading the Frisco results for this post, not today’s Monarch data.
      To respond to “Why do we need a 10 lap race?”:
      I am sure we could have a one lap race, or even a time trial and the outcome would be similar to the race. The fastest racers are going to have the fastest times, regardless of race distance. I would also argue that extending the race length for other categories would not decrease lap times as much as you might expect (I’d suggest only a few percent, like a 3% or about 15 seconds if a 40 minute race was extended to 60).

      The standard length cyclocross race is 60 minutes for men and 40 minutes for women, these are the times raced in the world cup and world championships. I think it is most appropriate to have local ‘Pro’ or Open races of the proper length.

      I tried to quickly lookup the length of the Master’s World Championship race, but couldn’t find it easily, but it looks like Masters Nationals were about 40 minute races.

  4. says:

    if you segregate riders by speed, why do you need open masters? it seems that you conveniently change the argument to one that is no longer based on speed but out of respect. to your point, if you raced your speed, as you age you may end up downgrading. but that is way too much of a bruise for the ego…

    • Frank says:

      Agree. Just try making a Men 1s and Men 2s and separate out all the 35+ and 45+ into those groups.
      OMG – All the big sponsored Masters riders would bitch and moan forever…

  5. ben says:

    It’s an interesting start of the data, and actually interesting from a single data point. I’ll be interested to see how it starts averaging across the season. I am surprised at the times you’ve posted for cat 4 vs 35 4 as I used to race cat4 and now race 35 4 and generally find the field faster than the 4s were. The primary reason I race the 35 4s though is to stay away from the beginners that crash quite a bit and also for the earlier start time so i can get a race in and still have most of the day for activities with my kids.

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