USA Cycling does it again, and what “it” is is making decisions that really don’t make a whole lot of sense from a quality of racing or rider development standpoint, but purely as a way to shore up finances.
A fondo is not a race. It doesn’t teach you about race tactics, and for many people it doesn’t teach you how to ride in a group.
I think even the current upgrade requirements for Cat 5 to Cat 4 are too lenient. You should be required to participate in new racer clinics, and you should be required to participate (and finish in the field) in several crits and road races before upgrading.
The vast majority of people in a fondo are recreational riders, not competitive riders … it isn’t about beating that guy over there or “winning”, it’s about finishing and hopefully improving your own time compared against prior years. Most of these participants are only “racing” themselves, not anyone else. And the rider who is “racing” is likely doing so against people who are not racing them in return, and that does not sound like a tasty recipe for success to me. It sounds dangerous.
Also, why add a women’s Cat 5 category when you can’t get enough women racing in the current category structure as is? Nothing like fragmenting categories even more … maybe USAC should expand the men’s categories to 8, and masters fields to x0-x3, x4-x6, and x7-x9.
It seems clear to me that with USA Cycling’s recent financial woes, that the expansion of their Ride membership program and these new changes are about bringing new people into the USAC-fold … which is not bad thing … but without developing those riders to ensure that they are actually ready for their upgrades.
By allowing riders to use Fondos for upgrades, you might as well allow them to use Strava results and training logs showing how much power they put out, and thus how “good” they are.
A rider can upgrade from 5 to 4 by finishing 10 races. There’s no requirement on where you need to finish. So I could start 10 races, soft-pedal, and finish way behind the field. As long as I’m classified as a finisher, it counts. A rider can also upgrade from 5 to 4 by earning 10 points in races. If I enter a single road race with a 50 rider field, sit in, and take the sprint for the win, I’ve just earned my 10 upgrade points. Neither of those situations would illustrate that I’m actually ready for a Cat 4 upgrade, just that I’m eligible.
Just because you can upgrade doesn’t mean that you necessarily should upgrade … so maybe instead of adding more categories, they should tighten up the upgrade requirements to ensure that riders are ready for the upgrade before they actually get the upgrade, and that’s really my point; riders shouldn’t upgrade until they are actually ready.
I understand trying to improve your financial outlook by growing membership, but this particular tactic for doing so? Not a wise decision.