Over the course of this season (and perhaps before that) there has been a quietly running debate about whether cat 4's should be allowed to race the A race on days where there is a seperate B race. The logic for excluding the cat 4's is that they lack the experience and as a result, likely the bike handling and pack skills to deal with the rigors of A race. The logic for allowing them to race the A is to allow the cat 4's the opportunity to "race up" and improve fitness and to get a preview of what a race may look like when and if they upgrade.
I made a few observations today that color my position in this matter.
- Dirty bikes on the starting line. Generally this indicates a lack of care/maintenance. Racers in Belgium are forbidden to start if their bikes are dirty. It is considered a lack of respect for the sport. A bucket, a set of brushes and some dishsoap will set you back less then a new tire; cleaning a bike with the proper tools (see the former) takes less than 15 minutes. "I didn't have time" is a load of horseshit.
- Swerving to avoid ridable obstacles. There are potholes on the course. They are in the same spot every lap. A rider with experience will correct their line well before a big pothole in order to avoid endangering other riders with a squirrelly lane change. I lost count of how many squirrelly swerves I saw today. It is safer to ride over a big pothole than to swerve in a pack. Worst case scenario is that you damage your rear wheel; but you are on your training wheels, right?
- Non Bib Shorts. I am not sure what this means, but it means something. I saw lots of ass crack today and I am not happy about it. Racers wear bibs.
- Braking in the corners. Riders were grabbing handfuls of brake IN the corners. Firstly, none of the corners at Wells require braking. Secondly, if you failto brake before the corner, braking IN it will only make your problems worse. I am not even mentioning what illogical braking does to the riders who are unfortunate enough to be on the braker's wheel.
- Gaps opening up for no reason. Apparently tempo pace was too fast for some of the cat 4's. While this does not endanger anyone, its annoying. If you are not fit enough to hold a wheel at tempo pace, you are in the wrong race.
- Unshaved legs. Again, bicycle racers shave their legs. There are notable exceptions of highly successful racers with hairleg, but they are few and far between.
- Not holding a line. I observed a number of riders who were drifting, seemingly out of control for no apparent reason. One or two of them almost took me out. They were endangering everyone.
- Huge teams that do no work. If you enter a race with 15+ dudes, you should have a goal. If none of you are fit enough to DO ANYTHING, then you are in the wrong race.
Originally, I took no position in this debate. While I was aware that the A race was a bit sketchier when it was combined with the B, I never really thought much about it. I just took note of the sketchy wheels and stayed ahead of them. When gaps opened up because of a flagging cat 4; I closed them. When a cat 4 swerved wildly to avoid a very rideable manhole cover; I gently asked the rider to hold his line (explaining the reason if I wasn't shouted down). I ignored the affronts to our sport.
My position has changed. Cat 4's (and less fit 3's) have their own race at Wells. When the race is combined, I'll deal with it, as I respect and understand BRC's reasoning behind combining fields. When there is a separate B race, cat 4's should be restricted to that race. Higher category riders have earned their upgrades based on experience, time served and results garnered. It is unfair to allow beginners to endanger higher category riders unnecessarily. Higher category riders allow less room when passing and generally ride much more tightly packed together. There is much less margin for error. When a bunch of higher cat riders are riding together it is not a problem. Add a beginner into a hotly contested race...problems.