Knowing why the upgrade point system exists and how to get points can not only help you upgrade categories faster, but it can also help you understand why it may be a good idea to stick around in your current category for as long as you can.
This article includes the updates made to the USAC upgrade rules in January 2020.
USAC’s goal with having racer categories is to allow for fair and safe competition. There is a steep learning curve to all forms of bike racing, but road racing is especially tough due to group dynamics and its inherent dangers.
It’s important to keep in mind that the upgrade system can’t be cheated, and you shouldn’t want to cheat it. However, knowing how many points are required and how they can be earned will certainly help you upgrade at the quickest rate possible.
With that in mind, we put together everything you need to know about USAC category road upgrades in this article.
There is a lot of information you should know about category upgrades, but if you want to skip to a specific section, you can click one of the links below.
- How USAC Category Upgrades Work
- How Road Race Upgrade Points Work
- How Stage Race Upgrade Points Work
- How Non-Race Upgrade Points Work
- How to Submit For an Upgrade
- Tips to Upgrade Categories Faster
How USAC Category Upgrades Work
Upgrades are earned by accumulating points in your current category. You earn points for your finishing position against everybody in your category or a higher category who starts the race. The only exception to this rule is the upgrade from Novice to Cat 4.
Novice to 4
Points Upgrade: 10
Experience Upgrade: Novice racers can upgrade at will at their own discretion
Automatic Upgrade: 10 points in 12 months
Novice racers earn one point for finishing a race, regardless of finishing position. Additionally, there are ways to get non-race upgrade points for Novice racers that count toward their required 10 upgrade points (more on that below).
Category 4 to 3
Points Upgrade: 20 in 36 months
Experience Upgrade: 20 pack finishes (This can include up to three USAC Sanctioned Gran Fondos)
Automatic Upgrade: 30 points in twelve months or 3 wins in a field of over 21 starters in twelve months
Category 3 to 2
Points Upgrade: 30 in 36 months
Experience Upgrade: N/A
Automatic Upgrade: 40 points in twelve months or 3 wins in a field of over 21 starters in twelve months
Category 2 to 1
Points Upgrade: 35 in 36 months
Experience Upgrade: N/A
Automatic Upgrade: 50 points in twelve months or 3 wins in a field of over 50 starters in twelve months
Only 10 of your upgrade points can be earned from Master’s racing or in races that are part of a weekly series.
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How USAC Race Upgrade Points Work
USAC Upgrade points are awarded for races that are sanctioned by USAC and are contingent upon two factors: the number of competitors in the field, and your finishing position. For entry level category upgrades, mentored races and USAC clinics can be another great way to get upgrade points and refine your bike handling and race craft.
Road races are typically held on a large loop or point-to-point course. While the previous upgrade system had certain distance requirements, the updated upgrade system (As of January 2020) has no specific distance requirements. All disciplines of road racing use the same point structure.
Upgrade Points Structure
Upgrade points are awarded to the top finishers in a race based on how many competitors are in the field. This point structure only apply to mass start races.
- First place: 3 points
- Second place: 2 points
- Third place: 1 point
- First place: 7 points
- Second place: 5 points
- Third place: 4 points
- Fourth place: 3 points
- Fifth place: 2 points
- Sixth place: 1 point
- First place: 8 points
- Second place: 6 points
- Third place: 5 points
- Fourth place: 4 points
- Fifth place: 3 points
- Sixth place: 2 points
- Seventh place: 1 point
- First place: 10 points
- Second place: 8 points
- Third place: 7 points
- Fourth place: 6 points
- Fifth place: 5 points
- Sixth place: 4 points
- Seventh place: 3 points
- Eighth place: 2 points
- Ninth place: 1 point
- First place: 11 points
- Second place: 10 points
- Third place: 9 points
- Fourth place: 8 points
- Fifth place: 7 points
- Sixth place: 6 points
- Seventh place: 5 points
- Eighth place: 4 points
- Ninth place: 3 points
- Tenth place: 2 points
- Eleventh place: 1 point
Upgrade Points Structure
The same points structure applies for Stage Races, but only for Category 3, 2 and 1 racers. Athletes can earn points at a stage race based on their overall finishing standings for that stage race. The general classification an athlete earns at a race determines the amount of points they earn.
How USAC Non-Race Upgrade Points Work
Depending on your local organizing body of USAC, there are additional opportunities for Novice and Cat 4 racers to get extra upgrade points in ways that will make them better racers.
Novice and Cat 4 racers can earn one upgrade point for finishing a USAC sanctioned Gran Fondo, but are limited to only three upgrade points earned from Gran Fondos.
A Category 3 or higher racer can mentor a race in an effort to teach lower category racers race craft and bike handling skills. This provides an opportunity for these lower category racers to earn an additional USAC upgrade point for a mentored race.
In order to earn that additional upgrade point, you need to finish the mentored race and attend its post-race meeting.
Beginner Racer Program
USAC regularly holds Beginner Racer Programs that walk athletes through the basics of group etiquette and safety. If you complete all three sections of the BRP, you can earn 5 upgrade points as a Novice racer or a Cat 4 racer.
USAC sanctioned clinics are usually organized by your local organizing body and can be a great way to learn bike handling skills and race craft. Cat 4 athletes can earn up to 5 points through clinics.
How To Submit For a USAC Category Upgrade
Once you have accumulated the required points for your next category upgrade, it is your responsibility to send documentation of the races and events in which you earned those upgrade points to your local USAC organizing body. In most cases, there is a specific individual in charge of category upgrades.
In order for the upgrade request to be accepted, it must be sent through your online USAC account and follow the format in this example:
- 4/13/16 Sea Otter Road Race (5th out of 18) = 2 points
- 6/1/16 Little City Stage Race Criterium (4th out of 12) = 1 point
- 6/21/16 Little City Stage Race Circuit Race (1st out of 7) = 3 points
- 6/28/16 NCNCA Skills Clinic (Completed) = 1 point
Tips to Upgrade Categories Faster
With the above structure, choosing your events carefully and having the right focus can be hugely beneficial. Here are a few things to consider:
Clinics and Mentor Raced
This only applies to Category 5 and 4 racers, but these clinics and mentor races are a great way to build bike skill and race craft, and a good way to reduce the number of races you need to enter by as much as 50%. While your goal shouldn’t be to avoid races, the cost for a new road racer in remote areas to enter ten road races can be a huge barrier.
Always Favor Large Fields
It can be tempting to aim for smaller fields that allow you a better chance at winning, but if your goal is to upgrade categories, this is not the best strategy. Racing with more people awards more points to top finishers, but it also gives you the opportunity to learn more and get faster. Races that favor your strengths with large fields are exactly what you should be looking for.
Race as Many Stage Races as Possible
Stage races almost always have large fields and are a great way to build experience. They are also a good way to double dip on upgrade points. A whole season of chasing upgrade points can be shortened to just a few stage races if you pick events that favor your strengths, have big fields, and fair competition for your abilities.
Don’t Worry About Upgrades
In many cases the constant chasing of a category upgrade can cause desperation and a lack of focus for a racer. Instead of making your races pass/fail affairs based on earning upgrade points, look at every race as an opportunity to learn from the racers around you and to build fitness.
Try different tactics, learn to recognize signs of fatigue or anxiousness in competitors, learn your limits in a breakaway, but above all learn to be a proficient bike racer. It could be argued that this is the fastest way to upgrade categories.
After all, the objective of categories in road racing is to help you safely learn what you need when you need it, so sticking around in your current category could actually be the best approach. It can teach you what is needed to actually win bike races, instead of just shooting for a good placing.
For more information on this topic check out: How to Pick the Best Races For Upgrading
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