USAC Cycling - Mandatory Category Changes

Hi all,

I had two surprising (to me) top 5 finishes in my Cat 3 MTB XC races recently. I read on the USAC site that if I have 5 top 5 finishes in 12 months, that USAC will automatically move me up.

Since I am such a beginner at racing, and I was still several minutes behind the winners in Cat 3, I really do not want to move up yet. Do I really have to move up if I have 3 more top 5 finishes? Are there any strategies on how to NOT move up? I would prefer to stay in Cat 3 at least for this season and then see where I am.

Thanks for any help, this is all new to me!

Please don’t be a sandbagger and move up when required.


Yeah I get it, and forced upgrades can be tricky as you may have placed better than you feel your skills and experience dictate. Ideally, you’d learn how to race and win before you’re forced to upgrade, because you likely won’t be chasing the podium in the next cat for quite some time. There’s certainly a difference between sandbagging and just honestly wanting to get better before you move up in category and become mid pack all year.

With MTB, the beginner category (CAT 3) is truly meant for those just getting into mountain biking and racing. If you raced beginner last year, and/or doing structured training, it’s probably best to move up in category where true competition begins which is Cat 2. You’ll learn a lot more about racing in Cat 2 than hanging in a lower category. If you’re winning in Cat 3 you belong in Cat 2… if that makes any sense.


I wouldn’t stress about it. It’s just a couple 5th place finishes, not like you’re winning by a big margin, so I don’t see anyone getting too upset. You’re not sandbagging.

If you actually get the rest of the points and USAC pushes you up, it is what it is. You should be fine in Cat 2 when you get there.

FWIW USAC Cat 2 MTB and Cat 3 Road are where the majority of semi-serious/serious amateurs are best served hanging out. You get a good challenge and can get results with some dedication, but don’t require stupid training hours just to hang on in the field.


I don’t know how it works in your region, but in Ohio, I’ve rarely, if ever seen anyone forced to upgrade. I believe it boils down to the state/regional level to police upgrade points, and most organizations lack the manpower to do such a comprehensive sweep. As a result, there’s a fair amount of sandbagging in most categories.

Don’t put the cart before the horse, and see how your season goes. Every race is a learning experience, and you might learn more from racing with people who are much better (Even if you get your teeth kicked in a few times)!

I agree with others. If you are doing structured training, and you get 5 top-5s in Cat 3, you should move up to 2.

Cat 3 is more for “do I even like this?” and is similar to Cat 5 on the road in that aspect.


Yea, I would think the requirements would be more stringent that 5 Top 5 finishes with a minimum of 5 riders. That basically means if you are in 5 events with only 5 riders, you are moved up.

Thanks for your insightful comment.

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May be a little blunt, but they’re not wrong. I’m in favor of moving up ASAP. Your presence on the TR forum indicates a greater degree of seriousness than most beginner mountain bike racers. There’s more to be learned in cat 2 and the races are longer (= more fun). And besides, why not test yourself against the best competition available to you? The first races will likely be really hard, but I guarantee you’ll progress faster than if you stayed in cat 3.


You’re welcome.

I guess you really need to ask yourself why you’re racing. If your goal to podium then stay in Cat 3 until USAC or someone forces you to upgrade.

It’s not USAC, per se, who will force you up but your regional USAC person/official who submits the upgrade (someone can correct if I am wrong but that’s my understanding). Even then, even if you’ve met the requirements for a mandatory upgrade, you still may not get upgraded.

My experience in that regard is strictly in cross, but I’ve raced against certain individuals who have way more than the mandatory points, yet they have not been upgraded (and this is not just mid-season, but carried over for multiple years in some cases). It would be nice if they’d just submit the upgrade themselves, but if they did that we wouldn’t have any sandbaggers. :slight_smile:

The prevailing theory behind this lack of enforcement here in Texas is that it would chase people out of the sport because the training requirements to do well at that next level can be dramatically different than the requirements to do well at the person’s current category. With participation numbers being what they are, no one wants to risk losing racers by actually enforcing the USAC rules.


I will take the other side of this. I only raced a handful of Cat 3 races and then asked to be moved to Cat 2. *I just looked at my results and I actually only raced 2 races as a 3 then moved to a 2.

The reason for this is that if I planned to travel to a race, I wanted to get in a longer ride than a typical Cat 3 race (far too short for me).

That said, had I stayed in Cat 3 I would have definitely won some races. I’m in my 40’s and I’m not going to be pro. I’m racing against other 40 year old guys who also qualify as Cat 3’s. If I’m dedicated and train hard and win a handful of Cat 3 races who gets hurt? If Cat 3 is supposed to be for the “do I even want to do this?” crowd then why are they entitled to a podium spot over a guy that is training and racing hard and wants to move to Cat 2 but isn’t yet required to do so? They aren’t IMO.

I say stay a 3 as long as it makes you happy or you are asked to upgrade. Success gets harder and harder as you move up and so many people are in a hurry to get to the next level that they really don’t ever stop to enjoy the level they are currently racing.

Of the 15 guys on the team I raced for a few seasons ago, only 3 are still racing and the rest burned out. They were racing crits and road races every weekend in order to get to P/1/2 as fast as they could. For what? They did the same for XC races, get to cat 1 as fast as possible. For what?

A guy that is a Cat 1 roadie that goes out and smashes the Cat 3 MTB field and wins going away, sure, he’s probably going to be just as dangerous as a 2 and he probably won’t want to stick around to race 5 races as a 3 anyway.

You haven’t been on the podium (from what I ascertain from your post) so what’s the rush? Finish this season as a cat 3, see if you can get on that podium a time or two and then move up next season. This happens all the time, even if you end up with 6 top 5’s they won’t force you up until after the “series” ends in my experience.

There will always be someone crying sandbagger if you are faster than they are…that will never change. Enjoy the ride, it won’t last forever. Have some fun and success as a Cat 3 and then graciously move to Cat 2 when your time comes.


It’s up to your regional official as scott mentioned above. Usually the directors of your local series will say something to you if it’s obvious you need to move up. Just because you’re a few minutes behind the winner doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be moving up also :wink:

See how your next few races go, if you’re on the podium in your next races then speaking from experience you should move up. In cat3, I had a couple midpack finishes as I learned the basics of racing, and after that I was landing on the podium. It was me chasing around the guy who won most of the races, I wasn’t learning anything about racing and I wasn’t improving in the short cat3 races so I moved up mid-season.

I think you should move up as soon as possible. It might be a shock, but give it a couple races and you’ll be happy you did.

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I will echo this, and its 100 percent correct for were we compete in Texas and have heard almost that exact sentiment from race admin.

Here is my story…take it with a grain of salt.

Last year I needed to escape what was happening in my personal life so I made the choice to go race the entire spring season cat 3 40-49, never trained or even rode a bicycle more than a few miles with my son. I got 1 top 5 finish all season usually landed between 7 to 12th. With the passing of my father just days before the final race I made the choice to set goals for 2019 and train my ass off, rather than use racing as a escape I chose to use it as a focal point and improve my technical skills before bumping to Cat 2.

Typically the 40-49 age group is FAST and 5 or 6 guys will fight for every race win out of a group of 19 to 30 plus guys, nothing is a give me. My goals were simple train and fight for every win and at Warda go Cat 2 and compete for a top 5.

1st race, got the hole shot crashed 3 times pushing to hard finished 9 or 10th 1.34 off the lead.
2nd race, won by a 13 second margin
3rd race, 4th place 2 mins off the lead and had a nasty crash but recovered.
4th race, fought every mile with 2 other guys and finished 3rd 9 seconds off the lead.

4 races left in the Spring season and there is a group of 5 to 6 riders that will be at the front every time fighting for the win. We all push each other to be better, be faster , and be a good sport.

At the next race I also plan on speaking to the guys, I would like us to all promote up and the same time after the Warda Cat 3 race and continue the comradery into the next phase on Sunday in the Cat 2 race.

For some people its all about the win, others its more about the people we race with/against, I made some of the most sincere friendships last year attempting to wrap my head around racing, this year that family has continued to grow and I look forward to the longer races and growing that family of friends.

I guess in closing do what you want to do, but I’m almost certain no one is going to force you up if you dont want to.


Thanks Dlove.

I find it funny that I ask for help on this forum as a beginning trainer and racer and the first response I get is don’t be a sandbagger.

At the beginning of last year, I found myself over 50, 25-30lbs overweight and decided to do something about it. Since I can’t run due to knees, I researched going to the gym/spinning, Cyclebar, Peloton, Zwift and after many hours of googling found TrainerRoad and Wahoo Kickr. They seemed the best for my work/travel schedule. So I took the plunge and started base last March in earnest. I am halfway through specialized, so I hope to complete the full cycle in the next 5 weeks.

I raced in 5 races last summer (including two neighborhood community races - those count, right?). I raced in two recent races in CA while i was on spring break and was very surprised (and pleased!) to get a 3rd and 4th. But I wasn’t at the pointy end (took me a while to understand that term after I first heard @Jonathan say it on the podcast) of either race. There were 8 finishers in both races. I AM the beginner racer trying to figure things out. I started out with 175 FTP last year and learned about pedaling techniques from @chad commentary. I am now at 253.

I am just learning about USAC and the responses above informed me that there is a local USAC official who is a part of the decision process. I didn’t even know there was a local official. I figured USAC had their algorithm on the website and ran it periodically to move people up/down.

Regardless, we are getting the cart before the horse. I am back in Colorado and we’ll see how I do here. I still have a lot to learn and certainly don’t feel ready for Cat 2 (yet!). But I am definitely looking forward to moving up at some point.

Thanks to all who provided positive feedback!


No one says you can’t move up mid/late season. So if you crush your races starting off this race season no harm in doing the last few races in Cat 2. This way at least you’ll know what you’re getting into for next year and may keep that motivation high to train over winter going into 2020. That’s my exact plan this year moving up to Cat 1 next year :grimacing:.

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One other piece of advice I can give from experience is that - if, as the season progresses you start thinking “I’ll move to cat2 next year”; I would pick a point in the season with a few races left and just do it. It will be worth it to get a feeling of the longer distance, the faster competition, and likely the bigger group you’ll be racing against next year so you have a good idea where you stand against the cat2 group and what you need to work on… you’ll have that motivation throughout the fall & winter base training :slight_smile:

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I like that idea, even if it does mean I’ll have a whole lot more competition at the Cat 2/40-49 level. :slight_smile:

I’ve only done Waco so far this season–got 3rd. I might make it out to Pace Bend this weekend. The forecast isn’t looking all that great right now, though.

Waco’s climbs put a beating on me and so did a tree…

The start at Pace bend is pretty brutal but once you get past that its a really fun place to race. Hope to see you out there!

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I was just reading the rules and for other disciplines it says 12 months but there is no time qualifier for MTB…