New racing classes: What about the fast vets?

Hey Lee,
Just curious on your feelings about the change to international Cat. System of classes (or whatever it is officially called) that they are going to for 2009? I agree to have an international standard, but do you think it may take a few years to level out?

I’m an Expert that was jumping to Semi-pro for 09 but no way ready for the big boys and at 36 don’t see having the time to make it there. So dominate the Ex class forever? Doesn’t seem fair, but the big boys are just in another league. I take it your going Pro?

It sounds like you have the choice to own the Cat 1 experts or go Pro? I just hope local folks like Southridge keep the Vet Pro classes for this “in-betweener.”

Hey Marshall,

I’m not sure what to think about this change.

So we’re all on the same page, here is the new class structure for 2009:

Pro – Current pro and some of semipro.

Cat 1 – Current expert and some of semipro.

Cat 2 – Current sport.

Cat 3 – Current beginner.

Current semipros can either step up to pro or down to expert (oops, Cat 1).

“This change is the result of over two years of thought, analysis, and discussion by the NORBA BOT, USAC staff, and many people connected with the sport,” says the USA Cycling fact sheet. “The goals of the new categorization system are to strengthen the pro ranks and increase the competitiveness of the amateur categories.”

What I think (so far)

– The pro class will definitely get bigger. Not sure how a bunch of slower semipros will make the current pros ready for World Cups, but that’s not my department.

– The expert class, I mean Cat 1, will get bigger, but not much bigger. Most younger semis will step up to pro. (Any capable rider who steps down will be labelled a sandbagger.) Older semis — guys who just want to pay the bills, take care of their families and have some fun — might step down, but not in big numbers. These guys are in danger of leaving the races.

– I wish we had an official Vet Pro class at the national level, but USA Cycling nixed that idea a few years ago. Mountain States Cup and Southridge rock the Vet Pro. Support them.

– Older “in-between” riders get screwed. Once you’ve become much faster than the experts and stepped up to semipro, how do you justify stepping down? Not only to all the whiners, but to yourself? And how much fun will Pro be? If you’re in your mid-late 30s or beyond, let’s hope you’ve grown out of your OHMYGOSH I HAVE TO BE A PRO phase. Riding with the fast guys is fun, and — no doubt — being a pro is cool, but here’s my definition of the right racing class:

If you do all of your work, and you execute at the top of your ability, you have a chance at a top finish. Maybe not today, but some day.

For me, racing pro takes racing back to a recreational level. No matter how hard I try, I will not be in the mix. I can have fun and find flow — but why drive and pay and wait and pay and drive for the privilege? I love riding my bike, and I love being competitive, but racing pro at a national won’t provide enough of either.

I guess I’m left with a few options:

1) Step up to Pro. I always wanted a pro card, but not like this. And does the DUDE I’M SO COOL FACTOR temper the fact I have to race Lopes in the first round (“And Lopes crumbles under pressure, and Lee takes it!”)?

2) Step down to Cat 1. If all of our regional older semis (Troy Cooperman, Zach Hughes, Steve Valenti …) step down with me, we’ll have a very competitive class, but everyone below us will be bummed. Knowing these guys, they’ll go up. And I don’t feel great about stepping down.

Either way, I’ll be racing Vet Pro at the Mountain States Cups. Thank goodness for that option.

Prediction: Many older racers who can’t race Vet Pro will stop racing. With this decision, USA Cycling will remove people from racing — people, I might add, who are having kids and introducing them to their favorite sport. Vet Pro is huge in motocross and BMX — two sports that successfully cultivate competition at all ages and levels. Is it a coincidence that so many families go to the tracks?

In 2009 I will be racing a lot more BMX. It’s close to home, there are good classes for me, and my kid likes it.

— Lee

Also read: Vet pro: yipee!

By the way: I let my NORBA license lapse this year because of this. We’ll see whether I’m still a semipro!

9 replies
  1. Chris says:

    Ah, I remember the good ol’ days of classification:

    “You just bought a Mountain Cycle San Andreas DHR with Risse Champ forks? Dude, you’re going into ‘Expert’!”(the top class when I started racing)

  2. MW says:

    Good points about older racers bringing their families to the races and exposing the next generation to the sport we love (that’s were I’m at.) My wife fell in love with DH this year and it’s now a family affair.

    It would be a lie if I told you “pro” in any form doesn’t sound cool .It was a personal goal I had set for myself.

    The big reason I race is so I can “pin it” in a safe ( relatively) place and not worry about trail conflict etc, hang out with people who love the bike as much as I do and to see if all my hard work had done anything.

    I think in the long run it will balance out but for the next year or two it may be a bit unbalanced. I was just excited to race all the youngsters while I still have it in me.

    Bottom line is: no one is looking for the next 30 something up and comer and as long as I can do a wheelie my kids think I’m cool.

    There just comes a point when you wonder if all the money and time is worth the number next to your name on a sheet of paper that everyone will forget about next week.

  3. leelikesbikes says:


    “Riders currently categorized as Semi-pro may choose Category 1 or Pro during the 2009 season. Semi-pro riders will be offered the automatic upgrade to Pro during the 2009 licensing period December 1, 2008 to November 30, 2009. An annual license (domestic if Category 1 or international if Pro) must be purchased during this time period. If an annual license is not purchased in 2009 and the Semi-pro rider does not choose Category 1 or Pro, they will automatically default to Category 1 beginning December 1, 2010 and will need to go through the regular upgrading procedures for Pro categorization.”

  4. leelikesbikes says:


    Dude – sick bike. That humbles my Foes Weasel with Judy DH.

    Funny: Today’s Stumpjumper is more bike than either of those. 🙂

  5. Chris says:

    Oh no, that wasn’t MY bike. I’d be one of the guys racing ‘Sport’ on a hardtail telling Mr Moneybags to move up a class. And if I had been lucky enough to turn up on a Weasel they’d yell ‘Trophy Hunter’ or ‘Cherry Picker’ at me too!

  6. scott says:

    Ah Sensei,
    All is not lost, my understanding is that it is the promoter’s perogative to have open classes if they wish. Either a “Vet-Pro” or an “Open 35-up” could be an easy possibility within the MSC. It might not help me (Barely Cat 2 old guy) as much as say a 50+ open category, but it might be just the thing to keep racers like you’re describing in the mix. It could be particularly effective if they had to do one or the other, i.e. keep your pro license or give it up and join the vet-pro group instead of double-dipping. Food for thought…..

  7. Jason V says:

    Great article. This basically summerizes how I feel about DH racing today. Sure, it would be awesome to train for a season and step up my game so I could have the super-duper cool Pro-card, and be like, “Dude, I’m so Pro!” but pinning it and risking possible injury for maybe a top ten finish just isn’t fun, especially with the high dollar cost to race. Super D was supposed to be the savior of the average joes that didn’t want to risk life and limb but still get the rush racing provides(as well as the glory), but I’m not really interested in racign “Mostly Downhill Cross Country.” If people are winning Super Ds wearing a skin suit and an XC Helmet on a stump jumper that isn’t my event. I hope event organizers wake up and get a bit more pro-active in preserving our sport.

  8. T -Coop says:

    Lee, Yes I will be going pro for sure in 4x with plans to atleast qualify for a Jeep 48 straight race and a podium or 2 in 4x or dual in a national or atleast an MSC race no small feat at 37. But I know I can beat a lot if not all of the American pros in 4x. I don’t like 2nd place my friend. I could care less about DH but since I won the overall in the MSC not sure they will let me step down in DH.Will only race a DH here and there for fun IE VET pro . I’m training for next season all ready, wait till you see what I do in my back yard, big plans for a winter traing grounds out my back door! T-Coop

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