Colorado Springs, Colo. (September 12, 2008)-USA Cycling announced today the development and implementation of a new mountain bike category system set to take effect for the 2009 season. The modification to the existing structure comes after significant analysis and dialogue by the national governing body and the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) Board of Trustees.
In pursuit of its mission to provide a high-quality racing experience for members across all ages, skill levels and genders, USA Cycling will apply these new categories beginning December 1, 2008 in order to strengthen professional fields and add depth to amateur categories at the grass roots level.
The new categories, which closely resemble those used in other disciplines of competitive cycling, have been created to offer USA Cycling mountain bike members a more competitive racing environment. The previous license categories will be replaced with a new system which include Category 1, 2, 3 and Pro designations.
The previous structure, which consisted of five categories – Beginner, Sport, Expert, Semi-Pro and Pro – has been condensed to include four categories. Like the categories they’re replacing, Categories 1, 2 and 3 will also feature age groups classes.
“This change has been discussed, studied and considered in some form for the last two years,” explained Lisa Nye-Salladin, President of the NORBA Board of Trustees and mountain bike race promoter for the Texas Mountain Bike Racing Association. “Ultimately, the NORBA Board of Trustees spearheaded this evolution in order to make racing more competitive and create a clear distinction between amateur and professional athletes. The names of the categories were also revised to better reflect the new levels of racing. The terms ‘Beginner’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Expert’ carry little relevance outside of the mountain bike community, which makes it difficult for sponsors and the public to relate. The simplicity of using numbered categories brings with it a universal understanding.”
One of the most synonymous names with the sport of mountain biking and Industry representative on the NORBA Board of Trustees, Gary Fisher, was also a major proponent of the change. He references the need for a more competitive environment domestically in order to improve the United States’ level of success in the pro ranks globally.
“We want bigger pro fields in the National Calendar events so our racers can better prepare for international competition like World Cups and World Championships,” said Fisher. “Our pro fields are tiny compared to our European counterparts. We have the numbers in terms of ridership, but we’ve been referring to them as Semi-Pros.”
Olympian and four-time USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Cross Country Champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, who also sits on the USA Cycling Board of Directors as the NORBA athlete representative, also sees the change as a positive step forward in the evolution of off-road racing in the U.S.
“Throughout the last several years, we’ve been discussing ways to improve the quality of races in the U.S. and increase competition,” said Horgan-Kobelski. “This change will result in deeper pro fields, but will also produce an extremely competitive atmosphere among amateurs. The Category 1 designation itself becomes a more prestigious field with talent indicative of up-and-coming pros. The change also simplifies things for race organizers who can now offer fewer categories, while at the same time improving their event.”
Another benefit of the consolidation is that it presents a better opportunity for the development of professional athletes, according to Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling’s National Mountain Bike Development Director.
“The Semi-Pro category was originally created as a place for U23 athletes to compete before making the jump to the professional level,” explained Gullickson, “but now, the elimination of that category will help accelerate the progression of athletes who should theoretically be competing against stiffer competition on a more consistent basis. From a development standpoint, the Semi-Pro category became an unnecessary middle ground that made it difficult to assess talent.”
The change raises several topics that all USA Cycling mountain bike members should familiarize themselves with – most notably the conversion process. The switch will be simple and automatic. Members currently categorized as Experts will automatically become a Category 1; Sport members will automatically be converted to a Category 2; and Beginners will automatically become a Category 3.
Members currently categorized as Semi-Pro may choose either Category 1 or Pro designation for the 2009 racing season. When renewing their license, Semi-Pro members will be offered an automatic upgrade to Pro throughout the 2009 licensing period which runs from December 1, 2008 to November 30, 2009. To take advantage of this upgrade, Semi-Pro members must purchase an annual license during this time as this automatic upgrade will only be offered during the 2009 season. Therefore, if a current Semi-Pro member does not purchase a 2009 racing license, he will automatically default to Category 1 status beginning on December 1, 2009 for the 2010 racing season. At that point, regular upgrade procedures will apply.
The new categories will be converted on December 1, 2008, the first day of 2009 license sales. If members wish to upgrade or downgrade at that time, they may do so online through their My USA Cycling account.
In order to provide its members with a comprehensive overview of additional subjects affected by the new categorization system, USA Cycling has developed an online FAQ page. Here members can find additional information that pertains to qualification for the 2009 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships, definitions of the new mountain bike categories, an outline of the conversion process and rules regarding the combination of categories at events.
Additionally, USA Cycling has developed a document that explains the Pro upgrade requirements and transition for Semi-Pro’s in Endurance, Gravity and Ultra-Endurance disciplines. That document can be viewed by clicking here.
For more information regarding the new categorization system, USA Cycling members should contact USA Cycling Mountain Bike Events and Program Director, Kelli Lusk at email@example.com or 719-866-4668 or drop by the USA Cycling booth at Interbike, Sept. 24-26.