Defined by Merriam-Webster as: a contest between rivals; also : one's competitors
Defined by Merriam-Webster as: (1)physical activity engaged in for pleasure (2) : a particular activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in
I was having a conversation with a teammate yesterday about the season and the high and lows that go along with racing bikes and the cyclocross season specifically since it is so short and intense with a race or even two every weekend for close to four months straight. Each season it's typically the same familiar faces with a handful of guys moving up in the ranks from the season before to test themselves against faster competitors. Some guys are always top 5-10 riders while others race all season looking to "crack the top 10" and marking a significant milestone in their racing careers. Going into the weekend you always have a sense of where you should finish based on the level of your competition. You must prepare yourself mentally well before you even get to the start line.
With cycling, and most any sport, you get out of it what you put into it. 'Cross is not an easy discipline and requires an additional amount of technique and finesse that for most is only gained after years spent racing. In 'cross one starts out as a Category 4 (beginner) racer and work their way up to a Cat 1/Pro. As a Cat 1 one has achieved the highest possible "degree" in the sport. It means you're fast enough to have either won or collected enough upgrade points to mark a notch in your cycling belt so to speak. The difference between Cat 1 and Pro is minimal in technical ability but can be huge in physical ability. As you move down the ranks these gaps typically become somewhat smaller but still exist and therefore the need for a system to rank riders and appropriately place them together into racing classes. This achieves two things, first it ensure to a degree that riders of similar technical ability are riding together and second, that riders of a similar physical capability are riding together. This ensures a novice racer is not mixing it up with faster, more technically capable riders and causing a dangerous situation.
To some degree riders have control over their category. Once you hit Category 3 your upgrades are more or less optional unless you are always winning, then USAC gives you an automatic upgrade to the next category. Upgrading sometimes comes with a price, like never going back to being the big fish in the pond. This is more so once you hit Category 2 as there are very few non-Elite races out there that allow Cat 2 racers who are looked at as being the next Cat 1s and thus treated so by being forced to race the faster races.
I've been racing 'cross on and off for the past 12 years and only in the last two have I found any real success. I'm a highly competitive person when it comes to sports. I started playing teeball around 4 or 5 and spent the next 15 years excelling at baseball until I couldn't play at the level I wanted to any longer. Rather than become bitter at the fact I could no longer compete in a sport I loved and competed in for so long, I found other outlets. In college it was volleyball. While only a Division 2 club team at UMBC, we were still pretty damn good. I also picked up competitive cycling in college in the form of mountain bikes and eventually road bikes. Bike racing allowed me an outlet for my competitive nature after college.
Now, as a 36 year old Cat 2 with a family, work and other commitments, I don't have the time to dedicate to racing in the Elite/Pro ranks even if I were gifted enough physically to do so but I also have not lost my need to compete at the highest level possible and continue to push myself to get better within the confines of my life. Fortunately for myself and a lot of other guys like me, races are also broken out into Master's categories starting at 35. This allows for highly competitive "old" guys like myself to go out and smack each other around for 45 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. Anyone who takes the time, effort and money to register for a bike race, pack up the car with all of their race day gear, travel to the race and spend the time away from family and friends must have either a strong love for the sport, a love of competition or a combination of both. I'm the latter, I wouldn't do this if I weren't going to go out there and give it my all I expect that of my teammates and competitors as well.
In the conversation with my teammate, we talked about comments that had been made from guys who have been regulars over the years but weren't racing because the sport had become "too competitive". WTF? This has to be the lamest excuse I've ever heard and is an insult to everyone who goes out there every weekend and pulls on a kit, pays their entry fees and drives over an hour one way for a 45min race. It's one thing if life changes force one to not train and be as competitive as they once were, one has simply lost their desire to race, or maybe just can't stand being the small fish in a new pond and misses the days of beating up on their lesser brethren. But to use the excuse that the sport has become "too competitive" is cop out. I've pulled out of races or not raced for long periods of time because my head wasn't in it but I never blamed my fellow competitors for my own lack of desire to race.
Here are your choices, choke down your ego and request a downgrade in your racing license so you can go back to being the big fish, race in a "less competitive" field, or just stop racing all together and lead group rides where there are no entry fees, no race numbers, no officials scoring you at the end, no podiums and no one cheering for you even if you're riding DFL because you're having the worst day ever on your bike.