Licence Applications Out – Will You Upgrade? Some Thoughts

This is the time of year when the thoughts of upgrading come. (Ontario memberships here) It is time to mark an x under a category but for some athletes there will be a choice between a few categories.

“You are eligible for an upgrade”

In life we would rarely refuse an upgrade:

“Biggie size fries?” ….  “YES! (sweet potato of course)”

“How about 1st class upgrade for you, tired looking bike racer?” …  “Why, Thank You!”

We generally say yes when presented with an upgrade opportunity but I believe the cycling category upgrade needs to be treated with caution, perhaps not unlike the biggie size fries, because we may not be making a choice that brings us closer to our goals and/or to a better version of ourselves. I believe this choice greatly affects development and enjoyment of sport.

To explain further, I am pained to see so many athletes upgrade early (beginner to sport, sport to expert, expert to pro) just because they can. Often these athletes are not going the same speed as the category they are upgrading to despite easier/shorter courses (generally). When someone upgrades early they don’t have the capacity to go fast for fewer laps but then we add more laps and end up with an athlete going slower to finish, which further delays (or prevents) development.

What I propose is that before accepting an upgrade this fall/winter for spring 2015, take a look at all your races this past year and consider the following:

1) Can you ride at the average speed of the category you want to upgrade to? If not within the speed of top 5-10 I suggest staying in current category. This avg speed should work for most disciplines. Percent off the leader is another way to look at smaller categories. I think 5-10% is a gap that can be closed but more then that needs time to bring skill and fitness high enough to be in striking range.


2) Have you won, or at least been on the podium? Learning to race head to head and go at other people’s paces and use tactics (even in mtb) is critical, especially as you start racing more experienced and better trained athletes. If you have been sneaking by in 7th or 8th, wait to get a win.

Self-Indulgent Example: This ‘competitive’ criteria is one that I didn’t obey coming from Junior 7th and 8th place finishes into pro elite. I think this has been one of the hardest things for me to overcome as a pro (~12 years later), especially as the ‘XCO’ discipline becomes more intense/tactical. Had I spent a year or even 3 races in expert who knows what would have changed, worst case I would have not scored that 18th overall provincial result and saved approximately enough to buy a new skateboard.

3) Are you preparing like you are going to race in that category? Give your training and focus a solid look, does it match your goal? Ask a coach about the type of hours you would need to reach your goal, it may be more then you have time or interest in. Too often I have this conversation with experts who want to turn elite. They work full time and want to maintain busy social lives but then want to PAY EXTRA to race at the back of an elite field. They could have so much fun and gain more fitness (in my opinion) by racing fast and competitively in the expert fields.

I hope this helps you check the right box for you this fall/winter. Remember the worst case is you win a couple races and upgrade with confidence and race experience AND prove me wrong 😉

Please let me know if you agree/disagree or need someone to bounce ideas off of. (try athlete intake form)