Knowing why the upgrade point system exists and how to get points can not only help you upgrade categories faster, but it can also help you understand why it may be a good idea to stick around in your current category for as long as you can.


USAC’s goal with having racer categories is to allow for fair and safe competition. There is a steep learning curve to all forms of bike racing, but road racing is especially tough due to group dynamics and its inherent dangers.

It’s important to keep in mind that the upgrade system can’t be cheated, and you shouldn’t want to cheat it. However, knowing how many points are required and how they can be earned will certainly help you upgrade at the quickest rate possible.

With that in mind, we put together everything you need to know about USAC category road upgrades in this article.


Contents

 There is a lot of information you should know about category upgrades, but if you want to skip to a specific section, you can click one of the links below.

  1. How USAC Category Upgrades Work
  2. How Road Race Upgrade Points Work
  3. How Criterium Upgrade Points Work
  4. How Circuit Race Upgrade Points Work
  5. How Time Trial Upgrade Points Work
  6. How Stage Race Upgrade Points Work
  7. How Non-Race Upgrade Points Work
  8. How to Submit For an Upgrade
  9. Tips to Upgrade Categories Faster

How USAC Category Upgrades Work

Upgrades are earned by accumulating points in your current category. You earn points for your finishing position against everybody in your category or a higher category within your race. The only exception to this how Category 5 points are earned.

Category 5 to 4

Points Upgrade: 10
Experience Upgrade: 10 mass start races
Automatic Upgrade: Up to discretion of race referree


Category 5 racers earn one point for finishing a race, regardless of finishing position. Additionally, there are ways to get non-race upgrade points for Category 5 racers that count toward their required 10 upgrade points (more on that below).

Category 4 to 3

Points Upgrade: 20
Experience Upgrade: 25 races, minimum of 10 top-ten finishes in fields over 30
Automatic Upgrade: 30 points in twelve months

Category 3 to 2

Points Upgrade: 30
Experience Upgrade: N/A
Automatic Upgrade: 40 points in twelve months

Category 2 to 1

Points Upgrade: 35
Experience Upgrade: N/A
Automatic Upgrade: 50 points in twelve months


Only 10 of your upgrade points can be earned from Master’s racing or in races that are part of a weekly series. No Category 2 to Category 1 upgrade points can be earned in collegiate racing.

How USAC Race Upgrade Points Work

USAC Upgrade points are awarded for races that are sanctioned by USAC and are contingent upon three factors: the race format, the number of competitors in the field, and your finishing position. For entry level category upgrades, mentored races and USAC clinics can be another great way to get upgrade points and refine your bike handling and race craft.

Depending on the duration and race format, a road race can fall into four different classifications that will affect how the upgrade points are awarded.

Road Races

Distance Requirements 
Road races are typically held on a large loop or point-to-point course. In order for the road race to award USAC upgrade points, the duration needs to match the following guidelines:


Category 5

  • 15 miles for men
  • 10 miles for women
  • 10 miles for juniors

Category 4

  • 23 miles for men
  • 23 miles for women
  • 23 miles for juniors

Category 3

  • 50 miles for men
  • 40 miles for women

Category 2

  • 80 miles for men
  • 50 miles for women

Upgrade Points Structure
Once the minimum distance has been met, upgrade points are awarded to the top finishers in a race based on how many competitors are in the field.


5-10 Competitors

  • First place: 3 points
  • Second place: 2 points
  • Third place: 1 point

11-20 Competitors

  • First place: 7 points
  • Second place: 5 points
  • Third place: 4 points
  • Fourth place: 3 points
  • Fifth place: 2 points
  • Sixth place: 1 point

21-49 Competitors

  • First place: 8 points
  • Second place: 6 points
  • Third place: 5 points
  • Fourth place: 4 points
  • Fifth place: 3 points
  • Sixth place: 2 points
  • Seventh place: 1 point

50+ Competitors

  • First place: 10 points
  • Second place: 8 points
  • Third place: 7 points
  • Fourth place: 6 points
  • Fifth place: 5 points
  • Sixth place: 4 points
  • Seventh place: 3 points
  • Eighth place: 2 points
  • Ninth place: 1 point

Criteriums

Distance Requirements
Criteriums are typically held on short courses that are lapped for a specified time. In order for the criterium to award USAC upgrade points, the duration needs to match the following guidelines:


Category 5

  • 10 miles or 20 minutes for men
  • 10 miles or 20 minutes for women
  • 10 miles or 20 minutes for juniors

Category 4

  • 15 miles or 30 minutes for men
  • 15 miles or 30 minutes for women
  • 15 miles or 30 minutes for juniors

Category 3

  • 20 miles or 40 minutes for men
  • 15 miles or 30 minutes for women

Category 2

  • 30 miles or 60 minutes for men
  • 20 miles or 40 minutes for women

Upgrade Points Structure
Once the minimum distance has been met, upgrade points are awarded to the top finishers in a race based on how many competitors are in the field.


5-10 Competitors

  • First place: 3 points
  • Second place: 2 points
  • Third place: 1 point

11-20 Competitors

  • First place: 4 points
  • Second place: 3 points
  • Third place: 2 points
  • Fourth place: 1 point

21-49 Competitors

  • First place: 5 points
  • Second place: 4 points
  • Third place: 3 points
  • Fourth place: 2 points
  • Fifth place: 1 point

50+ Competitors

  • First place: 7 points
  • Second place: 5 points
  • Third place: 4 points
  • Fourth place: 3 points
  • Fifth place: 2 points
  • Sixth place: 1 point

Circuit Races

Circuit races are typically held on a mid-length loop. Circuit races are scored as criteriums, unless they meet the distance requirements for a road race.

Time Trials

Time trials are typically held on point to point courses, but most importantly they are not mass start events. Time trials do not award USAC upgrade points.

Stage Races

Upgrade Points Structure
The following points structure applies for only Category 3, 2 and 1 racers. Category 3 racers can only get 15 total upgrade points from a stage race, and Category 2 racers can only get 20 total upgrade points from a stage race. These restrictive point totals include the upgrade points earned for each race in the stage race and the additional stage race upgrade points.


10-19 Competitors

  • First place: 4 points
  • Second place: 3 points
  • Third place: 2 points
  • Fourth place: 1 point

20-35 Competitors

  • First place: 7 points
  • Second place: 5 points
  • Third place: 3 points
  • Fourth place: 2 points
  • Fifth place: 1 point

36-49 Competitors

  • First place: 10 points
  • Second place: 8 points
  • Third place: 6 points
  • Fourth place: 5 points
  • Fifth place: 4 points
  • Sixth place: 3 points
  • Seventh place: 2 points
  • Eighth place: 1 point

50+ Competitors

  • First place: 20 points
  • Second place: 18 points
  • Third place: 16 points
  • Fourth place: 14 points
  • Fifth place: 12 points
  • Sixth place: 10 points
  • Seventh place: 9 points
  • Eighth place: 8 points
  • Ninth place: 7 points
  • Tenth place: 6 points
  • Eleventh place: 5 points
  • Twelfth place: 4 points
  • Thirteenth place: 3 points
  • Fourteenth place: 2 points
  • Fifteenth place: 1 point

How USAC Non-Race Upgrade Points Work

Depending on your local organizing body of USAC, there are additional opportunities for lower category racers to get extra upgrade points in ways that will make them better racers. Category 5 racers can only use five of these non-race upgrade points, and Category 4 racers can only use three of these non-race upgrade points.

Gran Fondos

Category 5 racers can earn one upgrade point for finishing a USAC sanctioned Gran Fondo, but you are limited to only three upgrade points earned from Gran Fondos.

Mentored Races

A Category 3 or higher racer can mentor a race in an effort to teach lower category racers race craft and bike handling skills. This provides an opportunity for these lower category racers to earn an additional USAC upgrade point for a mentored race.

In order to earn that additional upgrade point, you need to finish the mentored race and attend its post-race meeting.

Beginner Racer Program

USAC regularly holds Beginner Racer Programs that walk athletes through the basics of group etiquette and safety. If you complete all three sections of the BRP, you can earn 2 upgrade points as a Category 5 racer.

Clinics

USAC sanctioned clinics are usually organized by your local organizing body and can be a great way to learn bike handling skills and race craft. It is up to your local organizing body to decide how many points to award for the clinic.

How To Submit For a USAC Category Upgrade

Once you have accumulated the required points for your next category upgrade, it is your responsibility to send documentation of the races and events in which you earned those upgrade points to your local USAC organizing body. In most cases, there is a specific individual in charge of category upgrades.

In order for the upgrade request to be accepted, it must be sent through your online USAC account and follow the format in this example:

  • 4/13/16 Sea Otter Road Race (5th out of 18) = 2 points
  • 6/1/16 Little City Stage Race Criterium (4th out of 12) = 1 point
  • 6/21/16 Little City Stage Race Circuit Race (1st out of 7) = 3 points
  • 6/28/16 NCNCA Skills Clinic (Completed) = 1 point

Tips to Upgrade Categories Faster

With the above structure, choosing your events carefully and having the right focus can be hugely beneficial. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Clinics and Mentor Raced

This only applies to Category 5 and 4 racers, but these clinics and mentor races are a great way to build bike skill and race craft, and a good way to reduce the number of races you need to enter by as much as 50%. While your goal shouldn’t be to avoid races, the cost for a new road racer in remote areas to enter ten road races can be a huge barrier.

Always Favor Large Fields

It can be tempting to aim for smaller fields that allow you a better chance at winning, but if your goal is to upgrade categories, this is not the best strategy. Racing with more people awards more points to top finishers, but it also gives you the opportunity to learn more and get faster. Races that favor your strengths with large fields are exactly what you should be looking for.

Race as Many Stage Races as Possible

Stage races almost always have large fields and are a great way to build experience. They are also a good way to double dip on upgrade points. A whole season of chasing upgrade points can be shortened to just a few stage races if you pick events that favor your strengths, have big fields, and fair competition for your abilities.

Don’t Worry About Upgrades

In many cases the constant chasing of a category upgrade can cause desperation and a lack of focus for a racer.  Instead of making your races pass/fail affairs based on earning upgrade points, look at every race as an opportunity to learn from the racers around you and to build fitness.

Try different tactics, learn to recognize signs of fatigue or anxiousness in competitors, learn your limits in a breakaway, but above all learn to be a proficient bike racer. It could be argued that this is the fastest way to upgrade categories.

After all, the objective of categories in road racing is to help you safely learn what you need when you need it, so sticking around in your current category could actually be the best approach. It can teach you what is needed to actually win bike races, instead of just shooting for a good placing.

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Jonathan Lee

Jonathan Lee is a Level II USA certified cycling coach and the host of the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast. His background in the sport of motocross has translated into a passion for cycling, mountain biking and all things training. If you have a training question, submit your question for Jonathan to answer on the next episode of TrainerRoad’s podcast.

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