Monday, January 2, 2017

So You Wanna Race A World Cup, Eh?

It's fairly well known that I've been attempting to race a UCI World Cup DHI for the last three years. It's also widely known that I've failed to do so. I've registered for more than one, have gone to a few now, yet can't seem to get myself into the starting gate.

It's almost funny at this point.

Almost.

While I'm no expert at racing a World Cup, I have a bit of experience in getting there, which I nearly made a form of art over the last couple of years. To be fair, I do most things through trial and error, so it took me a bit of awkwardness to get the registration together, but get it together I did. As it turns out, however, there are few authoritative and condensed guides out there for someone who's interested in racing a World Cup. My first year as a pro taught me that much as I stumbled around the internet attempting to figure out just how to get in that gate... So I decided to write this in the hope that someone, somewhere actually finds it useful. After all, what's the point of knowing anything if we don't share it?

Aaaaaaanyway.

This little bit isn't a useful guide into hitching a ride in someone's RV or borrowing cash to buy plane tickets to get there, but rather a more technical bit of information about what the requirements are to even be allowed to think about racing in a World Cup Downhill race.

The first 'step' to racing in a UCI World Cup is being a pro and having a pro license. Now, this seems like a sort of obvious step, I know. However, when I began racing in 2012, this seemed like a really simple task. BUT! If you're eying the possibility of racing on the biggest stage in the world, you should at least know whether or not you're qualified to stand on it. Upgrading to your national federation's pro category is the first step. I'm in the US and therefore race under USA Cycling rules and whatnot, so this is a guide for US racers. If you're outside of the USA, your individual country may have separate requirements, all of which should be outlined on their respective federation websites. For USACycling (also referred to as USAC), upgrade requirements can be found here.

Essentially, you have to start racing. You can start racing as a Category 3 or as a Cat 2, whichever your skill level fits. Once you've accrued enough wins in your respective category as outlined by the USAC site, you can upgrade. The key here is: the faster you go, the more you win. The more you win, the more you can upgrade. Upgrading to Pro through the proper channels is important, because that's how you gauge your readiness. Now, once you get to the Pro category, you'll receive (aka, you have to pay for) a fancy new license that declares you eligible to race USAC- and UCI-sanctioned races as a Pro racer. As a pro racer, you can get an international license immediately or you can accrue points first. Either way, you'll need a license to race these events, but your strategy of points accrual will determine how much you spend out of pocket for a license. More information on 2017 pro MTB licenses is available here; you can decide to pay for a $200 international UCI license up front if you think you can accrue points in the same calendar year, or, if you want to race as a domestic DH pro, you can spend $70 for a domestic license while you earn your UCI points before upgrading to an international license the following calendar year. Ultimately, you'll have to get both an international license and enough UCI points to even register for a World Cup DH race, but going about that is a strategy based on a racer's goals and probability of success. Strategy is important, as you'll see in the next couple of steps.

Step two is earning enough UCI points, which means racing events that are UCI-sanctioned and points earner. Luckily, these events in the US have become more plentiful the last few years, so US domestic pro DH racers have many more opportunities to gather their required points. UCI points can be snagged at all of the ProGRT races and MTB national championships, which is a huge bonus, but can be semi-cost prohibitive with the traveling, etc. However, if a racer is fast enough and strategizes well, they can mitigate costs by placing well in a few select events based on points structure. For 2017, the UCI changed the points requirements for racers, so you gonna have to be faster. What does this mean? This means that your season starts in November -- gym time, baby. The competition is getting tougher and, depending on your pro category, fractions of a second can be the decider between getting enough points and not. The amount of required UCI points for 2017 is 40 points per rider. That means that all riders who want to race a DH World Cup must accrue a minimum of 40 UCI points at UCI sanctioned races in their countries. As I mentioned above, this has become easier thanks to the ProGRT series and MTB nat champs in the US, but has gotten a bit more difficult for riders in the UK and other places as national series have lost their UCI sanctioning.

However, under USAC series, points-earnings go as follows and is based on race placement results:

MTB National Championships (Elite):
1st Place - 110
2nd Place - 90
3rd Place - 70
4th Place - 60
5th Place - 50
6th Place - 40
7th Place - 30
8th Place - 20
9th Place - 10
10th Place - 5

ProGRT Hors Classe (HC - 2017 Windham ProGRT)

1st Place - 90
2nd Place - 70
3rd Place - 60
4th Place - 50
5th Place - 40
6th Place - 35
7th Place - 30
8th Place - 27
9th Place - 24
10th Place - 22
(This category gives points 25 deep. For further points breakdown, go here, then scroll to page 68.)

ProGRT C1 Classification (2017 Angel Fire Chile Challenge ProGRT)

1st Place - 60
2nd Place - 40
3rd Place - 30
4th Place - 25
5th Place - 20
6th Place - 18
7th Place - 16
8th Place - 14
9th Place - 12
10th Place - 10
(This category has points 15 deep. For further breakdown, go here, then scroll to page 68.)


ProGRT C2 Classification (All other 2017 ProGRT Events)

1st Place - 30
2nd Place - 20
3rd Place - 15
4th Place - 12
5th Place - 10
6th Place - 8
7th Place - 6
8th Place - 4
9th Place - 2
10th Place - 1

The point of pointing out the points breakdown above? (Ha ha, see what I did there?)

Giving you an accurate chart to base your strategy off of. For example, if you're a domestic US pro looking for World Cup points but who can only attend three races this season, your best bet is to plan on attending National Championships, Windham's ProGRT and Angel Fire's Chile Challenge GRT. These are the higher classification of race and, for a racer who gets into the top ten (or a woman who gets into the top three), can quickly add up to a solid points accrual. Why is this important? Because remember that a racer needs 40 UCI points to even register for a World Cup. Below is the schedule of the 2017 USA Cycling ProGRT, as well as the classifications for each event. You can match them with the points breakdown charts above.


  


So. You've got the upgrade, you've got your license, you're racing on a national level, you prioritized your events, you raced your little butt off and now you've earned your required UCI points. What next?

Step three: registering for your very first World Cup race. It starts by going HERE, to the USAC website and reading up on all of the fun stuff. 1: DO THIS IN ADVANCE. We're talking far advance here, kiddos. I suggest doing the other steps and booking your flight and lodging before you register, but you'll figure it all out when you go to the link above -- you DO have to give the UCI your locations, and general travel plans. Visas are also important if you're traveling to a country where you'll need them. Oh, and did I mention that you're probably going to need a passport? Tiny, insignificant little details, amirite?

But after all that's done, make sure you check your I's and dot your T's, and don't get hurt two weeks before you fly, or two weeks before the race, or the morning of qualifications, or your last practice run before qualifying or... Well, we all know what happens then, right?

Indeed.

Start saving those pennies, though. You're gonna need 'em.