I drove up to Long Island a couple of days ago, specifically for one reason: to support my younger brother as he prepared to race in the Killington Stage Race (KSR). The race (held annually) is a 3-day-long cycling event that takes place on the roads that wind through the Green Mountains in Killington, Vermont.
For those who may not be familiar, stage racing consists of one giant race that is broken down into sections and raced over the course of several days. Within the road cycling arena, there are different levels of stage racing. The Tour de France, for example, is one of the most well-known stage races, but because of its elite and prestigious level, it is also referred to as a ‘Grand Tour’.
A Grand Tour refers to one of the three major European professional cycling stage races: Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. Collectively they are termed the Grand Tours, and all three races are similar in format being multi-week races with daily stages. They have a special status in the UCI regulations: more points for the UCI World Tour are distributed in Grand Tours than in other races, and they are the only stage races allowed to last longer than 14 days. [source]
Racing Categories for Cyclists
When racing, each cyclist competes in a category, or “Cat”. Cats range from 1 to 5. The lower the number, the more experienced and proficient the rider is (ex: Beginner cyclists would be in a Cat. 5 racing group). Below, you can view the breakdown of how cyclists advance through each Cat. Complete rules may be seen on the USA Cycling website here.
- From Cat. 5 to Cat. 4 – 10 races, races must be at least 15 miles long or 10 miles long if it’s a criterium
- From Cat. 4 to Cat. 3 – 20 points; or experience in 25 races with a minimum of 10 top-10 finishes with fields of 30 riders or more; or 20 pack finishes with fields over 50. 30 Points in 12 months is a mandatory upgrade.
- From Cat. 3 to Cat. 2 – 30 points; 40 points in 12 months is a mandatory* upgrade
- From Cat. 2 to Cat. 1 – 35 points**; 50 points in 12 months is a mandatory* upgrade
**Additionally, attending any USA Cycling Development Camp will yield a cyclist points toward any category except Cat. 1.
Racing the KSR
Yesterday, we made the 5-hour drive from Long Island to Killington, Vermont, giving ourselves plenty of time to drop our stuff off at the hotel, attend the check-in at the KSR race headquarters and then review the maps for the various courses.
Stepping out of the car, I was suddenly grateful to my mother for lending me some of her winter clothes. Only a couple of days before this Vermont trip, I had driven up to Long Island from North Carolina, bringing with me nothing more than the flip flops I had on my feet, a pair of jeans and several days-worth of t-shirts. I had progressed from 80+ degree weather to 65-degree weather to 40-degree weather in just 3 days.
55 miles: DONE.
There are at least 10 different stage races taking place each day, according to category and gender. While in Killington for the next few days, my brother will be competing in the Men’s Cat. 4 races.
Today, he raced well and placed 15th in a 55-miler, which allows him to advance to the next race tomorrow. In order to advance to the next race, riders must cross the finish line within 20 percent of the winner’s time.
Given the weather conditions, I am extremely proud of my brother as well as all of the other cyclists. Earlier, it was 37 degrees and pouring rain; and as I drove us back to the hotel so that we could both change out of our soaking wet clothes, it actually started snowing. Again- I was thankful for the winter gear!
Tomorrow, Stage 2 will cover roughly 63 miles over increasingly difficult terrain and in similar, challenging weather (they’re calling for a snow/rain mix). And if he does well, there will be a third and final stage race on Monday: a 10-mile time trial.
So, Why Cycling?
It started with a simple invitation from a friend. My brother had already started dabbling in cycling when he managed to dig out our father’s Cannondale. Then, a friend invited my brother to do a race, after which he became “hooked”.
But what does the KSR mean to my brother? What is he thinking as he and other cyclists battle it out over hills, through wind, rain and sleet and frozen limbs, risking nasty spills and dangerous curves on slick mountain roadways?
My brother sums it up in a way that is so typical of him:
Today’s race marks the next step in cycling for me. Every ride I do at this point is helping me to get stronger and faster. It’s about moving forward.