Opinion: Elite Racer or Elite Master?

You're a thirty-something elite cyclocross racer. Should you contest the masters category at nationals?

Just say no to ‘Baby Masters’

I hit a milestone at last year’s cyclocross national championships: I became old enough to race in the masters field. Like a youthful 50-year-old receiving his first AARP card, I was bewildered.

I’m not a master! Hell, I’m a millennial (Don’t believe me? Check Wikipedia). I even use Snapchat. It felt ridiculous, and I soon had to answer the questions often bandied about the ’cross pits or at Wednesday worlds: “Are you racing ‘Baby Masters?’ Wait, you’re only doing elites?”

Well, no, I’m not racing as a master. I don’t really want to race both. “But Spencer, you’re already here, why not just do the 30-34 age category race as well?”

Hold up, this isn’t like an evening trip to REI where you realize you can pop by Whole Foods on the way home for that carton of almond milk. This is the championship of our nation. If people just treat it like the additional insurance coverage you can get when you rent a car (don’t bother, by the way), what’s the point?

Maybe these baby masters just want to mix it up at the front, you might argue. Listen. If you can podium in the 30-34 age group at nationals, you can hang at the front of your local elite races. Didn’t you get your kicks in the lead group earlier this season?

I’m not saying “Baby Masters” isn’t hard, and more power to you if you can earn a jersey that way — Lord knows I don’t have many Ws on my racer report. It may be quixotic, but I’ll stick with the elite race.

If USA Cycling is serious about making the 30-34 race a viable category, it should be limited to Cat. 3 riders and lower. Then, give the not-yet masters — 24- to 29-year-olds — a category of their own with similar restrictions. Oh, and don’t bother stopping for that almond milk. I already got some. — SPENCER POWLISON

Have your pie and eat it, too

Many racers in the local elite field think I’m an old man already. In fact, Spencer started calling me “Pops” when I asked him to pen a few thoughts on the “Baby Masters” subject. So, really, such disrespect for elders is reason enough for me to race in the masters field.

But I don’t race the local 35+ scene; in Boulder, I race in the open field, among the elites, the fast guys, the serious ones. And sometimes I beat up on the millennials among us — Spencer included.

In reality, I’m 36, which, yes, does mean I could have fathered some of my local competition, and this will be my third year of eligibility in the 35-39 masters race.

Come nationals, I’ll take it. Indeed, I’ve taken it, having already raced the two previous years with mixed success in Madison, Wisconsin, taking home a silver medal in 2012, but a DNF in 2013. I’m no pro, never have been. I only started racing any kind of bike when I was 28. Let me feel like I’m a pro, if only for a day.

When January comes around, I see no shame in racing among my peers, the 35- to 39-year-old working men that make up the field, all in search of a slice of stars-and-stripes pie. Now, if someone like Tim Johnson, who is also 36, decided to retire as a pro, erase his UCI points tally, and come to Austin, Texas, for the 2015 national championships intent on masters gold, I would have a problem with that. I think a number of people would have a problem with that.

This weekend, I’ll turn around and “enjoy” the elite race on Sunday, as well. I’ll start where I should, behind all those guys that took UCI points collection seriously, and I’ll probably get stuck in traffic in the middle of the pack. But I certainly won’t challenge for any accolades and double dip in any sense of the term.

I’ll have my pie on Saturday. It’ll be fresh out of the oven, made with almond flour and, hopefully, topped with whipped cream. On Sunday, it’ll just be cold leftovers. — CHRIS CASE