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USAC and OBRA agree to category reciprocity

The relationship between a top regional racing organization, OBRA, and USA Cycling looks to be improving as the two reach an agreement.

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The open wound between USA Cycling and the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) received a few stitches on Thursday when the two organizations announced a racing category reciprocity agreement.

Effective immediately, USA Cycling will recognize a rider’s OBRA category when that rider seeks an upgrade within the USAC system. OBRA will do the same for riders who are USA Cycling members.

The significance the agreement extends beyond allowing racers to simply enter the proper category. The agreement is a visible thawing of relations between the United States’s national governing body and one its largest independent, regional racing associations, an organization that has helped grow the the Pacific Northwest into a hotbed of American cycling.

“After speaking with Derek Bouchard-Hall, I am impressed with the outreach, enthusiasm, and openness of the new CEO of USA Cycling,” said Kenji Sugahara, executive director of OBRA. “Both of our organizations have the goal of increasing participation in grassroots cycling, and we are looking forward to working toward that goal through collaboration and communication.”

OBRA was founded in 1998 after USA Cycling (then called the U.S. Cycling Federation) consolidated control and power over its regional entities. OBRA has since used a disciplined focus on grassroots racing to grow the sport in the northwest. It now sanctions the nation’s largest cyclocross series and has about 5,000 members.

“Derek reached out to us earlier this year and I had a great conversation over the phone. We both agreed that the cycling community was small and that we need to find some common ground to work with each other,” Sugahara said. “We also agreed that though we couldn’t agree on everything 100%, we could work to begin mending fences.”

Under the reciprocity agreement, riders must submit a request to USA Cycling and OBRA to have their categories matched. Category matching is eased by the fact that OBRA and USAC already use identical categorization systems. New riders enter in Category 5 and can work their way to Category 1.

The agreement does not solve a major problem for Oregon racers who compete at the national level. Currently, points gained in OBRA races do not apply to USA Cycling’s national rankings system, which is used for call-ups at events like the cyclocross national championships. In cyclocross, a poor call-up can end a race before it starts. This has forced OBRA racers who want to do well at national events to seek points outside their region, an expensive and time-consuming proposition.

Nonetheless, the reciprocity agreement is a stride forward, one that both organizations believe is the first of many.

“This is a small but very important step for our organizations in beginning to work productively together and mending the two parties’ relationship,” said Bouchard-Hall. “We understand the challenges facing those in the Northwest United States who are caught trying to navigate two organizations — we are very pleased to be working with OBRA to address some of those challenges.”