How to Become a Professional Road Cyclist
Cycling has become an up and coming sport for Americans during the last two decades. Many American professionals, including Lance Armstrong, Greg Lemond, and George Hincapie, have done wonders for growing the sport of cycling in America. They have inspired many juniors to get on their bike and ride in hopes of maybe participating in the most competitive cycling event in the world, the Tour De France. Cycling can be confusing for those who do not understand it, let alone not sure how to get in to racing. In this article, I will lay out the steps necessary to race and move your way up the ranks in becoming a professional cyclist.
First and foremost, to get started you will need to have a bike to race on.
You can either borrow one from a friend or buy one, either way, you have to have one. After you get your hands on a bike, you can begin riding. If you have never ridden before, you will have to spend some time training and learning the techniques to handle a bicycle efficiently. Once you are comfortable with handling a bike and your body is used to riding for a couple hours, you are probably ready to enter a race.
In America, the sport of cycling is governed by the United States Cycling Federation (USCF). This governing body keeps track of racers through a licensing process. At any time, you are able to login to their website and see a list of races you have done and your result, or those of any U.S. licensed racer for that matter. This organization also sanctions thousands of races throughout the nation. So if you plan to race, you are required to have an annual license (about $60), or you may buy a one-day license for that particular race. If you plan on doing more than 6 races a year, it would be wise to purchase an annual license. The cost of the license covers all the insurance costs to put on cycling races so if there are any serious medical needs, everyone is covered.
So after you have purchased your yearly license from USCF or a one-day license at the event, it is time to race. As a beginner road racer, you have to start at the Category 5 level. USCF has indicated a series of steps you must achieve to end up at the Pro level. During each step, the competition get harder, races are longer, and the group gets bigger. There currently are 5 categories for road racing, Cat 5, Cat 4, Cat 3, Cat 2, and Cat 1. To move through the categories, you must have earned enough points and posted good enough results to justify your upgrade request with USCF officials. This process can all be done online through the usacycilng.org website.
As a Cat 5, it is a requirement you complete a total of 10 races so you learn how to efficiently and safely ride in a pack. These races have much smaller fields than the other categories and are great opportunities to learn. Your placing really doesn’t count, as it’s the number of races you must complete before you can upgrade. Again, this is simply for the safety of other riders as to ensure you do not cause a serious crash.
Once you have completed your 10th race, you will need to request your upgrade via the USCF (www.usacycling.org) website. Once it is approved, it’s time to race as a Cat 4. Here you will have much more competition and be able to race a longer race. You will need to get a minimum of 20 points in a calendar year to put in for an upgrade, and 30 points will give you an automatic upgrade to Cat 3. You get points based off winning or finishing in the top 10 places in a race. This is also the case for upgrading from Cat 3 to Cat 2.
Once you get to the Cat 2 level, you will be racing some of the best riders in the country because most of the races combine Cat 1 and 2 together. Races combining the categories are typically referred to as Pro 1/2 category. There are several races that also offer just a Cat 2 race, typically races on the National Racing Calendar (NRC) as these races are designed for Cat 1 racers. When you do just a Cat 2 race, it’s a great opportunity to gain some upgrade points as the competition is not as stiff (no Cat 1 riders). The number of points necessary to upgrade from a Cat 2 to Cat 1 are 30 in a calendar year, while 40 gives you an automatic upgrade. Approximately 2% out of the 58,000 licensed USCF racers are Cat 1 riders while many are some of the best riders in the country. So if you make it to this level, you are among the select few of those elite cyclists in America.
After you make it to the Cat 1 level, the only difference between you and a Pro rider is the paycheck. This is the goal of many who are at this level. The races are all fast, long, hard, and way more competitive than any other category. At this point, you will probably have a coach and be training 20-30 hours a week. If you are good enough, you may be picked up by a U.S. Continental team, which means you are professional domestic racer competing in all the big races across the county. If you continue to have success at this level, the chances of you signing a contract as a Pro Tour UCI (the International Cycling Union – smilar to the USCF but on a global level) rider is great and you will probably end up racing all throughout Europe with some of the best cyclists in the world.