THE ART OF UpgradING

lessons for every level from riders who have been there

 Gateway Cup, Starting Line | Photo: Andy Bokanev, 2015  

Gateway Cup, Starting Line | Photo: Andy Bokanev, 2015  

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Upgrading—earning race points that advance through the USAC categories (Cat. 5 beginner—Cat. 1 Professional)—is a tough journey at any level.

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Most racers give up on it.

It takes time. Like all learning. And time often beats people up. After some failure (or even after some success) riders start to say it’s not worth it, or that it’s all bullshit, or it doesn’t matter. But for those that want access to the highest part of the sport, it’s the path they will eventually follow. True for sure, the amazing creativity of American bike racing has evolved into many ways to compete at a high level: fixed gear crits, the competitive fondo scene, the singe speed scene and gravel racing—all are evolving to attract daring and opening-minded athletes who want to race full gas. But access to some of the countries most historic races, especially its Twilight Criterium events, takes upgrading.

Our team takes the process head on.

The point earning process forces riders to consistently finish high in races against consistently tough competition. It's physical sure, but what you'll hear below is it's mostly mental. A rider has to learn more than just fitness, more than just bike handling, more than basic tactics. In fact they have to learn how to learn. As the levels advance, the point requirments increase, forcing riders to prove more and more consistency across wider sets of competitors and conditions. One good race doesn’t make you good. It takes years of it. Less that 5% of racers in America ever attain their Cat 1. The points system is honest (even though some people cheat it). It’s a grind. You have to travel. You have to race when you don’t want to. You have to be excellent more than once. You have to ebrace the pressure, the personal judgment, the introspection, the growth. Upgrading doesn’t mean you are a better person, but it does mean you are a more accomplished athlete. For all the reasons people hate it, we believe in it.

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We’re quite proud of how far many of our riders have come this year. The lessons they have learned through embracing the process are hard earned and extremely valuable. If you listen closely you can hear their wisdom extend beyond the bike.


Spencer Moavanzadeh

Cat 4 - Cat 1: 2 seasons

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What was the hardest part of upgrading?

Having the patience to take in the lessons from racing and not urgently search for an upgrade as quick as possible. My original goal was to gain my points within a period of time. I found taking time to learn from the racing was more enjoyable, and then the points started to roll in. Trust the points system, by the time I reached 40 points, I felt more than ready.

How has the racing scene changed now that you’re in a new category? What was the deciding factor in the races in which you succeeded?

On the local level, upgrading from 2 to 1 does not make much of a difference. Most races are the same. But racing nationally, Pro/1 races require much attention. I have fewer matches to burn, and I have to be more calculated about when I should spend energy or not.

What was your biggest mistake in the whole process? 

The biggest mistake was not learning all of the times I could. Racing with better riders and taking time to reflect on how races unfolded is important, and it took me several races to learn a lesson I should have pulled away after only one.

Have you changed your training habit or race preparation? 

It took my a little time to nail down a pre-race routine, but once I did, I have not had to change it. My biggest change in routine happened when I started racing afternoon or twilight races as events later in the day take a lot more planning throughout the entire day.

Was upgrading more of a mental or physical challenge?

Mental. The challenges of learning, patience, enjoyment, and racing smart were the most difficult to balance. Becoming competitive in the races took a lot of training and learning side-by-side nonetheless.

Have you changed your nutrition program since upgrading? 

Nutrition is much like an all-day everyday routine. I didn't change it much once I found the foods and level of adventurous eating I enjoy. The only change I made was for afternoon or twilight races where proper nutrition needed to account not only for race fuel, but for the total daily aggregate calories already burned. 

What is a tip you would give up-and-coming riders about the nutrition needs of an elite athlete?

Eat good foods. That's about it. Eat healthy and enjoy what you eat.

What tips would you give to riders aspiring to upgrade?

Be patient with the upgrade. Always be humble, you can never learn enough.

Did your training evolve in any way leading up to your upgrade?

Not much. But, national level races do require a different skill-set. Being able to recover quickly and race for extended periods of time at high effort does make a difference in Pro/1 events. Ouch. They hurt. 

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?

I don't drink coffee. Wait…WHATTTTTT 😵


"Always be humble, you can never learn enough."


Fisher Curran

Cat 4 - Cat 3: 1 Season

What was the hardest part of upgrading?

Being patient. For me, I had to race and make mistakes in order to learn what was wrong. When you can internalize those mistakes and recognize them in the future, the racing begins to make sense.

How has the racing scene changed now that you’re in a new category? What was the deciding factor in the races in which you succeeded?

When you hit a new category, you have to rearrange your mental process. There always someone faster or more technical than you in the field. How do you beat them? What can you do to out-race the fastest in the field? You start thinking about the whole race as a series of constantly changing critical moves that you make (or don't)

What was your biggest mistake in the whole process? 

"Over racing"; making everything harder than it needed to be. Just breathe, focus on the goal ahead and just race the sucker.

Have you changed your training habit or race preparation? 

Ride often; ride hard. Or ride slow. Commit to the plan. It's always been the staple. The most noticeable change is that I've made a bigger commitment to recovery off the bike.

Was upgrading more of a mental or physical challenge?

Mental. Race every race like you want to win.

Have you changed your nutrition program since upgrading? 

Nope.

What is a tip you would give up-and-coming riders about the nutrition needs of an elite athlete?

Your body is a machine. It requires just as much maintenance and upkeep as the bike.

What tips would you give to riders aspiring to upgrade?

Have fun. Cherish the aspects of this sport that most other people don't get to experience.

Did your training evolve in any way leading up to your upgrade?

Nope. Every day, no matter what, 100% commitment to the training plan.

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself? 

I used to row. I was one of ‘those guys.’ Bike > boat.


"Cherish the aspects of this sport that most other people don't get to experience."


Matt Stordy

Cat 5 - Cat 3: 1 Season

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What was the hardest part of upgrading?

Earning the last few upgrade points

How has the racing scene changed now that you’re in a new category? What was the deciding factor in the races in which you succeeded?

The racing has been more competitive not only fitness-wise, but also in terms of strategy. Much more information to process during a race.

What was your biggest mistake in the whole process?

Not working for the upgrade points sooner.

Have you changed your training habit or race preparation? 

Training, yes. Much stricter and committed to training each day. No excuses for missing days on the bike when you have the time and resources. Race preparation has become more relaxed because I have a better idea of what I’m doing now lol

Was upgrading more of a mental or physical challenge?

Mental because though I knew I deserved the points but still needed to perform to earn them

Have you changed your nutrition program

Not really off the bike, have always been a pretty clean eater. On the bike I have been watching what I eat with the help of the upper category guys. Calories, carbs, etc... it’s just math

What is a tip you would give up-and-coming riders about the nutrition needs of an elite athlete?

Make sure you give your body what it needs even if you don’t think you need it

What tips would you give to riders aspiring to upgrade?

The sooner you upgrade the better

Did your training evolve in any way leading up to your upgrade?

Started training with power at the beginning of this year, if that counts

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?

I can make minute rice in 57 seconds


Nick Bruskewitz

Cat 3 - Cat 2: 2 Seasons

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What was the hardest part of upgrading?

Mental. Broad answer but as you find success in races at a specific category you develop confidence and also a system or strategy for getting results. These learned behaviors don’t automatically translate to the next level of racing - talent, strategy, race flow all shift, and when you also trade confidence for the unknown, it takes time to process and execute.

How has the racing scene changed now that you’re in a new category? What was the deciding factor in the races in which you succeeded?

When more things have to go right for a result, your focus before and during the race has to be that much more “on”. Room for error is removed and thus the one or two or three significant moments in a race have to be executed perfectly - or your day is over. Also, the intensity and speed obviously goes up - so what used to be 1/3 fast and 2/3 manageable, it now turns into 1/2 lit and 1/2 manageable. Over simplified but the race is on more often, for longer.

What was your biggest mistake in the whole process? 

Under confidence. The longer it takes to realize you belong, and embrace the fact that the next level is just made up of dudes/gals like you who beat you or you beat by a bike throw.

Have you changed your training habit or race preparation? 

More Miles. More saddle time. Otherwise keep doing what got you there.

Was upgrading more of a mental or physical challenge?

Both as described above. But more mental. Again, it’s the same guys and the same courses, just more of them and you have to be more strategic and focused - second by second. Also you have to embrace the learning curve and be ok with taking away lessons vs results sometimes.

Have you changed your nutrition program since upgrading? 

Nope.

What is a tip you would give up-and-coming riders about the nutrition needs of an elite athlete?

You have to think about it 100% more often than Joe the plumber. Your body is asking for premium, you must fill your tank with premium even if it hurts your wallet.

What tips would you give to riders aspiring to upgrade?

Enjoy. No matter where you are in your cycling progression. Win races and and cherish that.  

Did your training evolve in any way leading up to your upgrade?

I put more emphasis on consistency. More miles, more often, less days off, year around. Just have to be that much more turned on all of the time, because you can’t just show up and survive. Say goodbye to mid-season vacations.

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?

I used to run and running races never had categories. Also the fastest guy one.


"...embrace the learning curve and be ok with taking away lessons vs. results sometimes."


Brian Alba

Cat 3 - Cat 2: 1 Season

What was the hardest part of upgrading?

Adjusting to longer races where you need a lot more matches to be competitive. There are always 4 or 5 "decisive moves" that go before the actual decisive move goes, and picking and choosing which one to go with is always tricky. Plus it becomes increasingly taxing with every effort.

How has the racing scene changed now that you’re in a new category? What was the deciding factor in the races in which you succeeded? 

Sort of like question one, but the races are just more ballistic more of the time. Theres little time to rest, and you're either moving up or moving backwards

What was your biggest mistake in the whole process? 

Rushing it. I never won a cat 3 race and it haunts me to this day.

Have you changed your training habit or race preparation? 

I have had less and less structured training as the season has worn on and I think that has negatively affected my fitness and race readiness. I came into the spring season really fit for collegiate and capped it off with a really spectacular showing at collegiate nationals. Nothing has really felt as natural or easy since.

Was upgrading more of a mental or physical challenge?

For me it was mostly physical. I rarely get anxious before races and have always loved that about bike racing. The stakes are low in my mind and that means I more often than not end up surprising myself with my performance. I spent a long time beating myself up for not being good enough when I ran competitively as a high schooler, and I have no intention of ever making myself that miserable again. This sport is about having fun for me, and any success I have along the way is treated as a pleasant surprise, not a requirement.

Have you changed your nutrition program since upgrading

Nope, I cook for myself most of the time. The regular staples: Eggs, avocado, hummus, yogurt, bananas, veggies, chicken thighs, quinoa, pork sausage, don't drink soda, don't drink too much beer. 

What is a tip you would give up-and-coming riders about the nutrition needs of an elite athlete? 

Listen to your body, and don't obsess over your weight or your appearance. As an athlete in a sport that is hyper-focused on aesthetics and weight, it's easy to destroy yourself striving for that ideal look or ideal weight. Don't do it. Find your equilibrium, what makes you feel strong and helps you recover. Eat when you're hungry and don't feel guilty about it. I'm a big guy as far as cyclists go, almost 190 pounds. I can still go up hills fast and I don't get bossed around in crits. Treat your body like a tool, it's designed to do things, not look pretty or fit into a certain size skinsuit. I'm never gonna have a six-pack. Who gives a shit? I'll still ride you off my wheel.

What tips would you give to riders aspiring to upgrade? 

Take it slow, enjoy the process, enjoy stomping on riders in your category, enjoy winning races. The higher you go, the fewer and further between those days come. Don't rush.

Did your training evolve in any way leading up to your upgrade? 

This year I was in the gym twice a week lifting with a focus on total body strength and flexibility. The better athlete you are off the bike, the better you can be on it. I put in lots of miles and above all was consistent. It gave me structure during the long winter months and made the early season success that much sweeter.

Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself? 

I used to run too, it sucked. (edited)


"Listen to your body, and don't obsess over your weight or your appearance." 


Fasturdays Racing