Central Region, who accuse British Cycling of dismissing their request for an investigation into why fourth category riders are crashing in road races, will put the matter before National Council in Manchester this Saturday (November 13).

Their proposal, item 19, and last on the agenda,  calls on the Road Commission to investigate the matter.

One crash every week – that’s the average number of stack-ups this year among lower category riders at Central Region’s Hillingdon circuit in West London, according to Stuart Benstead, vice-chairman of Central, and a Regional National Councillor.

So what’s the problem? The problem, says Benstead – who has decades of experience promoting –  is that new cyclists with no club run experience, but very fit from triathlon, are winning first time out in a fourth category race and going straight up to third where their lack of bike-handling ability becomes apparent.

“In their next race, a 1, 2, 3 category, they are up against the likes of Tony Gibb in a 60-up field and they’re not used to getting shoved about. No experience of riding shoulder to shoulder.”

“We get 25 to 30 in our fourth cat races. They might do one or a few more, to try them out. There’s a big turnover. And that’s great.”

What does Benstead think can be done about it?

“BC rules allow 10 points for a win in a fourth category race, which allows promotion to third cat.

“We need it to be harder to go up to third cat, say 40 points to do so, so they get more experience riding as fourth cat.”

Benstead’s concerns are shared by the South East Region, whose Glyn Durrant reported the problem to BC four years ago. But Benstead says BC’s Manchester hierarchy won’t sit down and talk. They want stats first.

“It’s one crash a week at Hillingdon – sometimes involving as many as six riders. OK, of course there will be crashes in bike races. But several years ago, there wasn’t anything like this number.

“At one such crash several officials were involved in helping the first aiders patch people up. OK, they were walking wounded. The riders weren’t blaming anyone but themselves. ‘We’re crap bike riders, aren’t we?’

“It’s becoming a health and safety issue which will have to be to addressed, especially if BC gets its 100,000 members!

“We see people week in and week out going off to hospital. And because these days you’re not supposed to move people lying injured on the ground, it could mean stopping the event – every week!

“The refusal to discuss this is the most frustrating thing.”

“There is a need to recognise this is a new aspect of the sport and it needs to be addressed.”

New faces seeking a place on the Board
There are three new nominations for the Board, Keith Butler for the South East Region, Dr George Gilbert for Eastern Region and Kay Janette Ball for Central Region.

If elected, Butler, the mastermind behind the hugely successful Surrey Road Race League, would like to provide his ideas for solving the policing problem effecting many road races.

Gilbert, if elected, wants to seize on the opportunities provided by the coming of the 2012 Games and plan for the  expansion of the grass roots infrastructure.

Ball, if elected, will  promote cycling as an all-inclusive sport, with her “specific passion” to bring  more women into cycling at all levels within British Cycling.

  • Alan Huntley

    I race in Norway, over here they have a seeding system. Races often attract 500 riders so they split the races in to seeded groups, if your are not seeded you are in the last group. To make it arace you compete in your age group so in my last race ( i am not vey fit following a long lay off ) I was 312th but 16th in my age and catergory (4th 45-49). Its a bit like how sportives are run but much faster and the end result is riders of asimilar experience level and capability race together and you only move up after completing a number of races thus the system forces you to gain experience as you improve.

  • Ken Evans

    “I would also suggest that 4th cat licences
    should only be issued to members of a cycling club,
    not to ‘private members’.”

    Easy to do, a sensible suggestion.

  • Matt

    When the 4th category was introduced I thought it was a bad idea and so it has proved. While it is good to see more people wanting to take up cycle racing, there are now many riders starting to race before they are ready to. The 4th category has encouraged inexperienced cyclists to start racing too soon.
    I would agree with the suggestion above of a compulsory skills course before a rider can gain a racing licence. This wouldn’t be necessary if riders spent a year riding club runs before thinking about racing, like they used to. I would also suggest that 4th cat licences should only be issued to members of a cycling club, not to ‘private members’.

  • MarkO

    The investigation should focus primarily on the direction Hillingdon is ridden. I have avoided 3x 4th cat crashes there and was decked at an LVRC race with very experienced riders, as it happens the latter was the worst for injury, trashed bikes and numbers involved, all ridden counterclockwise. LVRC riders rarely crash.
    The problem lies in the direction the circuit is ridden. Counterclockwise it is the last 2-300m to the line which snake the riders one way then the other before the final metres to the line. This is the major factor causing accidents. Inexperienced riders don’t have the skills and sixth sense to avoid contact when amidst the kink and this is not entirely their fault. The nature of the road changing direction forces riders to weave at speed and force mistakes in the heat of the moment.
    Ridden clockwise I have not once encountered a crash, the finish straight is straight, flat and is the widest part of the circuit. Crystal Palace is regarded as the most difficult technically to ride and there are way fewer crashes and none in the final burst to the line, again similar to Hillingdon finish when Hillingdon is ridden clockwise. At Palace one or two riders occasionally overcook Deadmans corner but there is never a crash in the all out dash to the finish as at Hillingdon.
    Any of the other SE courses will return 4th cat data with way fewer crashes and never as serious as Hillingdon. I doubt there has been as serious a crash at Hog Hill.
    I am not discounting rider inexperience, that is a big factor at Hillingdon when riders have to navigate the kink at speed. 4th cat riders lack the basic skills needed at the increased pace of a race anyway, switching the most common fault, deviating from the line in a corner amidst the bunch another. One interesting phenomenon is lapse of concentration towards the end of the race, suddenly a rider will ‘forget’ and touch wheels in the most innocuous of places but always towards the end of the race (hypoglycaemia?), the rider more often than not apologising for their lapse.
    I believe partly that points should be raised to 15 such that an outright win doesn’t immediately propel you up to 3rd so that time served is longer. (40 is ridiculous) More importantly I think an accredited skills course should be made compulsory before racing is allowed. This should be given in co with recent/current experienced riders with demo style a priority. Maybe gears could be restricted too so top speed is reduced.

  • James H

    I did a 4th Cat race last year. I rocked up with basically no experience of bunch racing (and not much experience of club runs) and raced against a load of 3rd and 4th Cat racers. For all I knew the rest of the 4th Cats could have been randoms as well with who knows what skills. It would be nice if there were some kind of minimum skills requirement but I’ve not idea how that could be implemented sensibly.

  • Paul Martin

    there are a number of problems:

    a) People do all their training on turbo trainers and so do not learn how to ride a wheel or how to ride in a bunch.
    b) Fourth cat ONLY races mean that all riders are novices. So there is no predominance of experienced riders to put the novices straight (in both senses of the word).
    c) Fourth Cat ONLY races tend to be slower, thus bunching up, thus crashes.

    I agree that there should be an investigation and the category system changed.

    A road racing license should only be granted after a club has certified that a rider has had twelve months experience of and is capable of riding in a tight group. There should also be certification via a training course.

    Somethjing needs to be done – because the more crashes there are, the increased chances of a fatality occurring.

  • David

    The answer is simple and has already been identified by McTigue. If riders want to make it to 3rd cat they should show they can compete against third cats. In which case, 4th cat only races should be regional C (no ranking points) and riders wanting to progress should enter the 3/4 cat races (and points should be a little bit higher depending on the field size so a good placing would get good points. In a 3/4 race you should get points for being in the top 1/4 of the field. Same ponts as now but additional 1 point for placings 1-15 if there are more than 50 riders and an additional 1 point for places 1-20 if there are more than 70 starters.

    This would mean that riders have to participate in many 3/4 races to move up to 3rd, but finishing well would get some credit (rather than being the eternal 11th and gaining no points).

  • andy

    is this a joke, what the hell do you need an investigation for? its just a matter of experience

  • Jon Ellis

    I agree with Tom Butcher. In the Midlands where I can count on one hand the number of 4th only races in a season, pushing the points requirement up would be counter productive.

  • Lard Burkart

    Nothing new there. These are fit people dressed like a cyclist. But they are not.
    I did things the other way around. Rode track to get up to 1st cat then rode the odd road race with properly skilled riders to avoid all the crashes etc.
    Maybe somebody can make money here by setting up skills courses for road racers (don’t know if they offer this already). There are many MTB skills courses out there and they seem to do well. Can bring riders on leaps and bounds, massively improve confidence and prevent panic reactions etc.
    Still nice to see more folk racing though even if they have buy a new bike every week !

  • Lee

    I recently came back to racing after a 15 year break and I definitely think the standard of riding has gone down. We all make mistakes when racing and we should accept that there will be crashes from time-to-time. However, I’ve seen some pretty dangerous riding where riders in 4th cat races have performed some absolutely insane manoeuvres just to make up 2 positions; and this is half way through the race where there is nothing really to gain. During sprints riders have deviated from their line up to two metres almost taking out other riders.

    It’s not just poor bike skills either. The etiquette of racing used to be to call out hazards such as pot-holes (although not just confined to 4th cats). This rarely happens now, and several times I’ve had to ride over pots because riders in front have failed to call them. Obviously, you can’t rely on others and you should know roughly where the hazards are after a lap or two, but there does seem to be less regard now for fellow riders.

    And while I’m at it, riding no handed in the bunch should be stopped as well. It seems that riders are watching the pros and thinking “that looks cool, I’ll copy him.” When in fact it’s stupid and dangerous.

    As stated, this all should start at club level, where there are experienced riders who teach new riders the art of riding in groups and what they should be doing. Is this actually happening?

  • Matthew Fletcher

    Every year I race the Leamington Spa Crits and every year there are crashes. As far as I am concerned this is due to older riders returning to racing with poor reaction times coupled with complete novices who havent the first clue how to ride next to some one in a safe and comfortable manner. I am from a track back ground and feel very comfortable in a tight bunch.

    I think the cure is difficult as the whole point of 4th Cat is that you are on the first rung of the ladder. An option would be to split it further for example a separate category for people who have never raced before, but that would make it difficult as the fields could be low in numbers.

    As for the comment regarding people not having Club Run experience, that has nothing do with anything as my experience of club runs doesn’t reflect overly disciplined riders at all.

  • Nick

    Anyone who races needs a certain level of experience of riding in a group,maybe extra points to progress from 4th to 3rd will help but there comes a point when all the experience in the world does not stop a person from riding carelessly without a hoot for others safety mid race,I think that that has a lot to answer for when it comes to crashes.

  • Ian Essex

    As the article points out, there are riders moving up to 3rd cat after winning only one race. I do know that many such riders have had practically no road racing experience or not even done group riding in a club or training environment. Even competing in sportives is not the same as riding in a massed start road race.
    I feel the simplest solution is that BC rules should require they attend (at the very least) a road race training course. Obviously it would require that BC lay on a sufficient number of these courses in various regions. The majority of these riders own expensive bikes, so should be able to afford to attend such courses.

  • old hedgey

    It has to be said that this is a lot of hot air about notjhing So what, people ride bikes fast, now and again they fall off, riders do what they can to stay in a category where they can compete at the front end – wasn’t so long ago people would hide at the end of races so that their licences wouldn’t be marked up by the comm. Investigation? of what.

  • Tom Butcher

    4th cat is supposed to be a novice category – 40 points would consign plenty of riders to 4th cat forever. Maybe in London where there are plenty of circuits and plenty of 4ths only racing it works – in regions where 4th cats are up against 3rd and 2nd cats in all their races making 40 points will effectively be equivalent to making 2nd cat now.

  • A. McTigue

    Raising the points needed to obtain a 3rd cat licence is not the answer. Reducing or better still doing away with the points awarded for 4cat only races is. Competitors should only be awarded such high amounts of points in events that include higher standards of competitor, say 3rd cat and above. Open road races can soon sort the men out from the boys and points earned here can be hard earned indeed.
    I write this not as a 2nd or 3rd cat but as a 4th cat racer working to obtain a 3cat licence by gaining experience racing in a level of competition higher than my own (3/4 cat, 2/3/4cat and all cat races). 4th cat only races don’t provide that learning curve & I rarely enter them. When I gain a 3cat licences it will through reaching a competitive level and not by, I hope, racing a small field of novices.

  • Shaun Green

    There may be more crashes happening but is it because there are now more people entering races, particularly closed circuit events? I raced Hillingdon, once, nearly 2 years ago, as a Cat 3 with some experience; I felt it was quite tricky as there were too many people on the circuit, making it difficult to negotiate certain, more technical sections. I survived the race intact but there were a couple of pile ups. As for Tony Gibb, he was incredibly arrogant that day, riding up behind people and grabbing their saddles, then laughing to himself as they nearly fell off through sheer surprise. He had more than one argument on the bike that day. It put me off returing to Hilingdon, and I actually thought the race numbers there should have been limited, just like many of the road races are, to ensure a safer race.
    I often race at Castle Coomb and Upavon circuits, as well as Ilton, and although crashes do happen, the wider courses make it a bit more novice friendly, so less of an issue.

    I’m not suggesting that Cat 4 riders shouldn’t have to do more to gain Cat 3, but the organisers themselves should have a look at what else they can do to make it safer on more technical circuits, before making wild accusations against triahtletes or anyone else.

  • Gareth Pugh

    I brought something similar up at the Welsh Cycling Agm in 2009 ….(in order for it to go to BC agm, last year), but our proposals were much more in depth and also addressed the ‘yo,yoing’ of riders between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and 3rd cats. We have very few 1st cats in Wales, now. The ‘system’ doesn’t encourage good riders to keep a 1st cat licence. Last time I checked on this progress with BC (at board level) — nothing has happened. Most people on boards seem to only worry about where their next funding cheque comes from.
    Tell simon richardson, if he wants to interview me, in depth, he’s got my number.

  • Dave

    I’m a forth CAT rider, and I would not argue with the point of this, it does seem quite easy to move from 4th to 3rd, particularly if there are races that are only for 4th Cats. If there is a great increase in new riders, then it should be made harder to move up, but I feel equally, if this is the case, there should be more races for 4th Cats only to offset this. The races I have done have always been 3rd and 4th Cats which makes it hard for 4th Cats to move up anyway,

  • Ken Evans

    “BC rules allow 10 points for a win in a fourth category race,
    which allows promotion to third cat.

    “We need it to be harder to go up to third cat,
    say 40 points to do so,
    so they get more experience riding as fourth cat.”

    Or have a minimum number of races (eg 20 ?).

    Or have a minimum length of time (eg 6 months ?).

    Riding on the track is good for skills,
    but riders need access to a good track,
    and the use of a track bike.

    In car racing there are qualification rules,
    before someone can race faster cars.