Every season there are discussions about what an “automatic” upgrade means. In the rules there are two listed points schedules which could be viewed as a floor and a ceiling required for upgrading. The floor, or lower limit, was required to be reached to be considered for an upgrade. A key word in that sentence is “considered”. Reaching the minimum number of points did not guarantee that a rider would be granted the desired upgrade, but it had to be met for the official in change of upgrades to review the request. The official is granted the latitude to make judgement calls on the quality of the races which constitute the acquired points. If someone was looking to upgrade from CAT3 to CAT2 and had received the lions share of their points from local criteriums consisting of 10 person fields, there is a good chance the upgrade would be denied and the rider would be requested to participate in some larger events first.
The ceiling, or upper limit, was described as the level of points that would constitute an “automatic” upgrade. Many riders felt automatic implied a rider, once reaching this points limit, would be, or should be, automatically or forcibly upgraded by TXBRA. The historical use has been that “automatic” meant that once a rider met or exceeded this points level, an upgrade request would be granted without review. That it was a guaranteed upgrade but the upgrade process was still typically driven by racer request rather than from an official.
In 2012 we are seeing what some may consider a big clarification on how upgrades are handled. “Automatic” has been replaced with “mandatory” in the USA Cycling rule book and now riders who consistently place in the points in their category races will be forced upwards into the next category.
The points schedule for mandatory upgrades has not changed and since 2011:
CAT4->3: 30 points in 12 months
CAT3->2: 40 points in 12 months
CAT2->1: 50 points in 12 months
The term sandbagger may still be heard from time to time, but now that it is clear, at least from a messaging standpoint, that forced upgrades will be in effect, it should restrict an individual’s ability to sit in a category and podium month after month. Riders will still be able to stay down to assist teammates in acquiring their own upgrade points, but now a strong rider will have to be more careful about also picking up additional points when doing so. This will help leave the available points on the table for those still working to get their own upgrades.