Most non bike racing people are surprised to lean that bike racing requires a license. No, there is no test where you have to prove your skills in order to get one - although watching a Cat 5/Public beginner Crit might make you wonder why there isn't. In order to move up the ranks - or down the ranks as it is. Beginners start at Category 5 and as they move up in category, their category moves down a number. 10 mass start races and you move from 5 to (Cat)agoty 4, 2o points or 25 races with 10 top-ten finishes gets you to Cat 3 and so on until you get to Cat 1. Beyond that you presumably get picked up by a local or regional Pro team. I'm no expert on that as I'm swim in the 3's water column. Here in California and in the rest of the USA, races are divided into two types: category races or Masters races. In Category races you race with people who at your licensed level. In Masters races you race with people in your age group. These typically are broken down into 35+/45+/55+ and so on. So the uninitiated might think, "Shit, I'll race with the geezers and have an easier go at it." Well think again. That 35+ age group is made up of everyone from Cat 1's to Cat 4s. Thankfully cat 5's aren't usually allowed to participate in Masters races. Here in Southern California the Masters races are pretty much as hard the Pro 1/2 races - the main difference is they run 60 minutes as opposed to the Pro's 90 minutes.
So you may be wondering, "why dwell on all this?" Well, because I was surprised that the entire system I just described - goes out the window when racing in Europe. My Cat 3 road license is meaningless over there. So, I had to send away for an international UCI Racing license. Seems so legit having "UCI" on my license. For those who don't follow Bike Racing, the UCI stands for Union Cycliste Internationale. It's the international cycling governing body that governs most cycling from Pro European racing to the Olympics.
In Belgium the categories are much simpler. Either you're a junior, a master, or you race with a pro contract or without one. Since Cycling is the national sport in Belgium, I guess they assume that by the time you get to the Elite level, you already know what you're doing - so just race against everyone. I can't tell you yet if their system is better than ours or not. I'll have to give it a try and let you know.
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