Racing Sport or Expert? – The Final Decision!

James Knott finished third in the Sport Veteran 30-39 year old category in 2013.

2013 was my best season yet, but despite attending every race, I still only finished 3rd in Sport Veteran, ages 30-39.

When I wrote my article “Expert, Sport, Novice: The Big Decision – Sandbagger Alert”, I was surprised at the huge response that I got.  It was one of the most popular posts on the site.  I received more comments, Facebook messages and private emails about it than I have gotten from any other post on Quickdirt.

In it, I talked about how my weight loss had helped me become a faster mountain bike rider.  I had moved from being mediocre to being a competitive sport racer.  Because of that, I was unexpectedly faced with the decision of whether I should stay in sport for another year or try to move up to expert.

People had strong opinions about whether I should stay put or move up.  There were some very compelling arguments for both options.  Overall though, a majority said that I should race sport for one more year.

I recommend reading the article and comments for the full story.

It’s March 16th and the first race of the year is less than a week away.  I want to lock in a decision and stick with it because I don’t want to move up and down between classes and waste a season in limbo.

Here is the Ohio Mountain Bike Champioship’s (OMBC) policy about moving between classes once a season begins:

If moving down from a higher class such as expert to sport, points cannot be carried down, which, in effect, means you will forfeit those points in the division you are leaving. Racers then begin earning points in their newly chosen division.

If moving up to a higher class, your points can be carried up, for example, from novice to sport and from sport to expert. This is to encourage upward movement. Downward movement is penalized by forfeiture of accrued points. However, racers then begin earning points in their newly chosen division.

Lateral moves are allowed within a class, such as moving from Sport to Sport Clydesdale or for example, from Expert Single Speed to Pro/Expert, results in forfeiture of points in that division. In a lateral move, Racers then begin earning points in their newly chosen division. Sport and Novice Division winners are required to move up to a higher class the following season.

So here is my decision…

I plan to race Sport Veteran, ages 30-39, in 2014 to compete for the division championship.  Regardless of whether I win or not, I will race in the Men’s Expert Class in 2015.

Major Reasons

James Knott races at Mohican State Park in 2012.

Racing at Mohican State Park in 2012.

There are many factors that are going into this decision, but the most important one is my family.

I am a stay-at-home dad with two energetic boys that require a lot of attention.  Even though I am passionate about mountain bike racing, my family is my primary focus.  I don’t want to get so caught up in training that it interferes with my home life.  As my boys get older, they will get more independent and I will have a little more freedom, but that’s not where I am at right now.  My wife’s job requires her to log extra hours at work, so I don’t want to bolt out the door to go biking the instant she gets home.  It’s very important to me that our family has plenty of quality time together.

Reason number two, and I’m not going to lie, this is also a big one for me as well.  I’ve been racing in the Sport Veteran class for 5 years and for most of that time I was a fairly mediocre racer.  Winning the class was never a real possibility – at least until last year.  However, despite attending every race, I still only finished 3rd in my division.  In the championship race, I took a wrong turn and completely took myself out of contention.  I want a rematch.  I’d like one more opportunity to try and win before I turn 40.  It’s the last year that I am eligible for Sport Vet.

Other Considerations

Last year, I was still focused on weight-loss at the beginning of the season. Training to race and losing weight can be competing goals.  It’s difficult to build muscle when you are depriving your body of the calories and nutrients that if needs to rebuild and stay healthy.  This year my weight is under control and I can eat what I need to build strong muscles for the entire season.

Also, I was just starting to research good training principles when the season started last year.  It wasn’t until the middle of last season that I felt like I had my workouts dialed in the way they should be.  A good training program begins in the winter – when I’m usually getting fat.  Last year at this point, I had still only ridden my bike a couple of times – definitely wasn’t in racing shape.  This year I am off to a much better start.  According to a recent fitness test I did, I am currently in about the same shape now as I was in the middle of June or July, but not quite as good as I was at the end of the season.

With those two things in mind, the weight and the training,  I am eager to race for an entire season with all the pieces in place.  I look forward to comparing this season’s results to last year’s and finding out whether the methods I have embraced will make a big difference in my performance all else being equal.

I am logging all of my workouts on Twitter, so you can follow Quickdirt there and see what I am up to.  Then, later in the season you can see how it translates to race results.

James Knott races at Alum Creek State Park

Racing at Alum Creek State Park in 2013.
Photo by Jackson Sarver

Looking to the Future – The Jump to Expert

I am looking forward to trying the expert class in 2015.  I never thought it would be a possibility.  I remember watching Ben Ortt screaming down a hill in 2009 and thinking that there was no way I would ever be able to race expert.  I don’t expect to be in contention for the title, but the thought of going head-to-head with the top dogs is fairly exciting and I look forward to seeing how well I can compete.

The jump to expert is a big one though.  I think there is a lot of evidence of this – especially when you consider the amount of sport division winners that have moved up and quit racing all together within a year or two.  I have watched that happen to several of the winners of my division over the last couple of years.  They are having fun and feeling fast winning sport races.   Then they move up, struggle, get frustrated and quit.  That’s why I don’t take the move lightly.  I don’t want to over do it and beat the fun out of the sport that I love.

Not only do you have to be faster at the expert level, but you need to have better endurance as well.  If you read up about training principles, you learn that the human body can only adapt so quickly.  This rate is different for everyone which is why some people build up to expert level faster than others.  Trying to force your body to improve more quickly leads to overtraining, burnout and injury.  Now that I have a plan to move up in 2015, I am going to start tailoring my training schedule to help me make this jump in fitness over the course of the next year.

Are You With Me?

James Knott rides the spin bike in the basement.

I’ve spent most of the winter riding in my basement to maintain my fitness. I’m curious to see if all the hard work will pay off on the trail this summer.

This really wasn’t an easy decision for me.  I am a competitive person and I always like to push myself to the next level.  Part of me will be wondering “what if?” the entire season.  On the other hand, if I moved up too soon and got frustrated and burnt out, then that wouldn’t be fun for me at all.  And, in the end, isn’t this all about having fun?  I’m not making money doing this.  I’m doing it because I enjoy it.

I am not required to move up according to the rules, but there is part of me that feels like people will be grumbling about sandbagging if I do well this season.  In the end, I can’t please everyone.  I hope people understand that I feel this is what is best for me at this point in my life and my racing “career”.

I’ve spent most of my mountain bike racing time struggling as a lower to mid-level sport racer.  Now I’ve lost the weight, done the research and trained hard to get faster.  I think I am in a good position to do well this season as long as I don’t get hurt.

Trying to win sport has been a goal of mine for a long time, but in the past I didn’t think it was actually possible.  Now it’s within reach, but it has changed from an impossibility to an intermediate goal on the way to bigger objectives that I have set for myself.

There are some very fast and talented guys racing Sport Veteran.  Racing this season will not be easy by any means.  It will take a lot of time and hard work to achieve peak fitness.  I hope the readers of Quickdirt will support me this season and on into the future.

I look forward to sharing my progress with you here on the site.  Make sure you subscribe to Quickdirt in the right column to get instant email updates about new content on the site.  Let me know if you think I’ve made the right decision in the comment section.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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15 thoughts on “Racing Sport or Expert? – The Final Decision!

    • I am currently signed up for Cohutta 100, 9 Hrs. of Cranky Monkey, Iceman Cometh, plans to do Big Bear 2 x 12 (Need to defend our Sport class title), Mohican 100/100k?, plus some other races. I plan on doing some local events as well in Ohio, PA and Wva. I will also ride again this year for those who can’t, those who have been diagnosed with cancer, as part of the Pan Ohio Hope Ride. Pan Ohio Hope Ride is a great event for the American Cancer Society and we go from Cleveland to Cincinnati over 4 days and 328 miles.

      I am sure I will see you around! Look for FMBR Team jerseys (Frankford Mountain Bike Race Team).

      Good luck!

  1. Such a touchy subject with everyone but you hit the nail on the head when you said you know several former sport riders who moved to expert and then quit. I can think of several as well. The problem is that canyon between Sport and Expert.

    That move from Sport to Expert is huge. Much bigger than the move from Novice to Sport. You can be competitive in sport with 5 hours/ week of training. You probably won’t win races but you will be racing and not 3 miles behind the leaders.

    But expert is a different animal. Many experts I have talked to ride a minimum of 12 hours a week and have been doing that for 10+ years. That does not include running, lifting, stretching, rolling, bike work, travel etc,. It is literally, all they do. As a married, father of 2 with a full time job, that level of commitment is not possible right now but I still love to ride bikes and “race”. If I were to go to expert today, I would finish the Mohican State Park race 20-30 minutes behind the leaders. That is about 5-7 miles… That is not racing, that is riding as fast as I can by myself : >

    Maybe OMBC would consider a Sport Plus category like 331 has had the last couple seasons. It might boost attendance. The top three every year graduate to that category and can stay there as long as they want.

    • It’s definitely a touchy subject. There will always be people who are upset that people aren’t moving up. I hear the grumbling every year about various riders.

      Doing expert in 2015 is going to be a big challenge, but even if I finish last for every race I plan on sticking with it when I make the jump.

    • Well said Wayne. I agree with you and I am in the same boat. The Sport Plus category definitely was super competitive for us in 331 and gave other sport age group riders a chance to get on the podium. See you on the track!

      • I think a sport plus category would be cool, but Ryan, the race director, has said that he doesn’t plan to do that. I will do Sport Plus if I race in 331 this year.

  2. Cool blog! You paid your dues in sport class and you’re not sandbagging for staying another year. I think moving up to expert would make you a better racer but doesn’t sound like your mentally ready for it so good decision to move up in 2015. When you do move up know it will take some time to get competitive again but you can do it. You don’t necessarily have to train 15 hours a week but you need to train smarter and eliminate the junk miles. Who cares if you finish mid pack or lower the rides are longer and you like riding your bike right? It’s not like your going to turn pro or anything so enjoy the ride and don’t be so concerned where you are placing.

  3. Still cool blog but I found your other post claiming an FTP of 285 and you weigh 155 pounds and your racing in sport??? Time to let it go man you are strong enough to race expert. Make room for the sports guys trying to get on the podium for the first time and race in the class you truly belong.

    • First, thanks for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate it. This blog is all about being open and honest about my journey in mountain bike racing. It’s headed in the right direction now, but it hasn’t always been pretty. I knew that I was on the borderline between sport and expert and that’s why I put so much thought into it. I had people for and against both sides of the issue. As you read, I ultimately decided to do sport this year and commit to expert in 2015. I still feel like this was the best decision for me. So far I have finished 4th and 9th in my first two races, so it’s not like I’m dominating my age class. When you extrapolate my times to the longer expert distance, I would be finishing near the bottom of the pack. According to charts in the book, “Cutting Edge Cycling” my FTP also puts me in that gray area between sport and expert. Unless, I go on a big win streak, I am going to stick with sport for now. I am looking forward to trying expert next year though. I never thought I would even be close to that level, so this has been a good problem to have. What level do you race at? Do you train with a power meter? You seem like you know a lot about the power-to-weight ratio. I hope you will keep following the blog to see how the season turns out and how my jump to expert goes next season.


  4. It doesn’t matter if you win a medal because age group mountain bike racing should be about testing yourself, not going for medals. Remember there is a whole group of riders better and above your class and above them yet with pro/elite. It’s not like any of us are going to turn pro. Make sure your doing it for the right reasons. Your not sandbagging, I’m just making the observation you are strong enough to be racing expert.

    • I’m not sure what the “right reasons” are. I’m mostly just trying to have fun and see how fast I can go. I’ve been racing for about 7 years and I hope to ride for 20+ more. In the long run, the course of a 25 year riding career, whether I switch this season or the next doesn’t really matter too much. A lot of people argue that you get more miles by riding expert, but I don’t really like longer races. I actually prefer the shorter sport races. So, maybe I’m just delaying the jump in distance. However, I’ve struggled in sport for many years. I just want a year where I don’t feel like I am struggling at the back before I move up and struggle to succeed again. I don’t know if that’s the right reason, but it’s just being honest.

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