Sometimes cycling can seem like an odd sport, even to someone on the inside. Take the idea of championships for instance. Think of any other sport - go ahead, I will give you a minute (if you are like me and consider cycling to be the one true sport, it may take a moment to recall any other). Now, when does that sport hold its championship? You probably answered that by muttering "at the end of the season." It makes perfect sense that way. Individuals, teams, compete over the course of any number of months - wins and losses determine who is most qualified to challenge at the end of the season for "the championship."
It now being mid-March, a time when many racers across the country are beginning their season of competition, we in Southern California, will be holding our district - Southern California-Nevada Cycling Association (SCNCA) Elite level road race championships. This weekend. Riders who compete in the straight up categories - Cat 1-4 (sorry, no Cat 5 championship), both men and women, will be racing for the coveted jerseys and titles given out to the victors.
Because it comes so early in the season, there is no system to determine who is, or is not, qualified to compete. Register before the field is full, and you are in. Bassackward? Perhaps. Might it just be another race on the calendar? Sure, except you get a special jersey, and to call yourself District Champion (no small feat, by the way). Winning the "Districts" does not qualify you to race in the National Championships later in the summer, though it may cement in your head a belief that you can indeed compete there on equal terms.
Though the sport of cycling is based upon the idea of a "racing season", the season is little more than a collection of individual events, each having little, or no, bearing on a season ending championship. To outsiders, those who may be more familiar with a more traditional season which builds to a climactic championship, it must seem confusing. Maybe even non-sensical.
To make matters worse, for those outside looking in, cycling is heavily into specialization - road, mountain, track, cyclocross - each of which (other than cyclocross) are further subdivided by discipline. Take road for instance, you have your pure road racers, criterium specialists, and time trialists, you've got climbers, sprinters, and some vague category of all-rounders. All this categorization makes it difficult to define a "best" and thus, each discipline gets its own championship. This weekend, on a lonely road out by Lake Castaic, it is the roadies' turn - there is some distance, there is some climbing, the sprinters will, by and large, be absent; the time-trialists will have their day, some other day.
The champions will get their jersey to hang on a wall, they will get a story to tell, years from now, to grandkids on their knees but, by next weekend at the latest, their thoughts will turn to the remaining six months of the season. To all competing, good luck, and race like you mean it.