I'm sure my fellow Masters cat 4's would agree that competition within our fields is getting a lot tougher, not only to win/place but also just to get into the dang race! I don't really understand why it's more our fields than others, nor do I much care to know, but I do have a wild idea on a solution that I thought I'd throw out and see what others think.
Seems to me there is a bottleneck at the top such that the outflow of those upgrading to cat 3 is not keeping pace with the inflow of new racers (M4/5 fields) and upgrades from cat 5 (M4 fields). We end up with a lot of really strong guys fighting for a too limited number of upgrade points. Many of those riders are easily cat 3 material (i.e. lots of unintentional sandbagging going on!). What we need is some way to open the gates, just a bit, and let a few more of these guys race with the big dogs.
But before suffering the inevitable flaming and humiliation, let me just say that I realize this half-baked idea is full of holes and would take nearly an act of Congress to implement. So no expectations on my part.
The solution: How 'bout if upgrade points are awarded not just to those placing high in a race as in the current rules, but also to those who finish in the same group as the winner. Maybe one point for each of the riders finishing together in a pack sprint, sorta like stage race rules that give the same time. Also establish a limit (e.g. only the first 20 riders) in case the entire field finishes together as happened this past weekend in the Madera crit (almost everyone got the same time). Just one point won't have a huge effect, rather just enough to increase the outflow from drops to a trickle. And no doubt the cat 3's do not want to be dealing with a bunch of undeserved upgrades into their field! So it needs to be kept under control.
Like I said, a solution like that (or any other based on points) won't be easy to implement and probably has problems I haven't considered. But I do believe something like that is needed to unclog our races...aside from more races...lots more races!