At the risk of appearing disloyal to my tribe, I'm going to pipe up here with a slightly different opinion about women's racing and whether or not a promoter of a popular race like Cat's Hill should offer one open women's category, different fields for every category, including masters, or whatever the hell they think will make the most money.
I understand the different viewpoints being presented, and yet the cynical east coaster part of me wants to protest "oh, fer the love of God, people--it's a bike race, not a birthday party!" Actually, maybe birthday party is a great analogy. Promoters should be able to invite whomever they want to their races. As so many have pointed out, people can vote with their entry checks.
Last year Cat's Hill experimented with the decision to add a master's field and subtract a second women's field. They were soundly, publicly thrashed, with entire women's teams boycotting the event. Yet as a business decision, it made a lot of sense, especially for a race that purportedly struggles to break even. You know what would be sadder than losing the women's 3/4 field in this race? I'll tell you: it would be losing Cat's Hill period, because the race was no longer financially viable, even though the promoter could have filled three fields over with 35+ Cat 5 men eager to show their prowess on that hill. As a beginner woman racer, I remember the excitement of watching Kat Curi and Karen Brems off the front, and the crazy last lap excitement when Laura Charameda big-ringed it up that hill and bridged the gap in half a lap, almost stealing the win. It was epic and instructive and inspiring and would have been great, even if there hadn't been a women's 3/4 race earlier that day.
Also, for people who are beating the drum about how a combined field isn't enough of a lure: this is BIKE RACING. It's inherently competitive. Some people are going to be faster than others, and if this is too much reality for the emerging racer, they might consider other forms of organized rides, such as centuries. As soon as promoters offer a Women's 4 field and combine the 3s w/ the 1/2s, you'll hear from a lot of Cat 3 women about the impossibility of ever upgrading due to the challenge of racing against national and world champions (and frankly, the jump from 3 to 2 is a bigger jump, especially since Cat 4s can effectively upgrade on experience points and top 10s).
Frankly, we're spoiled.
There are so many great opportunities to race in this area--why focus on the negative, on the couple of times a year when it's just not feasible? Go camping--ride to the coast--have BRUNCH with friends who don't spend all their time in a chamois! Do all those things that you can't do the rest of the very long season when you're packing your car at 4 AM every weekend for another jaunt out to the Central Valley.
I'm a mediocre, semi-retired Cat 3 racer. If I could design my own race, it would have neither world champions nor newbies. It would be neither mountainous nor flat, would start at 10 AM in a location no more than 1 hour away from my front door, and would include amazing cash prizes 20 places deep and a pound of fresh coffee for every entrant. Also, I would win.
I'm looking for the promoter who can make this happen, but until such a day arises, I'm going to evaluate each race opportunity on its separate merits and make the call. Some races I'll do for the joy of riding the courses (Copperopolis!) Some races I'll do because a friend twists my arm. Some races I'll avoid because I'm a delicate flower and it's too hot for me in Livermore, and I don't know how many more times I have to learn that lesson. And some days, I'll roll out my front door, have a fresh cup of coffee, and ride to Pescadero with a friend, spending my cash on artichoke bread and arriving home in time to play my violin, take my baby to the playground, and bake a pie.
I repeat: we are SPOILED. Let's just honor the people who do their best to make our weekend pastimes possible and enjoy the golden sunshine, eh? And if other people's parties don't suit you, you can certainly pick a date and throw your own.