Anyone who knows anything about football will know there are various football leagues for clubs of different abilities. In senior road racing, a similar system exists called the category system. The structure of this has been revamped over recent years and now consists of five categories. These exist for both Male and Female riders:
Elites: The best riders in the country.
4th Category: (starting point for newcomers)
The entry level and a category for riders who have failed to gain the six points necessary to move up a category.
When you gain six points as a 4th cat (during the one season), you will become a third category rider. Getting six points is not too hard as in the BCF's ranking system, a 5th place in a race over 51 kms in length will gain you the 6 points you need to go up a category.
2nd Category Licenses
To gain your second category license, you need to score 30 points as a third cat. Once you have a second category license, the job of moving up another category starts to get tougher. Just to retain the second category license, you to need to score 20 points each season.
1st Category Licenses
One step from the top of the ladder. To get to these lofty heights, you'll need to score 100 points as a 2nd category rider during any one season and to retain the status of being a 1st cat, you need to score 40 points during a season.
This means that getting to be a 1st category rider can take ambitious riders a season or two but once up there, staying there should be easier that the initial step. Getting 40 points isn't impossible although nothing in bike racing is every easy except for those blessed with great legs and lungs.
Elite Category Licenses
The pinnacle for road riders. Only the best get to be Elites and to do this, there are various ways of gaining such a license including being a member of a UCI trade team, being in the top 75 of the Premier calendar series, or scoring 200 points as a 1st cat or elite rider.
Riders between the ages of 16 and 18. Juniors generally race with 3rd and 4th category riders although riders who have gained enough points can race in higher category races.
Riders under the age of 16 are restricted to race on closed circuits. There are also gear restrictions, and races for such categories are generally held for this age group specifically.
Just like the men have a category system, so do the women. It works in the same way with riders needing to score points to move up a category.
Veterans (over 40's)
It is said that the majority of riders in road racing these days are veterans. Depending on the governing body, the age at which you become a veteran varies but in general, both the BCF and the LVRC (a separate governing body just for veterans), put the age as 40 and above. The upshot of this is that racing for veterans is plentiful.