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Indiana University Little 500 - NE
Indiana, USA, April 26, 2003
Gafombi gives it some gas while Theta clocks up win #4
By Mark Zalewski
Men: 53rd Men's Little 500 - Team Gafombi wins 6-up sprint
The Little 500 is as much about staying out of trouble as it is riding fast - get caught in a wreck and you can kiss your chances of winning goodbye. However, this year there were virtually no crashes, and a fast overall pace kept high by numerous attacks. With only twenty laps remaining there were at least 12 teams together on the lead lap - more than most years.
As the race came to a close, most of the top teams were making numerous exchanges to keep the speed high and to cycle their riders in order to set their designated sprinter up for the last five crucial laps. As the white flag waved to signal the last lap, riders jockeyed to be in position. Down the backstretch the riders were four-across, all trying to get the inside line for turn three, and John Grant of Team Gafombi did just that. Coming onto the last straight, he was the rider to catch, but there just wasn't enough track left.
"My plan was to stay in the two-spot for the last lap," said Grant. "So I got in front with two laps to go and kept the pace fast. I accelerated on the back-stretch and gave it everything I had."
"What we executed today was exactly what we planned last night," said senior and fourth-year rider Mike Rubin of Gafombi. "We didn't want to push the pace too fast - we just sat in on their wheels."
Coming in second place was a strong and young Team Major Taylor. Last year, the all-rookie team was surrounded by controversy over one rider's amateur status and finished ninth. But coach Courtney Bishop was pleased with the progress and success of his team. "It was an amazing race. Every year we try to get better. The guys did a better job of listening. We used everyone up to get Simeon on for the finish, and the guys just killed themselves doing it."
The team worked hard and put their hopes of winning in second-year rider Simeon Commissiong. In fact, the team only used two riders for the first 70 laps of the race. "My first set I did 23 laps, and almost died on the last lap," said rookie-rider Steve Ballinger. "I just stayed in too long. But Simeon caught us back up. It was a team effort."
First-year rider Kenneth Burgess, who calls himself the 'domestique' of the team for the amount of laps he pulled, had concerns about the finish, "I was worried about the pack sprint, but Simeon knows his way around a pack."
Going into the last lap, Commissiong had to modify his race plan, "I wanted to be in the top four, but the pace picked up, and by the time I caught back I couldn't get where I wanted to." Coming down the stretch he passed two other riders, but was unable to make-up the rest of the distance on Gafombi.
How it unfolded
The defending champions, The Corleones, with one of the deepest and most experienced teams, controlled most of the race with a flurry of strong attacks. "We were trying to get away because we knew there were faster sprinters," said senior Chris Irk. Halfway through the race, The Corleones rider took a flyer off the front seemingly to set-up an exchange. However, the rider kept going past the pit and soon built a 50-meter lead on the pack. The Phi Gamma Delta and Acacia teams finally reacted and pushed the pace when it became clear the Corleones rider wasn't exchanging. "We knew there were some big horses out there, and didn't want anyone to get away," said senior Adam Shields of Phi Gamma Delta.
Later in the race The Corleones attempted another solo break and built up a similar lead. However, a small crash away from the pack caused the track to go to yellow for the only time this year. Similar to auto racing, the riders must ride slow under a yellow flag and not advance their position until the green flag is shown. This caused the field to come closer together and effectively neutralized The Corleones' solo attempt.
With all of the attacks covered, it was clear that a field spring was going to be the conclusion. "It was crazy going four-wide down the back stretch," said senior Acacia rider Kevin Vaines. "We were four-wide on the back stretch all going for the inside line on turn three. It was all a race for turn three."
Women: 16th Women's Little 500 - Theta adds another chapter to racing dynasty
Seventeen year's ago, four women from the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority challenged the then all-male Little 500 by attempting to qualify a women's team in the field of 33. Though that team did not have a good enough qualifying time to race with the men, the organizers realized that a women's race needed to be started. The next year, a women's race was formed and the Theta team qualified first and finished second. From then on, the team has placed no lower than sixth and has captured three titles (including one starting in 11th position!). This year, the team added a fourth title to their tradition.
The skies were wide open with rain almost until the start of the women's race. Many believed that the storms would hold long enough to deny the riders completing a minimum 50 laps for an official race. However, the cycling gods smiled on these brave co-eds, and the race was off, soggy cinders and all.
With the wet and windy conditions, the slower teams quickly dropped from the lead pack of contenders. Though wrecks were not a problem as in most years, the top teams quickly emerged from the field; among them: Kappa Alpha Theta, The Roadrunners, Kappa Delta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Teter, and Delta Zeta.
The Roadrunners, two-time defending champions, were without their star sprinter of the previous two races, Jenn Wangerin, who upgraded her amateur status and is off pursuing her dream of Olympic track cycling. Nonetheless, the young Roadrunner team moved to the front from their 11th qualifying position.
After the mid-point of the race, only three teams were together on the lead lap, as the temperature continued to slowly descend and the brisk wind picked up. Up to this point the race had been incident-free for the contending teams, but soon the tide would turn for one of the three teams.
And then there were two
Along the backstretch, a slower rider lost control of her bike causing a crash that involved the Kappa Kappa Gamma team. This immediately put the team almost half a lap down on the leaders. "The girl in front of me just went down - there was nothing I could do," said sophomore Kappa Kappa Gamma rider Meredith Horner.
Kappa Alpha Theta - the team that started the women's race; and The Roadrunners - the more recent dynasty with back-to-back wins the previous two years; were the final two teams going into the last 20 laps of the race. And both teams had very different race strategies.
With the absence of the jackrabbit-like sprinter Wangerin, the Roadrunners were counting on endurance and team depth to make it a time trial to the finish line first. "I'm not a sprinter," said sophomore Sarah Fredrickson. "I can [ride] for a long time, but that's it."
Theta, on the other pedal, had a different strategy. "We thought it was going to be us and Kappa [Kappa Gamma]," said Theta coach Tom Schwoegler. "The Roadrunners surprised us. When Kappa went down we started to push the pace more."
The increased pace worked to their advantage, not allowing The Roadrunners to get away from them. As the laps winded down Theta readied their sprinter, sophomore Nicole Vincent, who had only ridden about 15 laps of the race to that point. "My goal was to give my teammate a good burn out," said junior Theta rider Leigh Frame.
Into the final lap, Theta rider Nicole Vincent trailed the Roadrunner rider by a bike length. But on the back straightaway Vincent dropped the hammer and flew around, quickly putting 10 meters between her and the Roadrunner and finishing the race four seconds ahead. When asked about what she was thinking going into the final lap, Vincent replied, "I was just going to do what I knew how to do."
Images by Mark Zalewski
Men Laps Start Pos 1 Gafombi 2.05.33 200 4 2 Team Major Taylor 2 3 Acacia 11 4 Dodds House 6 5 Corleones 3 6 ACR Cycling 5 7 Cinzano 0.01 7 8 Alpha Tau Omega 0.03 14 9 Phi Gamma Delta 0.04 1 10 Sigma Chi 25 11 Pi Kappa Phi 0.20 9 12 Phi Delta Theta 0.47 8 Women 1 Kappa Alpha Theta 1.10.25 100 6 2 Roadrunners 0.04 11 3 Kappa Delta 0.22 8 4 Kappa Kappa Gamma 0.25 3 5 Teter 1.00 10 6 Delta Zeta 1.15 4
Men Laps Time 2002 The Corleones (Independent) 200 2.04.58 Women   2002 Roadrunners (Independent) 100 1.09.58