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Results and Reports for April 20-21, 2002
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Indiana University Little 500
Indiana, April 20, 2002
By Mark Zalewski
Two hundred laps, 50 miles, four team-mates taking turns riding a single-gear stock bike on a cinder track with 32 other riders - This is the Indiana University Little 500, and the 52nd edition of the largest collegiate intramural event was as exciting as ever.
Those that have been witness to this unique racing event know how difficult and amazing it all is. As in the Indianapolis 500 auto race, which provides the model for the Little 500, the each of the four team-mates takes multiple turns riding on the bike, then passes it off much like a baton in track and field. This makes for exciting racing as each team is required to make a minimum of four exchanges.
Also like the auto race, the teams must qualify by riding four laps. The fastest time gets the pole position and each team is placed in eleven rows of three. Most years, the same teams are at the front of the pack. However, this year the front of the race had a mix of both old and new. The top qualifier and defending champions, Phi Delta Theta fraternity, were joined by one of the perennial favorites, Phi Gamma Delta.
Crashing the front-row party this year was Team Major Taylor, an independent all-black team of rookie riders who'd been accused of fielding a ringer in Josh Weir. Weir is an experienced track rider and was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Training Center resident-athlete program. His team was initially ruled ineligible by race organisers, then reinstated after arbitration. The day after that decision it was revealed that Weir was a former USA Cycling Cat 1 rider, and therefore ineligible under Little 500 rules, but the arbitration committee's decision stood.
Surrounding this controversy was a good deal of ugly racial bickering, with Team Major Taylor and its supporters claiming Weir was being singled out because he was black, and riders who wanted Weir excluded saying that the only reason the rules hadn't been enforced properly in the first place was that the team was black. As it happened, the whole squabble was moot, with team Major Taylor's inexperience in the Little 500 proving more of an issue than Weir's ability.
The race began with a fast flying start, with teams jockeying for position at the head of the pack to stay out of the typical early crashes. Thirty-three teams riding in a tight pack is not an easy feat, especially for the younger riders, and a couple of early crashes split the pack up.
Coming out unscathed were many of the race favorites. Phi Gamma Delta, Phi Delta Theta and Dodds House, along with about seven other top teams, took turns pulling at the front. This separated the pack even further, spitting slower teams out the back. Riders would break away from the front to build a buffer in order to make up for exchanging the bike with another team-mate. As more exchanges occurred, more teams were dropped, as only quick "flying" exchanges allowed teams to catch back on to the back of the lead pack. Team Major Taylor fell victim to slow exchanges, a problem that coach Courtney Bishop attributed to inexperience. "Inexperience got us off of the pace. It's such a difficult race; you have to be in it year after year. One of our kids has only been riding a bike for four months."
Past the halfway point of the race, fewer teams were able to stay together. Phi Delta Theta, Phi Gamma Delta, Dodds House, Gafombi, and the Corleones were the top teams representing the lead of the race. Two more unfortunate crashes caused Phi Delta Theta and Phi Gamma Delta to drop more than a lap down. Fifth year rider Todd Cornelius of Phi Gamma Delta was involved in a crash while trying to exchange. "I didn't see what happened; but it's just a bike race - this all comes with it."
Towards the end of the race, three teams were left: Dodds House, The Corleones, and Gafombi. Riders were exchanging trying to keep the pace high. Brad Davies of Dodds House was on the bike when a slower rider rubbed his rear wheel. "My front wheel then went sideways and I lost it. I tried to stay on the bike another lap, but then I handed it off. Then we all did four-lap sets to try to catch back on." But the gap was too much and the race was nearly complete.
With less than 15 laps to go, Dan Burns from The Corleones team was on the bike. He signaled to his team that he was ready to change and he began to break away from the Gafombi rider to set up the exchange. However, he saw that the gap he had built was growing with each turn of the cranks and he made a decision. "We wanted to attack the whole race. I looked back and saw a gap and said, 'It's now or never.'" With that Dan Burns passed up his teammate who was waiting for the exchange and kept on going. Soon he had more than 100 meters on Josh Grant of Gafombi. "Those guys pulled ahead and we tried to chase them down," said Grant. "They are all tough riders."
"We saw a point in the race where we could take advantage of Dodds," said Corleones coach Bill Naas. "We got a gap and said, 'Let's win it right here, instead of letting it come down to a sprint.' Dan saw the gap and broke it open by staying out extra laps."
With the comfort of a half-lap lead, Chris Iak of The Corleones rode the last laps alone for the win. "You can't make up a half-lap and my rotation happened to be the last one," said Iak. "Everyone was in pain but we went as hard as we could. It's 200 laps of hell!"
Gafombi came in 27 seconds behind to take second place, with Dodds House in third.
The 15th edition of the Indiana University Women's Little 500 is a likely indication of the future of U.S. women's cycling. Jenn Wangerin, second-year rider from the independent Roadrunners team, left no doubt in anyone's mind as to who the best sprinter on the track was. The only question now is where will she go from here?
Three early crashes separated the field. With barely a third of the race completed, just three teams remained together on the lead lap: pole sitter Kappa Kappa Gamma, perennial favorites Kappa Alpha Theta, and the defending champions, the Roadrunners. These three powerhouses played cat-and-mouse for the next 30 to 40 laps. While the three teams were making some of their mandatory four bike exchanges, the Kappa Alpha Theta team made one too many and lost contact with the other leaders, leaving only Kappa Kappa Gamma and the Roadrunners at the front. "Our exchanges were slow and we just made too many," lamented Theta captain and senior Jeanne Foote. Rookie Theta rider Leigh Frame said, "I remember seeing 80 laps to go, and then it was 20 all of a sudden!"
Into the last 10 laps of the race, the two remaining leaders strategically rotated their riders on and off the bike, getting ready to place their respective sprinters on with just the right amount of laps to go. Too many laps and they can run the risk of being too tired - too few and the time lost exchanging riders so close to the end can give the other team an easy gap to exploit. Susan Gasowski, Roadrunner coach and former rider said, "Jenn's strong point is her sprint. She had to chase pretty hard during the race and we wanted her to rest because we had planned for a sprint finish." Similar to the end of last year's women's race, the Roadrunners relied on now second-year rider Jenn Wangerin. With the white flag signaling the last lap of the race, Wangerin found herself in second position against veteran rider Kristin Carpentar of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
"I made a mistake because I let [Wangerin] suck my wheel going into the last lap. She's a monster on the bike."
Rounding the second corner Wangerin came around Carpentar and never looked back. She quickly opened up a bike length on the backstretch and won the two-up sprint by 10 meters. "A couple of times I started to hurt, but I knew they were hurting more," said Wangerin about the last 10 laps of the race.
"We visualized the race last night, and it played out for us, to a tee."
Amazingly, Jenn Wangerin has only been riding for little more than a year and a half. She is currently the U.S. Collegiate track champion in the 500m TT, the 2km pursuit, and the 20km point's race. This summer, she will be racing for the newly formed women's version of the Mercy Cycling Team out of Arkansas, and plans to spend a lot of time on the track in Trexlertown, PA. Look for Jenn this summer on the U.S. cycling scene, and for many years to come!
Pictures by Mark V. Zalewski
Men Laps Time 1 The Corleones (Independent) 200 2.04.58 2 Gafombi (Independent) 200 2.05.25 3 The Dodds House (Residence Hall) 200 2.05.29 4 Sigma Phi Epsilon (Fraternity) 199 2.05.22 5 Pi Kappa Phi (Fraternity) 199 2.05.55 6 Phi Gamma Delta (Fraternity) 198 2.05.50 7 The Cutters (Independent) 197 2.05.34 8 Acacia (Independent) 197 2.05.38 9 Team Major Taylor (Independent) 197 2.05.40 10 Sigma Pi (Fraternity) 196 2.05.31 Women 1 Roadrunners (Independent) 100 1.09.58 2 Kappa Kappa Gamma (Sorority) 100 1.09.59 3 Kappa Alpha Theta (Sorority) 100 1.10.35 4 Delta Gamma (Sorority) 99 1.10.41 5 Alpha Gamma Delta (Sorority) 99 1.10.41 6 Phi Mu (Sorority) 99 1.10.55 7 Kappa Delta (Sorority) 98 1.10.51 8 Landsharks (Independent) 98 1.10.51 9 Alpha Phi (Sorority) 98 1.10.54 10 Con Fuoco (Sorority) 97 1.10.48