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Indiana University Little 500 - IM
Bloomington, Indiana, USA, April 11-12, 2008
Race 2 - April 12: Men's race,
Cutters ride away to record-setting win
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Bloomington, Indiana
This year's Little 500 at Indiana University was scheduled a week earlier than usual, and the difference for the 58th edition of the men's race was felt in the weather. Temperatures barely reached above 43 degrees with blustery winds and rain threatening all day long. The conditions skewed the race to the strongest teams, and only the defending champion Cutters team was strong enough. Cutters rode the remainder of the field off its wheel in the final 20 laps to take a convincing win and breaking the record for the most wins in Little 500 history with nine.
"I can't put that into words!" finishing rider Sasha Land told Cyclingnews immediately after the race. "It means more to me than anything. Our plan was to just ride creatively. We knew we would have a big target on our backs as defending champions. Nobody has done this on this track, and it came together for us, so we went for it."
The back-to-back win was the first time a team has done it on this current track. The current venue was built in 1981 specifically for the race when it moved from the old football stadium where the film Breaking Away was filmed.
Cutters were clearly the strongest team on the track, often riding on the front of the leading pack to avoid the inevitable crashes that can end a team's race since there is no 'free lap' rule. "We were trying to stay out of the wrecks always," said Cutters rider Clayton Freedman. "And the wrecks today definitely made you happy you were up front! There was a lot of work put in by Paul and Eric, they did a big share of the load."
An early wreck on the third lap took out one of the pre-race favorites, the Black Key Bulls. The team's anchor rider Issac Neff was considered one of the strongest single riders in the race. Neff won the four-lap individual time trial event a few weeks earlier by more than two seconds. But showing that the race is a team event, Neff could not ride his team back into the race alone.
"I think it was just him and me who went down," said Neff's team-mate Valentine Todorow. "This guy came up suddenly to do a burn I think, but couldn't hold his line." The race rules state that in a crash either the rider must continue or a team-mate can replace the rider, but only at the site of the incident. With the pack moving so fast early in the race, combined with the windy conditions, a team is virtually put out of contention.
"We went down a lap and I had something wrong with me, like food poisoning, so I could only ride like 25 laps," said Neff. "It sucks for that to be your last Little 500."
Halfway through the race it was down to only eight of the 33 teams on the lead lap. Another crash took out the dangerous Phi Gamma Delta team, leaving only seven. As the other top teams made their exchanges, the Cutters would push the pace to make it more difficult for them to catch back on. Having to burn matches regain the pack took its toll on teams, and only five were left with 20 laps to go.
"We knew we wanted to throw a couple of punches in the race - one about lap 100 and one around 180 to put everyone in the pain cave," said Cutters coach and former rider Jason Fowler. "We've been in the pain cave many a time so we know our way around. We wanted to break the race up and put everyone else in the pain cave.
"We weren't going to worry about [the sprint] until five to go, and at that point we saw the other teams down," Fowler said. "We had wanted to get rid of Major Taylor and Dodds House because they can sprint really well."
Erik Hamilton was on the bike for the Cutters at this point, and put in a dig that snapped the elastic to most of the other teams. Only the Alpha Tau Omega team was able to stay with the leader. "We were alone with ATO and I told him we're up so let's work, but he didn't have it so I just took off and found ourselves up a straightaway," said Hamilton. "So we rolled it and were able to grow the gap riding tempo, even though the other teams were chasing. Then I exchanged it to Sasha and that was it."
"We knew we could stay in the race even though we only had three riders - one of our riders was hurt," said Alpha Tau Omega's senior rider Alex Malone. "We fought until the end and had a great sprinter who kept us in it. It was disappointing for us because they had the legs with four riders that we didn't. But you can't take anything away from them - they won spring series and had all returning riders. But we have two guys coming back next year so we hope to take first place."
One of the other danger riders, Mike Sherer (Dodds House) was being rested for the sprint as he watched the race ride away. "They were resting me so I didn't do the last set," he said. "The Cutters went and we couldn't get back on. I decided to get put in early at the end because I was the strongest and tried to get us back in. Then I was too burned out in the end for the field sprint."
At this point, with a half-lap lead, the captain of the Cutters, Sasha Land, took the final exchange from Hamilton and rode the final laps to victory. "The wind made it a little difficult, but I don't think there was a team out here who was as strong as we were," said Land. "We saw everyone hurting and so we put our nose to the grindstone and went for it."
"I finished the race, but it was really raced and won by each of us," added Land.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Mark Zalewski/Cyclingnews.com
1 Cutters 2.10.00 2 Team Major Taylor 0.22 3 Dodds House 0.23 4 Alpha Tau Omega 0.24 5 Phi Kappa Psi 0.25