The Little 500 in Bloomington, Indiana, has many traditions and teams that are contenders every year. There have even been what people consider dynasties in the race, such as the Delta Chi teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Out of that program came some disgruntled riders who decided to form their own independent team in 1984, calling themselves the Cutters, after the fictional team from the movie “Breaking Away.” They won the race that year and the team has gone on to win eight more times since, including the past two years.
But doing the three-peat has only happened twice in the 59-year history of the race, and never for the Cutters. On Saturday, the 25th anniversary of their first team win, the young but talented Cutters faced long odds and bad luck. But the four riders managed to make history, winning the race in impressive style with sophomore Eric Young leading the entire last lap to take the victory ahead of Delta Tau Delta and Phi Gamma Delta.
“There were so many teams together on the last lap, and all working together, I think we did have a big target on our backs,” Young told VeloNews. “But if you get to the last lap the whole race is out of the window and you just go!
“The backstretch is very windy and I wanted to be first on there because it would be hard to pass. I got in the lead coming through the start/finish line and just went with it. From there I wasn’t really thinking … there was a lot of noise from the crowd and that’s all I could think about — my legs went as fast as they could!”
The journey to the white flag signaling the final lap is never easy for any team, and a lot of it has to do with luck (a.k.a. avoiding crashes.) For example, the pre-race favorite Phi Delta Theta team, which qualified in the pole position, ended up in a crash midway through the race. And a tangled and broken bike slowed their attempt to get back into the race, putting them nearly a lap down. The other teams jumped on this misfortune and opened the gap to a full lap, putting them out of contention.
The Cutters were involved in that same wreck, but did not have a mechanical and were able to chase back on, thanks to strong riding by the only senior on the team, Clayton Feldman. The team had already had to chase earlier in the race when they had to serve a two-second time penalty for a pre-race rule violation.
“We didn’t pick up our pit board on time; it was dumb and we knew it,” said Feldman. “We had to serve that in the first 20 laps, but we served it under a yellow and got it out of the way.”
But bad luck struck again late in the race when an official docked the Cutters three seconds for improper advancement during a caution lap, the penalty to be served in the final 20 laps. That could have ended the race for the team, but Feldman, racing for the final time in his Little 500 career, knew what had to be done.
“We were a little … upset!” he said. “But one of the primary things you need is for someone to just step up. Eric and I said we would do it, but I told Eric that since he was the sprinter he should sit down and I would put him back into the race to win it. It took me like six laps to get back into the race — I wanted to come out a lap earlier but I knew it was my last lap I would do in Little 5 and I should just drill it and give it to Eric to have a chance to win.”
“Clayton did an awesome job of getting us back,” said Young. “He was our strongest rider.”
With 10 laps to go in the 200-lap, 50-mile race the win was still up for grabs, with nearly 10 teams together on the lead lap. Perennial favorites Phi Gamma Delta were in it still with newer teams such as Gray Goat Cycling and the Black Key Bulls looking strong. Also in the mix were Team Major Taylor, Delta Tau Delta, Phi Kappa Psi, Delta Upsilon, Alpha Tau Omega, Sigma Chi and Sigma Pi.
Phi Gamma Delta looked strong midway through the race when a burnout to set up an exchange turned into nearly a half-lap advantage that lasted about five laps.
With three laps to go the leaders crossed the start/finish three abreast, all watching each other — the Cutters, Sigma Chi and Phi Gamma Delta — looking like it was the opening parade lap more than the business end of a race. But when the white flag was given to signal one to go, Young hit the gas and never looked back.
“The plan is to never be with other teams (with one to go,)” said Feldman. “But we knew Eric was the fastest guy on the track and he wasn’t going to get beat!”
“I was trying to get good position,” said Davis Ellis (Phi Gamma Delta) about the last laps. “From watching tapes of past races the guy who has the inside of the third turn is hard to come around. I was going to start my sprint around [turn two] but Young took off really early — with a whole lap to go. It took everyone by surprise, and once he gets a gap it’s hard to catch him in the wind.”
When asked if the pressure of the Cutter tradition affected the younger version of the team, rookie Young replied, “Every year is a new year, but the pressure to win is more just about honor.”
Pi Beta Phi takes first women’s win
Though not as old as the men’s race the women’s Little 500 was just as exciting as the men’s, thanks to a deeper-than-usual field with a lot of parity.
Two of the pre-race favorites, Wing It and Teter, were knocked out of contention late in the 100-lap race allowing for a combination of old favorites and new faces to try for the title. In the end it was a surprise from the Pi Beta Phi team with junior Caroline Brown taking the win for her team ahead of senior Kathryn Rogoski (Delta Sigma Pi) and junior Jennifer Balbach (Kappa Delta.)
“I went back in at lap 90, got myself back into position and didn’t pull much,” said Brown, who needed to ride smart, having ridden the most laps for her team all day. “I just sat on the wheels until the end. I didn’t make my move until turn four, really, and then just went as hard as I could.”
Another dark-horse team, Delta Sigma Pi, was also up in the final group at the end. Their sprinter, senior Kathryn Rogoski, had to decide which move to make in her last race.
“I was sitting fourth wheel and knew that the head wind on the back stretch was going to be really bad, so I either had to make my move in turn two or come around on the backstretch,” she said. “I was hoping the girls in front of me would be really tired since they were pulling, trying to do a TTT.
“I swung wide in the final turn and got lucky that Kappa Kappa Gamma swung even wider and so I went back inside and knew I just had to out-sprint (Brown). I just had 100 yards to do it — I went as hard as I could because this was my last race. She finished in front of me … but I left it all on the track.”
The Kappa Delta team looked strong all day, and led into the final lap — but the headwind on the backstretch proved too much to hold the entire 410 meters.
“I was leading into the last lap, and I wanted to be leading but I needed more of a gap or more at the end, but didn’t have it.” said Balbach.
This is the first win for the Pi Beta Phi team. Defending champions Delta Gamma finished in sixth while the pole-sitter Teter came in seventh.
1. Cutters, 200 laps, 2:15:18:00
2. Delta Tau Delta, 200 laps, 2:15:19:00
3. Phi Gamma Delta, 200 laps, 2:15:20:00
4. Team Major Taylor, 200 laps, 2:15:20:05
5. Black Key Bulls, 200 laps, 2:15:20:07
6. Phi Kappa Psi, 200 laps, 2:15:21:00
7. Delta Upsilon, 200 laps, 2:15:22:00
8. Alpha Tau Omega, 200 laps, 2:15:23:00
9. Gray Goat Cycling, 200 laps, 2:15:24:00
10. Sigma Chi, 200 laps, 2:15:26:00
11. Sigma Pi, 200 laps, 2:15:52:00
12. Collins Bunny Gamma, 200 laps, 2:16:33:00
13. Delta Sigma Pi, 200 laps, 2:16:37:00
14. Acacia, 199 laps, 2:16:31:00
15. Phi Delta Theta, 198 laps, 2:16:37:00
16. Sigma Nu, 197 laps, 2:16:42:00
17. Sigma Phi Epsilon, 196 laps, 2:16:36:00
18. Delta Chi, 196 laps, 2:16:37:00
19. Achtung, 194 laps, 2:16:33:00
20. Sigma Alpha Mu, 193 laps, 2:16:17:00
21. Twisted Steel, 193 laps, 2:16:18:00
22. Evans Scholars, 193 laps, 2:16:29:00
23. Theta Chi, 193 laps, 2:16:38:00
24. Dodds House, 192 laps, 2:16:23:00
25. Wright Cycling, 191 laps, 2:16:24:00
26. Vicious & Delicious, 190 laps, 2:16:36:00
27. Pi Kappa Phi, 189 laps, 2:16:07:00
28. Kappa Sigma, 189 laps, 2:16:18:00
29. Beta Theta Pi, 187 laps, 2:16:22:00
30. CRU Cycling, 186 laps, 2:15:58:00
31. Phi Sigma Kappa, 186 laps, 2:16:00:00
32. Phi Kappa Sigma, 185 laps, 2:15:12:00
33. Pi Kappa Alpha, 185 laps, 2:16:06:00
1. Pi Beta Phi, 100 laps, 1:13:16
2. Delta Sigma Pi, 100 laps, 1:13:17
3. Kappa Delta, 100 laps, 1:13:18
4. Kappa Kappa Gamma, 100 laps, 1:13:19
5. Kappa Alpha Theta, 100 laps, 1:13:20
6. Delta Gamma, 100 laps, 1:13:51
7. Teter, 100 laps, 1:14:14
8. Wing It, 100 laps, 1:14:17
9. Army Women, 99 laps, 1:14:44
10. Athena, 98 laps, 1:14:07
11. Gamma Phi Beta, 98 laps, 1:14:15
12. Alpha Omicron Pi, 98 laps, 1:14:16
13. Zeta Tau Alpha, 97 laps, 1:14:32
14. Alpha Gamma Delta, 96 laps, 1:14:16
15. CoUCH, 96 laps, 1:14:38
16. Phi Mu, 92 laps, 1:14:07
17. Collins, 92 laps, 1:14:28
18. Cycledelics, 91 laps, 1:14:21
19. Alpha Xi Delta, 91 laps, 1:14:27
20. Alpha Chi Omega, 90 laps, 1:13:50
21. Chi Omega, 88 laps, 1:13:54
22. Mezcla, 88 laps, 1:14:06
23. Team Revolution, 87 laps, 1:14:21
24. Alpha Phi, 87 laps, 1:14:38
25. SoFA, 85 laps, 1:14:43
26. Lioness Cycling, 82 laps, 1:14:05
27. Delta Zeta, 81 laps, 1:14:02
28. Sigma Delta Tau, 80 laps, 1:14:11
29. Alpha Epsilon Phi, 78 laps, 1:13:55
30. Delta Delta Delta, 75 laps, 1:13:41
31. Alpha Delta Pi, 73 laps, 1:13:43