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2014 Race Day Recap
5th Jun 2014Posted in: Blog, Featured Posts 0
2014 Race Day Recap

Saturday, April 26 is a blur. Watching race tape hardly helps me register what I experienced that day. I analyzed the race several times as soon as the tape was released, but synthesizing the entire day requires a much larger focus that spans a time far beyond the two hours I can find on YouTube.

Post-Race Hug (Photo Credit: Ben Mikesell)

Post-Race Hug (Photo Credit: Ben Mikesell)

One picture that I uncovered, however, does reveal a small bit about what the day meant to us. A photographer from the IDS took a shot of the moment I saw Knight for the first time after the race. Despite the crazed finish, you can see a smile on my face when I hugged him; it shows gratitude, relief, and pride. It was the culmination of one of the most transformative experiences of our lives.

For the sake of a proper recap, I’ll break the race down into segments and discuss briefly what occurred in each part. All details are relatively vague; my nucleus of focus was so stringently defined on race day that I synthesized little else other than my bubble while riding the pack, my recovery on the trainer, and the advice from our coaches Erik Kiser, Eric Anderson, and John Grant (with the team of support behind our pit).

Part I: Laps 1-49

Knight took the first set for us. While our starting position was slightly less than ideal, he made an early move on the outside to position us at the front. I briefly glanced at Knight when he got off the bike from his first set (at which point Craig took over), and what I saw told the prevailing theme of the day: the cinders covering his arms and face, kicked up from the loose surface of the track, told us that the track was much more dry than we were used to. The second prevailing theme of the day was revealed during my first set, which immediately followed Chris’: the pace at the front was going to be slow.  Knowing we were on some of the fastest bikes in the field thanks to Tom Schwoegler, this boded well for us.  AJ got on the bike after my set, and he truly took control; we were all proud to see the sometimes overly-analytical racer get out of his mind and dominate the track.

Fast Exchange to Sood (Photo Credit: Erin Ritchie)

Fast Exchange to Sood (Photo Credit: Erin Ritchie)

We maintained this order throughout the majority of the race, and we emerged from the first fifty laps of the race with ease: we made good burns, found safe positioning, and conserved energy.

Part 2: Laps 50-149

I’ve consolidated one-half of the race into a single segment due to the nature of the race: all was relatively consistent. The primary moment of excitement resulted from the aforementioned second theme—the slow speed at the front—when Fiji moved to make an early breakaway. The move gained momentum when Phi Delt decided to join Fiji, so I hopped on to pull it back in a coordinated effort with Sig Ep. It should also be noted that despite crashing and a couple mechanical mishaps, Sig Ep was able to catch back on to the back of the pack during the race; this fact is a testament to both the team’s skill and the slow pace of the pack. It quickly became clear that an abnormally large number of teams would be on the lead lap at the end of the race.

Part 3: Laps 150-198

Some teams, however, didn’t want the race to come down to a sprint, and the action spiked in the last segment of the race. Early on, the Cutters made a move off the front that we were worried would stick. Unfortunately, the field made a cohesive effort to bring the break back in right when we were completing an exchange, and we were slightly worried when Knight was forced to roast his legs by catching on to an accelerating pack. When the pack caught the Cutters, though, the pace settled back to normal slow level in time for Knight to regain position.

Chris leading the pack (Photo Credit: Chris Souers)

Chris leading the pack (Photo Credit: Chris Souers)

The plan for the end of the race was to slightly alter the order—completing three four-lap sets going from myself, to Knight, to Craig. When I got on the bike at 188, the field seemed blown apart—BKB had botched an exchange, several teams were completing exchanges, and the pack was scattered. I essentially ITT’ed for my first three laps, catching on by the fourth just in time to bring a burn in to Knight. He and I completed the only rider exchange of the day, which was made stressful beyond the race day circumstances considering Knight was still recovering from injuries sustained after botching that very exchange on Wednesday. Knight completed a perfect set, and he made his burn into Chris at 196—the same time that Jacob Miller got on for BKB.

With two and a half laps left to go, I saw Chris move onto Miller’s hip, who was leading the pack; he was exactly where we wanted him to be. Halfway down the backstretch of 198, Chris accelerates along with the rest of the pack. While he had planned to make his move coming out of Turn 4 before the last lap, he left an inch too few of room going into Turn 3; the hazardous condition of the track, in addition to a little contact, took the bike out from underneath him. Everyone on the lead lap except for Miller went down.

I stopped the lap count at 198. While it was I who sprinted to Chris, tagged his hand, and finished the race, for me, the fight was already over—as a matter of fact, it ended the moment Chris got on his bike.

Chaos on 199

Chaos on 199

As the footage of his reaction shows, Chris was devastated by the crash—we all were. Chris was not only upset because he felt as though he disappointed our team, but also because he robbed other teams of a chance at achieving their dreams as well. While circumstances out of our control greatly contributed to the crash, we recognize and continue to lament our role in its occurrence.  That being said, congratulations are definitely in order for the Black Key Bulls, who finally got the monkey off their back and won their first Little 500.  They rode an excellent race, and chalking up their victory to luck as some have would just be ignorant – they were strong all day, rode their race, and it paid off.

When I reflect on the race, however, I don’t see the entire event as a disappointment. I was—as I hinted at earlier—thinking of a larger picture.

I was thinking of my first ride with Craig, Sood, and Knight, when we had to stop on Bottom Road to look at our phones to know where we were. I thought of the first time we did the Nashville 90, so clueless that we did it backward. I considered Fall Series, when we placed seventh. I reflected on the behemoth that was fall and winter training: roller workouts ending at 2 a.m., struggling to make sense of and commit to our weekly schedule, and frustration with the reality that none of us fully understood why we were killing ourselves. A week-long trip to Panama City Beach, beginning with a midnight drive and ending with car ride with three of my best friends. Finally seeing results in our first IUCC and USA Cycling Races. Spring Break training in Bloomington. Quals. Taking third in Spring Series.

A Sea of Yellow (Photo Credit: Grant Heger)

A Sea of Yellow (Photo Credit: Grant Heger)

I was also thinking of all the wonderful support offered to us throughout the year.  The fact that we were even on the lead lap, let alone in a position to take the lead, that late in the race would not have been a remote possibility if it wasn’t for the continued backing of our house, our alumni, and all our friends and family.  On behalf of the entire squad, I just want to thank all of our fans and donors who make us so proud to wear the letters ??? on our backs every day.  Everyone wrote us off as dead after the 2013 race, but I’m proud of what we have built and will continue to build in the future.

Our race began much earlier than April 26. It isn’t completely defined by the result of the Little 500; it’s defined by brotherhood, growth, and perseverance.

And it isn’t over.

in _kai_
Joe Laughlin
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