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One For the Ages
11th May 2013Posted in: Blog, Featured Posts 0
One For the Ages

Hey, remember that time we won Little 5?  Yeah, even almost three weeks later as I sit here at a Sheraton in Bologna, it’s still not even a little bit real.  Honestly I don’t really know if the magnitude of what we accomplished that day will ever fully hit us, but I think I’ve finally reached the point where I can reflect back on it.  Forewarning, this is a novel.  Not mad about it.

After team pursuit we knew that it was game on.  I think we surprised a lot of people, but especially ourselves, as a time like 8:49 hadn’t been touched since we were in kindergarten.  Crazy, or “smooth” as we have since adopted as the official tagline of our season.  Gotta give props to Tom Schwoegler for building us hands-down the best Little 500 bikes we’d ever ridden.

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The night that started it all…

After Miss ‘n Out, at a bonfire with the DGs, we prophesized that if we both won the race, the couches we were sitting on were going to get burned.  Honestly, from that moment on, I just had this strange sense of confidence and calm that we were going to win.  That only got magnified after our team pursuit run.  We had the squad, we had the support, we’d put in the work…the stars were just aligning perfectly.

Race week is always the strangest mix of emotions.  On the one hand you just want it to all be over, watching 30k+ of your fellow college students enjoying the beautiful Bloomington weather and enjoying the college lifestyle.  At the same time, though, it’s more important than ever to focus on what’s important and to make sure you don’t do anything that’s going to derail your chances of winning something you’ve devoted your entire college career to.  Last year I was literally having nightmares about where everyone’s heads were at and was obsessing over whether or not our bikes were going to look nice on race day.  This year there wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that we had 4 guys fully invested in the race, and it was probably one of the most stress-free weeks of my life.  We had our first team interview with the One Day in April crew, and just hearing everyone’s answers and analyzing our demeanor….man, we were just so dialed in.

That feeling of calm poured over into our final strategy/film sessions Wednesday and Thursday night.  Rather than just watching tape to watch tape, for the first time I felt like we had 4 guys truly dissecting things and finding the most miniscule details.  We observed the Corleones blowing the race open in ’02, Dodds countering Fiji’s fire drill in ’05, Hans and ATO lapping the field/staying a lap up in ’06, Cutters blowing it open in ’08…I’m a huge nerd when it comes to that stuff.  The biggest takeaway from all of the races we watched is that unless there’s an absolute stud out there who’s head and shoulders above everyone else, very rarely does a chase group organize well enough to hunt down a team off the front late.  On that note, we spent a lot of time analyzing the 2011 race watching what the Phi Delts did, especially focusing on their endgame.  The observation was made that they might have been able to hurt Eric Young a little more with constant accelerations rather than just drilling it with him on their wheel, which we’ll revisit in a few paragraphs here.  Get good burns, don’t waste energy, and blow it up in the 160’s.  Easy enough, right?

The women’s race was pretty awesome, as we got to ride in the pace car and then sit up in the VIP section.  Seeing Kappa’s late breakaway fall short due to wasting energy early on reminded us of how important it was to conserve energy.  Friday night at Nana Lu’s was pretty textbook as well.  Our grocery bill was $88.88, which I immediately pointed out to Laser given the prevalence of the number 8 when it comes to good fortunes in China.  Our meeting with John and Kiser was beyond relaxed, and when my parents rolled up to say hello, they couldn’t help but comment on how at ease we all were.

After sleeping like rocks, we had a fairly quiet breakfast with everyone completely locked in on the task at hand.  Road ride went perfectly, with all four of us blown away at how good we felt.  Upon arrival at the track, however, we discovered that our tool box and wheel blocks were all missing.

Podium hats, purchased in December

Podium hats, purchased in December

This was about the only thing that rattled me all week, and believe me, I was not pleased.  I spent much of the warm-up period walking around the infield trying to find someone who could make an announcement over the PA, and when I was on the bike I was more focused on finding them than I was on doing any actual work. After about 40 minutes of anxiety, they magically appeared and it was once again all business.  I threw Kragie the fastest exchange I’ve ever given, and it was on.  I was so confident in our chances that I sent a pledge to go get my Panama City Beach floral print hat from my apartment.

The pre-race proceedings went on as usual, with none of us really giving them much attention.  It’s crazy how the jitters die down after you’ve got a few races under your belt.  There’s really not much to discuss about the first 148 laps or so, as everything went according to plan.

There was no messing around

There was no messing around

As expected, we and the Cutters were the only ones willing to push the pace for the most part, with BKB, Sig Ep, and Theta Chi also active at the front.  After realizing that Delts literally hadn’t done a thing all day, during my set in the early 100’s I tried to ride behind them in an attempt to get them on the front.  Naturally this is when an AEPi rider crashed directly in front of me on 124, but fortunately I held my line and he slid out of the way.  Having had enough with that strategy, it was back to the front and focusing on delivering the bike to Kragie.  I was still pretty boxed in, so I turned to the guy on my outside and said “hey, if you let me out, I’ll give you a free ride.”  Drilled it out of 4, got separation, and Kragie hopped on with a massive lead.  I knew that if I did that again 30 laps later, we’d be in phenomenal shape.

Laser pushing the pace

Laser pushing the pace

I turned to Dan Kinn of BKB after that set asking who was going to be on the bike for them around 165.  He said Jacob Miller, which I felt pretty good about, so that was the plan.  We’d talked about it in practice for weeks, why not?  Green’s set in the 140’s was a thing of beauty, somehow going from being completely boxed in to throwing down a 31.8, giving Laser the bike with a straightaway lead.  Had we not studied the past we might have launched the attack then, but instead Laser just rode tempo, forcing Tim Nixon of the Cutters to pull the pack around for almost 2 full laps.  We literally could not have scripted this better.

Laser gets me the bike with a solid gap once again, and I start thinking about when I’m going to make my move.  At 166 Delts decides to move to the front for the first time, drilling it for 2 or 3 laps while I’m just tucked in 5th wheel.  Once again, things are going perfectly.  We come around out of 4 and it’s go time.  BKB glued on my wheel, we get a gap heading into 2 and I pull off from Jacob to pull through.  My plan was to do that for another lap or two, but sure enough our perfect day goes south and my legs cramp up just as we’re coming out of 4.

Smooth

Smooth

I have to get off the bike, which lets BKB open up the massive gap they have when it comes back from commercial break.

Leading up to the race the biggest fear shared by all 4 of us was that we’d let the team down, and when I saw a very strong BKB team off the front after I essentially giftwrapped it to them, my stomach sank.  Kragie worked hard to close the gap and gave the bike to Green, who, in hindsight, essentially wins the race for us with his set.  He and Phil Sojka from Delts are able to get just enough of a gap on the rest of the field to get some separation, and Green works perfectly with Phil to shut down the gap.  On 181 when Phil sits up to breathe a sigh of relief, Green makes him pay, and then it’s showtime.  Boom.  I really can’t give him enough praise, because that was a move that only comes when you’ve been racing bikes since you were in middle school.

Showtime

Showtime

Being able to attack a tired rider when you’re tired yourself is the definition of racing, and Green’s experience paid off huge for us.

I’ve watched the last 20 laps probably a hundred times, and seeing something we practiced dozens of times play out so smoothly never gets old.  Laser spent 2 months in January/February on the trainer after messing up his shoulder snowboarding, so to see him get on the bike and throw the bike around like he does is just beautiful.  I bust out the fastest 3 lap set of my life, then cramp up so badly that I can’t walk.  Kragie drills a monster ITT, giving Green the bike on 192 with an 11 second lead.  We bump fists thinking the race is over, but winning the Little 500 is never something that’s just handed to you.

Miraculously enough, Paul Smith of Delts, Rob Lee of Phi Delt, and the Black Key Bulls took enough of a chunk out of our lead that when Laser got back on the bike at 195, Paul was able to get on Laser’s wheel.  Once again, my stomach sank, and I didn’t really know what was going to happen.  We had no idea how many laps Paul had ridden, but were well aware that they had been saving up for a moment like this.  Going back to our Thursday night strategy session though, Laser knew exactly what to do.  A non-racer might have just rode tempo and tried to drop his competitor, but Laser was smarter than that.  He gets caught and instantly sits up.  Quick attack.  Paul pulls.  Quick attack.

"Impeding from behind"

“Impeding from behind”

You never plan to do an exchange with 2 laps to go, but that was what it came down to.  It was my turn in the rotation, but with my legs as dead as they were, Kragie answered the call.  After one of the slower bike-to-bikes we’d thrown all year, I honestly thought it was over, turning to a girl on the fence and shaking my head.  But, as I’ve said, Kragie was Kragie.  What looked like an insurmountable gap quickly turned into a realistic possibility, and when Kragie caught Paul out of 2 our chances did a complete 180.  None of us were really able to see what happened, but I saw a glimmer of Kragie making the move on the inside just like he did at Rookie Miss ‘n Out last year.  After what has to be the longest turn in Lap 200 history, I saw Kragie come out of 4 with the inside line, jumped 4 feet in the air, and celebrated like I’ve never celebrated before.  Every pedal stroke, forest loop, crit, road rash, cinder, race tape, glass of beet juice, flat tire.  Every hater, every anonymous message board comment, everyone who’s ever doubted us.  A combined 14 years of blood, sweat, and tears all culminating in one moment.

Kragie channeling his inner Sagan

Kragie channeling his inner Sagan

There’s no point trying to articulate the emotions that hit us when Kragie threw his arms up.  I saw Laser running and decided to follow him.  Green did the same.  Then Kiser magically appears.  Kragie gets back, ghost rides the whip, and full on chaos ensues.  The next 10 minutes are just a blur of screaming and yelling and hugging as we shared in the happiest moment of our lives with hundreds of our brothers, friends, and family.  Not. Real.

Pure elation

Pure elation

We didn’t even realize there was any controversy surrounding the finish until Matt Neibler, one of the Delts coaches, came over to tell us that they had filed a protest, which was denied.  At the time I didn’t really think anything of it, and resumed celebrating.  Naturally we went right for our $0.86 PCB hats and the cooler of Red Bull, just as I’d imagined it hundreds of times.  Grabbed my phone to send one single text: “#couches” to the DGs, and headed to the infield.  The feeling when we walked onto that stage though….no words.  We were all just overwhelmed with emotion, as you can see when you look at our faces upon first sight of the trophy.  14 combined years of work for one day, one race, and one shot at glory.  The stuff dreams are made of, and we did it.  That victory lap will be forever etched in my memory.

No words necessary

No words necessary

After getting back to my apartment we saw that Twitter was blowing up.  That was the first time I’d seen the contact between Kragie and Paul in turn 3, and even without audio I could tell that Kragie was clearly legal.  Hearing this confirmed by the announcers, every judge, and honestly everyone not affiliated with the Delts cycling program just made the moment even sweeter, especially after this IDS article was published: https://www.idsnews.com/news/story.aspx?id=92551

The four of us joined our families for dinner at Scholar’s Inn and celebrated not only the victory, but also the camaraderie we’ve developed and how much we’ve grown together over the past few years.  I don’t think we’ll ever be able to fully express the collective gratitude we felt for everyone in that room and to everyone who’s supported us over the years.  As I said in my e-mail to our donors Friday night, there are way more fingerprints on that trophy than just the four riders.  Winning a race like the Little 500 requires every ounce of willpower in your body and a complete sense of focus, but also a small army of supporters making the wheels go ‘round.  When you combine those with the strength of a tight-knit four-man squad, days like April 20th, 2013 happen.

Unbelievable.

Unbelievable.

Granted I’m horrifically biased, but the 2013 race was all sorts of epic.  The top 9 or 10 teams all avoided major crashes or mechanicals or penalties.  The weather was perfect.  Everyone knew what we were going to try to do, and we were still able to do it.  We led more than 50 laps, used our energy wisely, and dictated the race just like we wanted to.  Even when I thought we were screwed, we pulled it off.  Very rarely in life are people lucky enough to see their dreams fully realized, but we were able to do it and it is still mind-bogglingly awesome.

Breaking Away, the sequel

Breaking Away, the sequel

I wish I could publish the full details of the festivities that ensued in the last 20 days, but I can honestly say that being able to live life to the fullest with some of my best friends has been nothing short of unreal.  There’s no group of guys I would have rather won that race with, and sharing all of the moments we’ve shared is something that just can’t be described.  Whether you view it as just an intramural bike race or the world’s greatest college weekend, the Little 500 is something special.  As cheesy as it sounds, this race really does change your perspective on things, and the last two weeks have confirmed that all the sacrifices we made for it are more than worthwhile.

Moving forward, we’ve got 8-10 guys who have expressed interest in riding and have been going out just about every day since the race.  They’re fired up to do some crits/road races this summer and start laying the groundwork for the next chapter of Beta Cycling.  With Laser at law school in Chicago and Green working healthcare IT out in Pittsburgh, myself and Kragie are going to stepping into the roles of John and Kiser.  The haters are already out in full force, but we’ve all put far too much work into this program to see things fall by the wayside.  Stay tuned, and get excited to watch our guys in yellow jerseys come April 2014.  We’ll be mailing out t-shirts and casual apparel when I get back in the country at the end of May, and will probably do a summer kit order as well.  Sit tight!

#onelastrace

#onelastrace

On a closing note, on behalf of all of us, just wanted to give one final thank you to everyone who’s shown us support, no matter how big or small.  Whether that’s just being a casual fan or one of our largest donors, every single one of you brings something to this program and made our victory that much more meaningful.  The results may show that myself, Will Kragie, Tom Laser, and Matt Green won the 2013 Little 500, but know that this victory was for each and every one of you as well.

We came, we raced, we won…and I still can’t believe it.  Now let’s make sure the losing streak never gets anywhere near 49 years ever again.

in _kai_
Eric Anderson
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