On a beautiful warm Saturday, over 25,000 fans lined up to buy $40 tickets to watch the 71st edition of the world (and movie) famous Little 500 bike race at Indiana University in the American heartland.
For the first time in two years, spectators watched the race, modeled after it’s motorsports cousin – The Indianapolis 500, in person at Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. The 2020 race was canceled because of COVID-19, and and fan-less race was held in 2021 without a single spectator.
Run on a 1/4-mile cinder gravel track, it is the oldest continuously run gravel bike race in the world, with collegiate racers compete in teams of four, racing relay-style for 200 laps (50 miles) on a quarter-mile long oval. Thirty-three teams were selected in qualifications trials to compete in this year’s event.
For most riders this was their first time racing in front of a packed Bill Armstrong Stadium filled with cheering and jeering fans. As the movie Breaking Away documented, it is a raucous racing atmosphere that gives racers a little extra energy to go faster and put on a show for the crowd, usually with crashes.
This year was no exception, approaching a record pace, racers fought to stay out of the wind, with many crashing in turns three and four due to crosswinds.
A surging sprint to the finish line helped James Kulik claim the 71st Little 500 title for the Phi Delta Theta team, with the other three riders (Andrew Murray, Mitchell Pardi and Eli Konow ) enthusiastically hoisting the huge Borg-Warner trophy high above their heads to celebrate. The victory made up for the 2021 race, when the team crashed out with two laps to go.
Phi Delta Theta’s winning time was 2:15:43, with Sigma Phi Epsilon finishing second, followed by Jetblach, Cutters, Gray Goat to round out the top five.