But when Teter’s Caitlin Van Kooten crossed the finish line, she was hesitant about raising her hands. A nightmare she had before the race made her second guess the historical gesture.
“I put my hands up,” Van Kooten said about her dream, “the bike falls, and we get a penalty for impeding and retroactively lose.”
When she raised her hands during the actual race, her bike stayed beneath her and the win stayed tacked next to her team’s name in the final results.
She rode her victory lap, signed autographs and gave hugs to anyone who wanted one. Van Kooten’s legs are not the sole reason she swept the Spring Series events and, of course, the 23rd running of the Women’s Little 500. It’s something within her.
Even her coach, Chris Wojtowich, said Van Kooten possesses something in her that cannot be taught. That something caused Van Kooten to lead the race with about 20 laps to go, even attempting a burnout — where the front rider takes off from the pack — that her coach said was simply Van Kooten attacking.
“We may have had a bike there so it might have looked like a burnout, but that’s what you kind of want to do is throw off teams,” Wojtowich said. “But it didn’t matter if that bike was there or not, she was going and that was it.”
The Bloomington native knew she had one final attack left and luckily she did it right before the yellow flag waved after a crash with 15 laps to go.
“We just attacked before other people attacked and we got the gap and then the yellow helped us,” Van Kooten said. “It was so unfortunate that those girls crashed. They’re both girls that train really hard, but that just gave us time to catch up, so we just went for it.”
Tactically, Wojtowich mastered the Little 500 field. He was giving his riders lap times and telling them who to pass and who to follow.
“It’s important to know exactly where you are and what you’re doing,” Teter rider Dana VanderGenugten said. “We all had signs after each lap so that was really helpful to know like ‘Okay, I can do to more laps.’”
The communication led to Teter finally breaking its curse of qualifying in the top pole spot and not capturing the yellow jersey.
“That was always the joke,” Van Kooten said. “Every story that got written about us was ‘Teter’s run the pole every single year, but they never seem to capitalize on the race win.’ Like quals has really any connection to what you do for 100 laps.
“We broke the Teter pole curse and won everything else.”
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