Cutters react to debate about Young’s eligibility
Grey Goat’s cyclist Ryan Kiel saw the photos and called a meeting of Little 500 riders to discuss Young’s recent ride, but he didn’t initially contact the four-time defending champion Cutters. It was a unique situation; Little 500’s dominant team was suddenly at the center of an eligibility controversy, with the best rider in the pack seen practicing with professionals. Riders and Little 500 administrators are expressing concern that the rules concerning a rider’s professional status are vague as they currently stand and need revisions, once and for all.
Kiel assembled the riders, but not everybody wanted to hear the Cutters’
That didn’t stop senior Cutter rider Zach Lusk from hearing the news through the grapevine and attending the meeting anyway.
“We walked in the room,” Lusk said. “Ryan turns bright red instantly, and he even said to open the meeting, ‘Well, there were 20 to 30 guys that were going to come but were intimidated when they knew you were coming.’”
Lusk said the Cutters’ input was crucial to the situation.
“The thing is, if it’s really about a rule change for the future, then why not ask our team to come?” Lusk said. “Just include us in it. We have a lot of knowledge about the race.”
Kiel said he eventually contacted the Cutters and Little 500 Race Director Pam Loebig to ask them to the meeting.
The proposed rule change, which would make Young’s recent ride with Bissell an eligibility violation, is at the center of an ongoing controversy in the Little 500 world: What defines riders as professional, and when are they too good to be eligible for the race?
The current IU Student Foundation rule states that no Little 500 cyclist is allowed to be a member of a professional team. Even though Young trained with Bissell and accepted its kits, he is not a member of the Bissell team, Lusk said. Loebig confirmed that to her knowledge, Young hasn’t broken any rules.
“We have a rule that you cannot be a professional rider, but it’s pretty vague language,” Loebig said.
The current rule is in IUSF’s Little 500 Rules of Eligibility section II.I. It states that a student with no cycling experience prior to attending IU can participate in the Little 500 and can upgrade to a category I or II rider — considered as a semiprofessional rider — for a year. Before racing as either category, a rider must file an appeal with IUSF.
Last year, Young was a category III rider.
Young is now in his first year as a category I rider, the highest rank. Kiel is a category II rider, meaning he had to file the same appeal to ride in this year’s race. They are both riding with their respective teams from last year and because of their category upgrade, neither will be eligible for next year’s race, but both are graduating seniors.
But it’s not just about the rules.
Lusk said there are members of the community who are disappointed that in their time in the race, nobody but the Cutters has won. Because the Cutters have been so dominant, everything is under more scrutiny.
“Matt (Kiel) even said it at the meeting that during his time at the race, nobody else has ever won,” Lusk said.
But a rule can’t be made against a single person; the existing rule must be amended, Loebig said.
The riders who attended the meeting wrote a petition to change the rules for the future. The petition states that any rider who becomes involved with a professional team — whether that consists of riding with or taking money or equipment from — would lose his Little 500 eligibility.
It’s a rule change that, if passed by Riders Council and IUSF, won’t go into effect until the 2012 race.
By next year’s race, some members of the Little 500 community think Eric Young will be well into a contract with a professional team — one, many believe, that will begin the day after this year’s Little 500 race on April 16.
“He’s played by the rules,” Lusk said. “There is a grey area to the rules. Even he’ll admit it, but you have to take into account: He’s just a very exceptional case to the rule. Yeah, I’m definitely biased because he’s on my team, but you can’t take away the fact that he’s worked to get where he’s at.”
During the past four years, the Cutters have been accused of cheating, recruiting and fielding a professional rider in what is known as an amateur collegiate race.
Currently, IUSF has no official procedure in place for Little 500 rule changes. Loebig said they would first need to create a specific procedure before accepting or denying the petition.
Since it is Little 500 season, Loebig said the procedure and any rule changes would have wait to be worked on during the summer.
“Ryan’s a hell of a rider,” Lusk said. “But it’s almost comical he brought this up in the manner that he did.”
However, as a co-captain, Lusk said he is glad Young is creating the need for stricter Little 500 rules.
“It doesn’t frustrate me,” he said about Young. “I’m glad that he does. He really understands the race, like how it’s set up, the rules, stuff like that.”
As for handling the rest of their team and their pre-race mentality, Lusk and Young have told their teammates to ignore the community gossip. Lusk is, however, interested in who’s going to sign the petition, he said. And this time, it’s something that can’t be hidden from him and his team.
“Apparently, you have to call Ryan to sign it,” Lusk said. “Ultimately, it will come to Riders Council, and I’m on Riders Council, so I’ll know about it.”
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