The 'People’s Champs' rise again as Black Key Bulls win Little 500



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Black Key Bulls riders hold up the trophy Saturday afternoon after winning the 67th running of the men's Little 500 race.  Katie Franke Buy Photos

With about 30 laps to go, the Black Key Bulls pulled ahead of the pack and never looked back.

After two previous years of finishing within a second of the victor, the Black Key Bulls came out on top in the 67th running of the men’s Little 500 to take their second title in four years March 22.

Rounding out the top five were Gray Goat, Cutters, Beta Theta Pi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon in that order.

Throughout the race the Black Key Bulls team of senior Charlie Hammon, juniors Kevin Mangel and Noah Voyles, and sophomore Xavier Martinez hung with the lead pack of about 15 teams. The teams kept within a few seconds of one another for a majority of the race.

As Black Key Bulls approached the end of the race, Martinez said the team employed coach Ryan Knapp’s strategy that also helped Knapp lead Kappa Alpha Theta to victory in the women’s Little 500 on Friday – pull ahead and stay there.

With about 15 laps to go, the team had a sizable lead and began exchanging riders every three to five laps to stay fresh throughout the final push. Heading into lap 199, it appeared that the team was going to exchange one last time. Martinez, the winner of individual time trials, said they decided to keep Mangel on the bike because they knew the win was clinched.

“It was a big order for him in his first race, but we’ve seen Kevin put in the work all year,” Martinez said. “I think a lot of people expected it to be me since I won ITTs, but on a team like this, we’re lucky enough whether it’s an ITT champ or someone in their first race to finish it for us.”

Black Key Bulls founder David Choinacky credited the victory to the riders’ ability to stick to their plan and believe in one another. The win is the team’s first since 2014 and second in its 12-year history.

“We kind of had it drawn up a little bit differently in terms of the finishing order but everybody performed their role like they were supposed to,” Choinacky said.

Mangel echoed Choinacky and said although he did not expect to be the one crossing the finish line for the team, he was proud to clinch the victory.

“It just meant the whole year’s worth of hard work paying off for all of us,” Mangel said. “It was just an incredible feeling seeing how happy everyone was.”

Martinez said he used the memory of standing on the stage last year after a disappointing third place finish to motivate himself this year. He said he imagined the Borg Warner trophy, the championship bike and standing on the stage with his teammates as a champion.

“Grinding out hours on hours on the bike in the crap weather just for this one moment and having it pay off is indescribable,” Martinez said. “We’re representing a name that we’re lucky enough to wear today but has been worn by fantastic people in the past.”

For Hammon, this victory was the ultimate conclusion to his riding career after being on the cusp of winning for the past two years. Now he leaves ‘The People’s Champs,’ a nickname Choinacky said was coined by a former BKB rider, as a champion.

“It’s incredible,” Hammon said. “All year for this one day. It’s this day that’s always in the future until it’s here.”

Final results:

1. Black Key Bulls

2. Gray Goat

3. Cutters

4. Beta Theta Pi

5. Sigma Alpha Epsilon

6. Bears

7. Sigma Chi

8. Sigma Phi Epsilon

9. Phi Gamma Delta

10. 3PH

11. Forest Cycling

12. Delta Chi

13. Lambda Chi Alpha

14. CSF Cycling

15. Pi Kappa Alpha

16. Kappa Sigma

17. JETBLACH

18. Acacia

19. Pi Lambda Phi

20. Phi Sigma Kappa

21. Delta Sigma Pi

22. Phi Delta Theta

23. Alpha Sigma Phi

24. Sigma Nu

25. Alpha Epsilon Pi

26. Theta Chi

27. Black Ice Cycling

28. Beta Sigma Psi

29. Tau Kappa Epsilon

30. Evans Scholars

31. Young Life Cycling

32. Sigma Pi

33. Sigma Alpha Mu

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