Last year’s men’s Little 500 came down to a thrilling sprint to the finish between five teams. While top riders such as Cutters’ Alex Bishop, Dodds House’s Chris Chartier and Phi Kappa Psi’s Erik Styacich have moved on, this year’s race offers plenty of individual talent. Here are three riders to keep an eye on:
It should come as no surprise that Black Key Bulls junior Isaac Neff is one of the top Little 500 riders this year. He started working at a bike shop when he was 12 years old and has been around the sport ever since.
Neff’s hard work paid off after he rode in roughly 65 road races during the summer. He won the Individual Time Trials and Miss-N-Out this spring.
Neff put in the time and the effort and comes into this year’s race with an improved physical and mental focus from previous years.
“I think I have better overall fitness and just a better understanding of how things work,” Neff said. “I think I’m mentally in better shape.”
Neff is the leader of a young but talented Black Key Bulls team. Of the team’s five potential riders, four are rookies.
“He really brings you under his wing and helps you develop,” Black Key Bulls junior Valentin Todorow said. “He likes to have fun, but he’s serious and he doesn’t play around. That’s what you need to win.”
Neff hopes his confidence and experience can rub off on his teammates.
“You have to take the track with confidence and just know that the best you can be is good enough,” he said. “You have to know that you can get the next wheel or close the gap or get the good position.”
Sophomore Nick Sovinski wants to help restore the Phi Delta Theta name.
This is Phi Delta Theta’s second year back in the Little 500 after a two-year absence beginning in 2005. Its charter was suspended by its international fraternity headquarters in October 2004 for alleged hazing and alcohol incidents.
After a second-place showing at ITTs and a third-place finish in Miss-N-Out, Sovinski is well on his way to accomplishing his goal.
“I’ve been doing a lot better, but I’m not in it for the recognition,” he said. “I just want to make the Phi Delt name better and more recognizable and it takes more than just one guy to do that.”
Sovinski is a second-year rider who is ready to see his breakthrough spring performance translate into race-day success.
He said his mountain biking background has given him good stamina but he has improved his sprinting ability during this off season.
“I have good endurance and I can sit in with the pack and ride, but my training has really helped with my explosiveness,” he said. Sovinski’s teammates said he has settled down a bit in his second year.
“I think he’s a little more relaxed this year than last year,” Phi Delta Theta sophomore Brice Fox said. “Last year was his first Little 500 and I think this year he’s just having more fun and I think that’s really helped him.”
Sovinski said he appreciates the opportunity that his older teammates have given him.
“The older guys went through a lot, especially after being kicked off campus,” he said. “They rode for LiSiHi, a Little 500 team that is now disbanded, when they couldn’t wear our letters and have graduated now, but they were still really determined to pass on our name to new guys like me.”
Junior Clayton Feldman did not even own a bike his freshman year.
After spending most of the year playing on the ultimate-frisbee team, he decided to buy a bike and start riding. He started talking to some teams last year and by the middle of his sophomore year he was on the Cutters squad.
He admits that being on a team with so much history was nerve-wracking at first.
“It was intimidating,” he said. “There were so many riders on the team, and there still are now, that are just studs. I was just thinking to myself, ‘Can I be as good as these guys?’”
This year, the rookie has proven he belongs. He posted a fifth-place showing at ITTs and finished second in Miss-N-Out.
Feldman said his results were surprising, even to him, especially after a case of mononucleosis limited his training during winter break.
“I’m not the fastest and I’m not the strongest,” he said. “I just went out there and threw down and let whatever happened happen.”
In his second year – he trained in 2007 but did not ride in the race – he has stepped up his training in 2008.
“Clayton is very interested and involved in our training program,” Cutters coach Jim Kirkham said. “He gives a lot of input and feedback.”
The Cutters return two senior riders – Sasha Land and Paul Sigfusson – from last year’s championship team. Feldman said Land and Sigfusson, along with senior Erik Hamilton, have helped speed up his learning curve.
“I tend to have a big mouth, but I just try to listen,” Feldman said. “When you have people who know and who have been there before, you just have to keep your mouth shut and let them tell you what’s happening.”
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