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Tuesday, April 16
The Indiana Daily Student

More Than Students, Little 500 Cyclists

This is the true post of Little 500 riders picked to have their lives surrounding America’s Greatest College Weekend posted to the web. To find out what happens when the IDS stops just reporting and starts getting real…check here for The Real Ride — Little 500 style.

In the broad sense or the specific, it's pretty hard to really explain Little 5 to people who don't ride it. Generally, I think riders are forced to talk in the abstract, because frankly, it's really hard to explain why you train all damn year for one day of racing -- hell, two hours, 10 minutes of racing, and really only about a quarter of that.

Cycling insiders, when they meet a Little 5 veteran, will backslap and smile, talking about how cool it must have been, to ride on that track, to inhale that cinder dust. But even they don't quite know how to wrap their minds around it.

Who, in his or her right mind, trains for 364 days for one? Because that's what it really comes down to; you train every day, from the Sunday after your last Little 5 to the Friday before your next one, with one goal in mind.

There are some of us who go on to illustrious cycling careers, or at least rather successful ones. Some lose interest, and fall out of shape. Most probably fall somewhere in between, keeping the bike but never riding it the same way again, never swing leg over carbon or steel or alloy with the same singular purpose in mind.
And that's alright, really, because the Little 500 is one of those rare occasions that qualifies as unique, a descriptor that gets thrown around far more than is applicable or acceptable. Few things in this world are actually completely and totally unlike any other, but when you combine the week of pageantry and festivity, the all-consuming commitment of the riders involved and the format and spectacle of the day itself (both men's and women's, I might add), you come to something that would seem impossible to match.
So maybe that's why we do it, for the right to say we were a part of something untouchable, incomparable, impossible to replicate. Something we'll carry with us forever.

To be honest, I don't think it's even that complicated. I think most Little 5 veterans will tell you that they got hooked on a whim, that they were lured to the sport simply out of some mixture of curiosity and potential skill. Riding a bicycle, after all, is something almost all of us learned to do when we were young, so why not give riding it fast a shot.

And then you get hooked. You enjoy the wind in your face. You enjoy the sudden status bestowed upon someone who even mentions that they "train."

So you spend a little money, buy a bike worth riding and enough clothes to keep warm in the winter (unless you're Jordan Bailey), and now you've got financial incentive. How can I walk away with a cool two grand sunk into this whimsical hobby?

Then the track opens. I played football in high school, and before every game, home or away, we would "walk the field," just pass it up and down a few times, partially to get a read on its slope and condition; mostly just as a mental exercise, and something to eat up time we could be spending worrying about the coming game.
Turning one lap on the track is honestly something akin to walking the field at the Rose Bowl -- you suddenly feel a certain ownership of where you are, and what you are doing.

It is at that point, I think, that you pass the proverbial point of no return. For what I would estimate to be probably 98 percent of riders, you are sold, hooked forever. Even if you quit for any reason, you'll still come back. And you'll never look at Little 5 in the way that the regular person does again.

You've been there. You've touched it, and it's touched you. You are, quite literally, hooked.
 
So maybe that's why we do it, why we train so much for so little reward. On Saturday, 33 teams -- mostly comprised of four riders -- will compete for just one checkered flag. The odds of even a four-year rider on a established team winning one race are comparatively small.

And yet, we will turn out. We will always turn out. In the back of our minds, we know the odds, and we know the dangers and we know that only a select, blessed few of us will get to enjoy that slow, wonderful lap of victory.

But screw it, because we can all share in the experience. We know what that's worth. We know we'll only ever share it with others who earned it as we did. We know we were part of something truly unique.
And for that, we will be forever linked, and forever grateful. So sue us for caring so damn much, huh?

Zach Osterman is the coach of Sammy Cycling. He was a rider four-year rider for Sammy Cycling. He is a previous editor of this newspaper.

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