There’s more to Little 500 than just the 100- or 200-lap race on the last weekend in April.
In between qualifications and race day, riders participate in the Spring Cycling Series, three events that don’t at all influence the race itself. Individual Time Trials is the first of those events, beginning tonight from 4 to 11 p.m. at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
For ITTs, each rider is placed in a heat — rookies are randomly placed, while veteran riders are, for the most part, grouped based on their times from last year. The goal is to sprint four laps as fast as possible.
Though there isn’t an exchange to worry about, the riders begin with a standing start rather than the more fluid start of qualifications.
Strategies differ from rider to rider. For some it’s an all-out sprint. For others, there’s more pacing and variation in speed from lap to lap. Because four riders are on the track at once, one starting at each turn, some try to catch whoever is in front of them.
Phoenix Cycling’s Tabitha Sherwood, in her third year as a rider in the Little 500, called it the hardest four laps you have to do.
“ITTs is all mental,” she said. “You’re racing against yourself to prove to yourself that you can do it.”
Mental toughness might be more important than physical toughness for Sherwood.
“You have to go into that dark pain cave and stay in that darkness until you see the light at the end,” she said.
Sherwood went into last year’s ITTs seeded as the second-best rider. Her time of 2:40.52 was just a half second slower than the fastest time. The fastest heats of the night race during what’s called Power Hour, capped off by the top four seeds on the men’s and women’s side.
Sherwood enters tonight’s ITTs as the favorite. But because of a hip injury, she said she most likely won’t be competing.
“It’s a game day decision,” she said. “And if I decide to do it, it won’t be as fast as I want it to be because of the pain.”
There are a total of 86 heats this year, scheduled so that the men’s and women’s heats alternate. A year ago, Teter Cycling had four riders place in the ITT top 20, more than any other team. Three riders from Alpha Chi Omega, which qualified sixth last weekend, were in the top 10.
Without 2014 ITT Champion Aryn Doll in the race, a new individual leader is guaranteed tonight.
Returning ITT leaders
1. Tabitha Sherwood (last year — second), Phoenix
2. Ashton Dehahn (last year — sixth), Teter
3. Alexandra Kolar (last year — eighth), Alpha Chi Omega
4. Sydney Schreiber (last year — ninth), Alpha Chi Omega
5. Cherryl Ellison (last year — 10th), Wing It
6. Katie Reynolds (last year — 15th), Melanzana
7. Jackie Kober (last year — 18th), Phi Mu
8. Julia Thomas (last year — 19th), Teter
9. Fallon Lilly (last year — 20th), Melanzana
10. Liz Lieberman (last year — 21st), Kappa Alpha Theta