Although it was heading into just its second year as a team, Phoenix Cycling had two advantages.
First, whenever Tabitha Sherwood was on the bike, Phoenix didn’t have to worry. Second, Sherwood wasn’t going to settle for a second-place finish.
The last lap was blurry for Sherwood, and she didn’t have the opportunity to make the moves she wanted, but it was enough to get the job done.
Sherwood finished 0.051 seconds ahead of Delta Gamma’s Kristen Bignal on the last straightaway to give Phoenix the title of the women’s Little 500 champion.
“We knew that no one would win a sprint against me,” Sherwood said. “And they didn’t. Yeah, it hurt a lot, but I’m so proud of my team.”
Starting off strong, Sherwood rode the first 27 laps for Phoenix before its first exchange. After Friday’s performance, Sherwood erased all doubts that she is the best rider in the field, teammate Lauren Brand said.
“I never doubted that Tabitha wouldn’t get first because she’s the most strong-willed and dedicated person,” Brand said. “There’s no way she was going to let someone beat her.”
Sherwood also took home wins this year in Individual Time Trials and Miss N Outs to cap off her final Spring Series.
But when the time came for Sherwood to join Phoenix on stage to hoist the trophy, she hung back by the track for a few moments and threw up.
“She was so exhausted,” Brand said. “Tabitha literally left every single ounce of whatever was in her on the track.”
Bignal felt the same way, exhausted, but willing to give it all for her team. Bignal had a slight lead toward the end, but someone started to creep up on her.
“I figured it was Tabitha because, to be honest, I didn’t think anyone else could catch me,” Bignal said. “But once I saw her right around turn four I knew it was going to be close. I thought I could hold her off, and I couldn’t, but she deserves every bit of the win.”
Behind Phoenix and DG, Teter finished third, managing to edge out two-time defending champ Kappa Alpha Theta. Theta, which was fighting to be the only women’s team in history to win three consecutive titles, fell short in fourth place.
Alpha Omicron Pi crossed the line with its best performance in program history to round out the top-five finishers. Sherwood said she has respect for Theta and what they’ve been able to do the past few years.
“They’ve put a lot of hard work into it,” Sherwood said. “I have respect for pretty much for everyone else out here too. We all know what it takes.”
Aside from Sherwood and Brand, Phoenix riders Melissa Ragatz and Clara Butler are also seniors. The future of the Phoenix team is left with a lot of unknowns, but that makes this victory all the more memorable, Brand said.
“It honestly means everything,” Brand said. “We worked so hard for it. Phoenix is probably not going to even be a thing next year so, for us seniors to go out with a bang, it’s been cool to do some awesome things.”
Sherwood, who started the team two years ago with money out of her own pocket, can’t describe how difficult it was, and she said she doesn’t want to dwell on the hardships. But if she could do it all over again, she would.
“To win with them means everything,” Sherwood said. “I can’t put into words how much I love my team. They did great today, absolutely great.”
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