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'The tradition of winning': the Cutters shoot for a 13th win



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Senior Cutters rider Erik Schwedland rounds turn two during the 2017 Men's Little 500 Bike Race at Bill Armstrong Stadium. The 2018 Men’s Race will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 21.  Victor Grössling Buy Photos

Throughout the 34 years it has been on IU’s campus, the Cutters cycling team has evolved from a one-year project to the winningest team in Little 500 race history. 

Cutters was founded by Adam Giles and Randy Strong, two cyclists who had won the Little 500 race from 1979  to 1981 with the Delta Chi fraternity, but were asked to leave the fraternity in 1984. The two were not upholding the fraternity’s creed, senior Cutters Captain Erik Schwedland said.

Giles and Strong wanted to continue cycling competitively and decided to form an independent team, borrowing the name Cutters from the 1979 movie "Breaking Away".

Originally the team was supposed to satisfy the competitive needs of Giles and Strong, current Cutters coach Jim Kirkham said.

“The team was built to race one year and be done, maybe two races and done,” Kirkham said. “The guys didn’t really foresee keeping the team going.”

The team won the 1984 Little 500 race, its first year as Cutters. The team continued to recruit new riders and also continued winning, placing first in 1986, 1988 and 1992. 

During this time, the team adjusted its training regimen and racing tactics to account for the loss of resources from the fraternity.

“They had mechanics, cooks and all of this stuff organized around the riders when they were at Delta Chi,” Schwedland said. 

To make up for these changes, the team began going on outdoor group rides, covering heavy mileage. The team would go on these rides throughout the year, even in the winter. 

As advancements in medicine and technology surfaced, the team continued to adapt. In the 1990s, rather than tracking speed, riders began to track their heart rates during practices to improve their performance, Kirkham said. 

The team continues to adjust its training today, using exercises that target a particular energy system or muscle, Schwedland said.

Another way the team has changed its routine is taking shorter rides than those of the 1980s teams. 

“Now there’s more of a blend with indoor training on stationary bikes and using more technology,” Kirkham said. 

The stationary bikes Cutters uses are equipped with power meters, a device that tracks the exact amount of energy put into each pedal. The technology helps the riders save energy, a big strategy for the team. 

“Everyone is trying to conserve energy,” Kirkham said. “In the past, it used to be just about speed.”

Past Cutter teams used to emphasize the importance of keeping a steady, quick pace for each lap of the race.

“Everyone was fighting to get to the front, and the pace was more consistent with fewer pace changes,” Kirkham said.

Today’s teams use drafting to save energy for the end of the race. 

Drafting occurs when a rider places himself behind another in order to block any interference from the wind, causing them to move faster. 

While many teams that have been around for as long as Cutters have their own traditions and rituals, the team has few all its own. 

“When you try and make a tradition, you’re just trying to relive other people’s experiences,” Schwedland said. 

With 12 Little 500 race first place finishes, the team continues the legacy of past Cutters teams.

“We have the tradition of winning,” Kirkham said. 

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