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Black Key Bulls prepare for another podium finish



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The Black Key Bulls practice Jan. 29 in the basement of team member Rob Mathioudakis’s house. The team consists of six members, but only the four fastest riders will compete on race day. Colin Kulpa Buy Photos

They call it the “Big Baller Bunker.”

White, teal, red, and green lights hang from the ceiling, attempting to light the stone walls within the small basement.

Wearing black, yellow and white cycling bib shorts, all six members of the Black Key Bulls continue to push themselves harder and harder on the Schwinn bikes, each with a different Little 500 race year etched on them.

Rap music blares over the speakers so loudly that the riders have to practically yell to hear each other, despite being an arm's distance apart.

The grind for BKB started back in late November and now practices are six days per week. During the weekdays, they go for 90 minutes to two hours while on the weekends it’s roughly four and a half hours on the bikes and cycling rollers.

They don’t mind the constant training though, as long as it means another year standing on the podium.

“For us, it’s basically a part-time job with the amount of time we put in,” senior captain Xavier Martinez said. “Not just riding. There’s stretching, lifting and all these other things to help us maintain race shape. It’s kind of a big commitment but we do have all this success.”

Despite this year being the 69th running of the race, BKB has only been participating in Little 500 since 2006. 

BKB was originally one of the most successful collegiate cycling teams when Ball State University had a Bike-A-Thon event that was similar to Little 500. But after BKB won three straight races in the mid-1990s, Ball State canceled the event, putting an end to the organization.

In the past 15 years, BKB has finished in the top 10 each time, placed on the podium six times and won the race in 2014 and 2017.

“When you join BKB, we let people know that we take it a little more intense than others,” Martinez said. “We always like to describe that there are two different types of teams that compete in the Little 500: There are teams that are there to be in it and have fun, then there are other teams there to win. We’re definitely a team that’s in it to win."

Other high-profile teams of the last 15 years that BKB consider themselves a part of are the Cutters and Sigma Phi Epsilon.

This year's team consists of seniors Martinez and Rob Mathioudakis,  juniors Jay Rosati and Zach Mears, sophomore Robert Strobel and freshman Joseph Sweeney.

That said, only four of the six members will participate in the race come April.

BKB is comfortable with whoever is wearing the uniform and all-white vans on the track come race day, less than 60 days away.

“It’s such a big commitment for one day in April,” Rosati said. “There are six guys battling for four spots and that’s something that drives us. We are dedicated guys who all have the same goal. There’re four spots and six of us, so us battling for that spot is what gets us that end result. No matter who’s on that track, we know it’s the best four.”

Rosati is unsure if he’ll be one of the four BKB riders in April, but he’s just excited to be a part of the team after originally not giving it any thought when he came to IU.

His cousin, Jimmy Rosati, was a part of the 2014 title team. Jay Rosati remembers watching that championship run on TV, but at the time, he didn’t think he could possibly have that same opportunity some day.

When RecFest happened during his freshman year, Rosati noticed the BKB symbol on a senior rider's shirt and talked to him about how his cousin used to ride for that championship team.

Fast forward two years, and he’s been a part of the team ever since.

“I went on a couple rides, and they offered me a spot on the team,” Rosati said. “I played sports in high school, but endurance wasn’t my thing. The brotherhood that BKB has is unmatched.”

In the training room film of the 2017 race is faintly heard in the background as the blaring music and sound of the bikes spinning drown out everything else. Each member is just focused on when their next sprint begins.

During his cooldown, Martinez watches an interview of himself during the middle of the 2017 broadcast. He describes it as an “Inception” type of moment. 

As the 2017 race interview comes to a close, he cracks a smile and gets set to start another sprint at the front of the group, moving closer to his last chance at another Little 500 title.

“Of course, the two wins and countless other accolades throughout the years definitely add to the prestige,” Martinez said. “It’s not added pressure but being held to that standard has definitely been that driving force.”

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