Senior Jess Hamilton is finally back to preparing for a Little 500 race.
The Alpha Xi Delta rider said that after a layoff of over two years after the 2020 race was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the excitement level surrounding the race is very high.
“I think this week it's been kind of a wild roller coaster of emotions,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said she and her team watched “One Day in April”, the 2015 Little 500 documentary following four teams riding in the race, made her even more aware of this year being her last race.
“Every year as a senior it’s obviously even more meaningful and important,” Hamilton said. “But this year with COVID and us having the race be pulled out from under us last year and everything. The four years we experienced here are not the typical four years as a Little 500 rider.”
The main difference between this year’s race and ones in the past will be the empty stands. No friends or family will be permitted into the stadium on race day. Instead, fans can watch the race virtually through an IU livestream.
Not having fans is disappointing, Hamilton said. Despite petitions going around to allow some spectators, Hamilton said that since it’s race week the teams have moved on and are focused on the race itself.
“I really don’t think not having fans there is going to change very much in terms of actual riding strategy,” Hamilton said.
While not having fans in Bill Armstrong Stadium may not affect the race, riders are worried about another aspect of the race that is out of their control that will affect riders — track conditions.
Hamilton said the recent hot and dry weather has made the track loose in the turns, which will restrict riders’ abilities to put out full effort in a turn.
By the men’s race, it may be even worse. The women will start their race at noon and the men at 4 p.m., meaning the men will deal with a track that has already been raced on.
Riders had their final briefing Monday to go over the rules of Little 500 before race day.
“Getting to race day in any year is a feat in and of itself,” chief steward Johnathan Purvis told the riders. “Here you are. You made it. You deserve a tremendous amount of praise.”
Professional cyclist Kathryn Bertine joined the briefing as a guest speaker to talk about inequalities between men and women in cycling.
Bertine, part of the team behind the recently announced women’s Tour de France returning in 2022, discussed how to make the men’s and women’s Little 500 equally distanced, including suggesting starting a third beginner's race at 100 laps and moving the women’s race to 200 laps or bringing the men’s race down to 100 laps.
Riders were also told they would have to wear masks when they are not riding or preparing for a change.
“I’m extremely, extremely grateful for the university allowing the race to happen this year,” Purvis said. “For the sake of the race I think we all have a responsibility to wear the mask and make the most of it.”
Bloomington’s weather forecast also includes the possibility of rain on Wednesday. If a lightning delay pushes back the start time of the women’s race, they will begin as soon as possible, taking away down time before the men start at 4 p.m. If there’s not enough time for the women’s race to finish before 4 p.m., the men’s race will begin on time and the women’s race will occur in the evening.
If a race needs to be pushed back to Thursday, it will begin at 10 a.m. If both races are moved back, the women will start at 10 a.m. and the men will race at 2 p.m.
But all of that will play out how it plays out, and Hamilton said she and her team are just focused on racing.
“We’re trying to really be level headed and start focusing on relaxing more and getting mentally prepared for race day,” Hamilton said.