In Peter Yates’ 1979 “Breaking Away” highlighting IU’s Little 500, main character Dave Stohler falls in love with cycling because of a world-famous Italian cycling group — Team Cinzano. Six years later, an independent team named Cinzano, inspired by the film, took the track for the first time, starting a run of racing in 21 of the next 22 races.
Cinzano placed 13th in 2007, but for unknown reasons the program was abandoned afterward. After a 16-year absence, however, the name Cinzano has been re-adopted by a new group that is looking to replicate the team’s past successes.
Sophomore Soham Patel is the only member of Cinzano who has ever ridden in the Little 500 before. In his sole year of experience with McNutt, he and his team finished in last place and only completed 166 laps in 2022. McNutt’s residence hall decided to stop sponsoring the team and disbanded, but Patel pitched the idea of cycling together to his friends.
“They were all really interested in biking, so I recruited each one of them to my team,” Patel said. “We just decided to change the name to Team Cinzano, like from ‘Breaking Away’.”
After losing McNutt’s sponsorship, however, Cinzano has relied on self-funding to acquire its required equipment. From GoFundMe requests to family members to Cinzano alumni, the independent group has found ways to get the resources necessary.
“The GoFundMe helps a lot, and we get a lot of help from all of our parents, and I even made a post on Reddit and got a donation,” Michael Cashman said. “Our coach has really helped us out a lot, he’s great.”
Two years ago, Mark Dillon thought he lost his chance at coaching a Little 500 team. After suffering a stroke, the day after the race, Dillon considered his bucket-list item unachievable.
“I’m sitting in the hospital bed and thinking, ‘You know what, I’m gonna blow this,’” Dillon recalled. ‘“I wanted to do this.’”
After a healthy recovery and getting in touch with friends interested in coaching and connected to the race, Dillon was finally able to achieve his dream, landing the coaching gig for McNutt last year. A team with no historical success — they had not fielded a team since 1997 — the bar was set low.
“We needed to set some goals, and their goal, I suggested, was just get into the race,” Dillon said. “And so that’s what we did. We just barely got into the race.”
After McNutt pulled its sponsorship and Dillon needed new team members and a team name, he looked at past success and alumni backing for his new club. One stood out: 1989 champion Cinzano.
However, too many people had interest in the team, so there had to be a split somewhere. Dillon took Cinzano while a friend of his coached Americana, another new team who had previous race experience. Americana did not qualify for 2023’s race.
With a rather inexperienced team and no outside funding, Dillon confronts another obstacle which affects the team daily. A Michigan resident, Dillon seldom gets to work with the riders in person.
“We FaceTime or call every other night to find out how things are going and how they’re feeling,” Dillon said. “I come down every other week or so for a few days.”
Nonetheless, an eighth-place finish at qualifiers proves the team’s success even with limited training time together. And despite only Patel having true race experience, to be a top contender remains a possibility for the amateur team.
Cinzano’s success may seem surprising on a surface level due to its inexperience, but the talent is certainly prevalent. From sophomore Mau Brito, a new cyclist with endurance training from a past in sports like soccer and running, to Ethan Barrows, who has been cycling for more than a decade, Cinzano’s riders can get the job done. However, one rider’s connection with cycling makes his story stand out.
Nearly 39 years ago in Los Angeles, Mark Gorski swept fellow American Nelson Vails to win gold in the men’s sprint cycling event at the 1984 Summer Olympics. In the process, he became the first American to ever win gold in the event or to even medal in the event since 1900. Fast forward to today, and Mark’s son Gavin looks to help Cinzano capture first place in the Little 500.
“His success definitely does give me inspiration,” Gavin Gorski said of his father. “I’ve watched some of his races with my teammates. It’s definitely cool to see, especially now that I’m doing some racing of my own.”
Gorski said besides casual rides with his dad, he never put much thought into competitive cycling. After seeing his friend Nick Frank — a former McNutt and current Americana rider — prepare for his Little 500 race last year, Gorski’s motivation was sparked.
“Knowing McNutt started with so little preparation gave me inspiration,” Gorski said. “If someone I just met joined Little Five and was in the race, then I could do it too.”
Gorski talked about the preparation leading up to the race and how he’s kept track of improvement. Rather than applying pressure on himself to continually progress, Gorski has taken a more easygoing approach.
“Having the motivation of just being with your teammates and having fun rather than constantly looking to get better,” Gorski said.
Cinzano’s chemistry plays a key role in the team’s success and development. As a group who had already been close prior to teaming up, each member of Cinzano recognized the team has a connection that can pay dividends.
“Ultimately, the better you know someone, the more you can trust them,” Gorski said. “So, on race day and in quals, I have a really good relationship with the guy handing me the bike. It’s intangible how it benefits you … It feels better to see us all succeed because we want each other to.”
With race day looming, it’s an impressive feat Dillon and Cinzano have even fielded a team to race, let alone have serious title hopes. Among Dillon’s uncertain future two years ago, a team with no Little 500 experience and the 3rd newest team in the field, many adversities have been handled. Despite what odds are facing it, the Borg-Warner Trophy is at the top of Cinzano’s mind.
“We really just have to pump up the race,” “Cashman said. “Our only interest is to come first.”
Even with a competitive mindset, however, the group of friends is still enjoying the moment and keeping loose.
“Stay calm and keep it fun,” Gorski said. “My teammates and I did some homemade haircuts, so I got some racing stripes on the side of my head. It was definitely a good team building activity.”
For Dillon — an IU alumnus and former racer — race day means another opportunity to do what he loves.
“I’m all in,” Dillon said. “Let’s just see where this takes us.”
Gorski, Barrows, Brito and Cashman will be the team’s final four riders. Cinzano will take the track April 22 at Bill Armstrong Stadium.