When Kappa Alpha Theta’s Liz Lieberman got on the bike on lap 97, she was ready for the sprint that everyone was waiting for, the sprint the entire race had built up to.
Theta, Ski, Phoenix Cycling, Alpha Chi Omega, CSF and Alpha Omicron Pi were all bunched together on 99, with the RaceMonitor app showing AOPi (then 6th) trailing the then-leader Ski by just 1.31 seconds after 98 laps had been scored.
But around Turn 3 on 99, Lieberman turned back to check for an attack from behind. Instead, she only saw Phoenix’s Tabitha Sherwood. The rest of the field, for the most part, was down, getting caught up in a massive wreck.
It brought out a yellow flag, and it brought tears to Lieberman’s eyes. With the yellow out, she knew she would win under caution, and the tears started to slide down her cheek. She would coast across the finish line first in a yellow-checker finish, winning Theta’s sixth Little 500, and their second in a row. The six victories is more than any other team in the women’s field.
“Honestly, more than anything,” Lieberman said of what it means to win the race in her senior year. “To top off my senior year – I worked really hard to get myself in this position to repeat. It just feels phenomenal it happened again. I couldn’t be happier.”
The trophy presentation for @ThetaCycling. #Little500 pic.twitter.com/Wqr0PmAxlI
— 33to1 (@33to1_Little500) April 24, 2015
Lieberman leaves with two Little 500 championships, joining a select group of other riders to accomplish the impressive feat. It was the second Little 500 victory for Abby Rogers, who will return next year for her senior race. Rogers and Lieberman both said they were a little disappointed in the race finishing under yellow, but were obviously happy with the result. They also said they had executed their strategy perfectly.
“We were hoping it was going to end in a sprint, and I was confident in that,” Rogers said. “It just ended in a yellow, which kind of sucks, but it happens. We’re happy. Can’t complain.
“We definitely pushed the pace from (lap) 80 on. We tried to just pull forward and make everyone else hurt. From that point on, we just knew we had the fastest girl on the track (Lieberman). If it came down to a sprint, we were confident.”
.@ThetaCycling and its fans take their victory lap. #Little500 pic.twitter.com/bBc9K2YPEt
— 33to1 (@33to1_Little500) April 24, 2015
In the unofficial results on RaceMonitor, Phoenix finished second and Delta Gamma third. Spots 4-6 were Cru, CSF and Ski.
Ski’s Megan Huibregtse was one of the riders caught up in the crash. Ski’s plan was to have her on the bike for the final 10 laps, and to make a late run on the last lap to win it all.
She said she felt she was in perfect position to execute her strategy.
Instead, her memory of lap 99 is a little foggy. Teammates said she flew through the air in the crash. Huibregtse said she hit her head, and estimated she had a mild concussion. She doesn’t remember exactly what happened.
She’s left to think of what could have been.
“I was ready to contend,” she said. “I was so pumped. It’s unfortunate it didn’t end that way.
“It would’ve been an awesome finish, like, amazing. Like last year.”
Sherwood was left in a similar position. She was hanging back, not planning to make her final attack as it was still lap 99.
It left her in second, never getting a chance to make that final move as all riders must hold their positions while the yellow flag is out.
But the second place finish still blew Sherwood away.
“I’m disappointed that it did end under yellow, but I’m not disappointed in what we did,” she said. “We had a great race. We didn’t think we’d get this far.
“We did amazing. I didn’t think we could finish that good.”
It’s unclear exactly who caused the crash, or what exactly happened, but Lieberman said there was a rider on the inside line riding for a team that was not on the lead lap that may have been the issue.
“We were kind of getting her out,” Lieberman said, “and on (99), I’m pretty sure that’s what happened when the wreck happened.”
As Lieberman crossed the start-finish line, she ran right into her team’s pit, and the celebration was on. Chants of “T-H-E-T-A” would fill the air. Theta was a champion, again.
“I got to kind of come into my pit right away and see the girls and give them all hugs,” Lieberman said. “It was a good feeling to come right in and see my teammates.”