BLOOMINGTON – There were no regrets, no second thoughts.
Kristen Bignal was at peace with herself.
Bignal, a junior rider for Delta Gamma, came within 0.051 seconds of Little 500 glory only to see Phoenix’s Tabitha Sherwood edge her at the line to win the 29th women’s Little 500 by less than a tire length. She took her time debriefing the race’s events with her teammates, gathering her thoughts before concluding there was nothing she could have done differently.
Sherwood, the best sprinter in the field, made the right move at the right time. Bignal would have to settle for second.
“It’s definitely tough,” she said, “but I’m so proud. No matter what happened, I’m still so proud of this season, this team and how far we’ve come.”
Bignal was exhausted by the time she got off her bike. She had ridden the final 11 laps of the race, managing the ebbs and flows of a chaotic finish before using up any and all of her remaining energy in the final sprint.
With five laps to go, Bignal began working with Phoenix and Teter to bridge a two-second gap to Kappa Alpha Theta and Alpha Omicron Pi. They did just that, eventually bringing Sherwood and Bignal to the front of the pack together to set up one of the closest finishes in the race’s history.
When Bignal crossed the start-finish line with just one lap left, she said she had to get to the inside on the back stretch if she wanted to have a chance. She managed to peddle into the lead, got down to the gutter and got to exactly where she wanted before Sherwood made her own race-winning move on the outside in turns 3 and 4 before passing her down the front stretch just before the line.
“Tabitha had a little more at the end,” Bignal said. “I’m actually really proud of her and her team. She’s worked so hard, and I’m happy for her.”
Delta Gamma wasn’t in a position to win by accident. The veteran team was among the best teams in the field throughout the race and proved to be able to pull whenever needed or work their way through a busy pack seemingly at will.
This was a race the three-time Little 500 champions very nearly added a forth Borg-Warner Trophy to their collection.
Senior Katie Ziegler called Bignal’s closing run “unbelievable” considering how early she jumped onto the bike. She, like Bignal, said she didn’t regret anything but only wished her team would have been a couple of inches further along at the end.
“That last set was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen,” Ziegler said. “I just knew at the moment we put Kristen on the bike that we were going to be fine in that last sprint. It’s an incredible feeling having that much confidence in your teammate.”
Even in finishing second in one of the most heartbreaking fashions, Ziegler, a senior, found reason to smile after her final Little 500. She took pride in saying her team was one of the deepest in the field and proved it to be in a position to win the race to begin with after qualifying third.
Delta Gamma’s second place finish was the best the team has placed since winning the second of back-to-back Little 500s in 2013. A perennial contender, Ziegler said they managed the race the way they wanted and could be happy with a second place finish.
The deficit—hardly a blink of an eye—will sting. But that’s the Little 500.
“Almost,” Bignal said. “But I’m still so proud.”