I know some of you have already added your predictions for the men’s race over in the discussion room, now, about 24 hours out from the men’s race, it’s time for me to unveil mine.
Here’s my (rough) projection for how the men’s Little 500 race will go on Saturday. Feel free to add your thoughts below, or over in the discussion room.
Pick to win: Sigma Alpha Epsilon
It’s Krahulik time. Behind brothers Andy and Joe Krahulik, I’m picking SAE to win the Little 500. The win would be SAE’s second in program history, winning back in 1963.
Joe Krahulik not only won Individual Time Trials and Miss ‘N Out, he won them in very tough conditions. It was raining during ITTs, and then during MNO, winds were gusting around 20 mph. Why is that important? Because even in the toughest of conditions, Joe looked completely unfazed by it all. He stayed on the front, pulling every lap in MNO. That’s incredibly challenging to do in those conditions.
Joe has a great skill set to be a successful rider at Little 500. Coming from a swimming background, he’s an outstanding athlete, and clearly the best rider in this year’s field.
But as we all know, it takes more than one rider to win the Little 500.
That’s where Joe’s brother, and the captain of SAE who has built the program back up, Andy, comes in.
The two years before Andy got to IU, SAE finished 29th and 27th in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Before that, the team hadn’t even been in the race since 2001. It was a program that was far from elite.
And then Andy came along.
He finished 88th in ITTs his freshman year. Far from an elite rider. But he got his feet wet, and started to build the team, slowly. The team finished 18th that year. Again, nothing to brag about, but a finish much better than the years prior.
The jump came in 2014, when Andy finished 14th in ITTs and started to be mentioned as one of the top riders. But it wasn’t until after the race, when the team finished in eighth place, that his name got to be mentioned among the race’s elite. It was the team’s first top-10 finish since 2000. And it was in large part thanks to Andy and his work ethic and skill on the bike.
Last year, Andy finished 8th in ITTs, and with the addition of Joe, the Krahuliks helped guide SAE to a 4th place finish, just missing the podium. They kept right in it with all the elite teams in the field, and showed they belonged.
This year the two brothers went 1-2 in MNO, and also return the other two riders from last year’s 4th place team in Mitchell Sasseman and Jake Hartmeister, both of whom are seniors. That combo took second at Team Pursuit, considered one of the best indicators of race day success.
This is a team that’s both experienced and talented. They have depth, race smarts, and speed. That, and it has the best sprinter in the field. It’s the perfect combination for race day success.
Rounding out the top 5
I should note that I expect the men’s race to finish in a sprint, meaning the top 5 could be any sort of combination. Tough to predict where teams slot in in that situation.
Cutters gets the nod at number 2 because of their sprinter in Nick Thiery. Last year, Thiery won ITTs. He was third this year, and also came in sixth in MNO. Bottom line is Thiery is a top-end sprinter. And year after year, that’s important.
And with the depth Cutters has, they’ll have no problem getting Thiery in position to make a move late in the race, and he should be able to be fairly rested.
Trevor Schwedland finished 10th in ITTs and was also a semifinalist in MNO. He’s showcased he has great speed as just a sophomore. In front of him are two experienced seniors in Logan Kuhn and Chris Pilipiszyn. Kuhn was a quarterfinalist in MNO, and Pilipiszyn finished 53rd in ITTs. Kuhn is a very strong No. 3 rider who is quietly under the radar.
Cutters finished third in Team Pursuit, missing the cut for the final heat by four seconds. It’s a strong team up and down, as shown by their quick qualifying run that put it on the pole. It was the fastest qualifying time in Little 500 history.
While some would say not to read too much into Quals, the takeaway for me from that Cutters run was their smooth exchanges. Each exchange was flawless, and that’s what put Cutters ahead of all the other teams to capture the Green Jersey.
Those exchanges combined with Thiery’s speed should put Cutters right there on the last lap.
3, Black Key Bulls
BKB is again the deepest team in this field. They showcased that all throughout the Spring Series, which they (again) won easily, beating SAE by 17 points to capture the White Jersey.
Yes, BKB didn’t just dominate ITTs, they obliterated ITTs, putting seven (7!!) riders in the top 24 (top 24!). Which is crazy on multiple levels. Obviously the most of any team, and by a lot.
It’d take too long to type out all the crazy speed BKB has, but here are some names worth noting: Charlie Hammon (5th in ITTs), Nick Hartman (7th in ITTs), Spencer Brauchla (8th in ITTs), Xavier Martinez (13th in ITTs). It’s worth noting Martinez is the first freshman rider to make the race day lineup for BKB since Jordan Bailey did in 2008. Bailey is now the Little 500 race director.
BKB also went on to win Team Pursuit, an important factor in race day success. And for good measure, its second team finished sixth.
If BKB is going to win the race, however, I think they have to sprint out and make a move early. I think it will be tough for them to win a heads up sprint this year.
But the pieces are most definitely there if the team does decide to make a move. In a field as tough as this one, though, I think it’s going to be tough for one team to pull away without the other teams working together to pull them back in. Delts tried to do it last year, and we all saw how the rest of the field pulled together to reign them in for an exciting sprint finish.
This will be the last race for the fifth year senior Brauchla, who finished second to Sig Ep’s Nick Torrance in last year’s crazy sprint finish where Brauchla finished just .024 seconds behind Torrance.
That was heartbreaking, and you know Brauchla will want to try to get revenge this year.
4, Delta Tau Delta
Delts senior Luke Tormoehlen has put the team on his back this year. Tormoehlen finished second in ITTs behind Thiery, and then went on to finish third in MNO behind the Krahulik brothers. He’s shown substantial improvement from last year, when he was already an all-star rider.
Now he’s one of the top five, easily.
Tormoehlen has brought along a young group of riders to have a solid spring. Despite the experience behind the senior, Delts was still able to qualify second overall.
But this race will be Tormoehlen’s.
If the race comes down to a sprint, and Tormoehlen isn’t completely gassed, expect him to be in the pack.
Wright is a perennial winner of the Dixie Highway Award, but the past two years, they’ve started in the front. Last year they were on the pole, and this year they start on the inside of the second row.
This is a talented team that’s always been under the radar, but not this year.
Wright not only qualified well, they continued their success throughout the spring.
Evan Zehr finished 11th at ITTs, the best finish for a Wright rider since 1994. A legitimate sprinter is what Wright has been lacking the past several years. It’s had a strong team, but not a strong enough sprinter to hang in there with the top riders.
And it doesn’t stop with Zehr.
While Riley Figg didn’t compete at ITTs, he did compete in MNO, and he shocked everyone to finish 4th, behind the Krahuliks and Tormoehlen, and ahead of big names such as Thiery and Hartman.
Wright wrapped up their impressive spring by finishing fourth at Team Pursuit, showcasing their team speed.
The team’s last top 10 was 2008. But with the impressive runs in years past, and the sprinters, this is the year Wright catapults into the top 5.
Sigma Phi Epsilon — I listed them as a dark horse last year, and they went on to win the whole thing. Maybe the defending champs do the same this year, returning three riders from last season’s championship team.
Gray Goat — The Goats finished fifth in Team Pursuit, and are chock full of experience with three riders entering their third race, and all four riders from last year returning.
Phi Delta Theta — Rob Lee and Ryan Romenesko are both fifth year seniors who came back for another Little 500. They’re two of the top riders, and are joined by two rookie seniors. Lots of experience and lots of speed.
Beta Theta Pi — With Kyle Knight, one of the top sprinters in the field, Beta will have a shot if they can put him in a good position for the final laps.
3PH — The second-year team qualified 11th, and had a solid spring. They’re the newest independent team to enter the discussion of competing for a top 10 finish in the race.
Dixie Highway Award: Sigma Phi Epsilon
Sig Ep had to go to its third qualifying attempt to make the race, and chose to (smartly) play it safe. Expect the defending champs to advance quickly from their No. 22 position.