Fewer riders, more heart: A Little 500 team’s unlikely journey to the race

Ashley Williams, Emily Carrico and Megan Huibregste riding

Ashley Williams, Emily Carrico and Megan Huibregste practice at the track at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Photo by Chaz Mottinger, IU Communications.

Post by IU Communications colleague Milana Katic:

As riders line up Friday for the 29th running of the women’s Little 500 at Bill Armstrong Stadium, most of them will go into the 100-lap bicycle race knowing they have three other teammates to back them up. One team, however, will boldly enter the race this year with just three riders total.

Ski, formerly known as Ski Club Cycling, has experienced a few setbacks this year, to say the least. For one, with only two veteran cyclists coming into the 2015-16 season, the team essentially had to rebuild over the academic year.

“It’s been a journey with a lot of challenges,” said junior Ashley Williams, a veteran Ski rider. “Last year was smooth sailing; we were a second-year team, and we had to make our name. This year we came into it like that, but with only two returning riders, we had to start from scratch with a new team. We had a lot of rookies, but not everyone is built for Little 5, so we were basically left with four riders at the end of it.”

With what seemed like the biggest pre-race challenge behind them, the newly formed team — made up of Williams, fellow veteran Ski rider and junior Megan Huibregtse and freshmen Emily Carrico and Ivy Moore — spent the spring semester diligently training with coach and local cyclist Tom Saccone.

Just when they felt they were hitting their stride as a team, another obstacle presented itself. Right before spring break, Moore was diagnosed with a medical condition that left her unable to participate in the race, and the team was left at a disadvantage once more. But it wasn’t quite big enough to make the women want to forfeit the race completely.

Emily Carrico, Megan Huibregste and Ashley Williams pose by the track.

From left: Ski riders Emily Carrico, Megan Huibregste and Ashley Williams. Photo by Chaz Mottinger, IU Communications.

“We like to joke that it’s an equalizer; we were just too good,” Carrico said. “We were just happy that our teammate was OK, and we were like, ‘This is what it is, and we’re still going to go in and do the best we can and show all the hard work we’ve done this season.’ There was no question of dropping out.”

“It was not just a loss; it could have been devastating,” said Saccone, who’s been working with Ski since its start in 2013. “But we’ve got the wherewithal with each of the women that we can still win this thing. Any one of them can ride in this alone and still finish with contention.”

Going into the spring cycling events could have been daunting for a team of only three, but the women have shown that they’re still competitors, placing seventh out of 32 in the Little 500 qualifications and Huibregtse and Williams finishing in the top 15 for individual time trials.

“If someone had told me in the fall that I’d be riding two of the four laps at quals, I would have laughed,” Huibregtse said. “And if someone had told me that Ivy would be out for the year, I would have been shocked as well. But just the fact that we’ve been able to keep going and keep training hard and come out here and work every day is inspiring in itself.”

So maybe Ski is going into the 2016 Little 500 in less-than-ideal circumstances, but their unwavering determination to get to the finish line is a winning attribute in its own right. And though there may be fewer of them, their eyes are still fixated on the prize.

“I mean, the goal is always to try to win the thing,” Williams said, “to prove to ourselves and the field that, yes, we’re down a rider, but Ski is still strong.”

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