Sig Ep holds off Black Key Bulls to win Little 500

There was no immediate celebration, no champion’s pose as he crossed the finish line.

Nick Torrance kept his fingers fixed to the handles of his bicycle, waiting for reassurance before he raised his arms and reveled in the moment.

That’s because the Sigma Phi Epsilon rider knew he had company in Spencer Brauchla of Black Key Bulls, who caught him coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap and made one late surge down the stretch. Their bikes shook as they pushed into their pedals over the final few feet, Torrance on the inside and Brauchla to his right, until Torrance sprinted through the finish line, looked up and saw joy.

“I was fairly confident, but I wasn’t super confident,” Torrance said of leading Sig Ep to its third men’s Little 500 win on Sunday afternoon. “Not confident enough to start celebrating. Then I looked around and saw our fans get really excited after they announced something. I couldn’t hear it, so I figured we won.”

He was right.

Sig Ep earned its first victory since 1999, but only barely. Torrance’s work on Lap 200 was enough to hold off Brauchla by a final margin of .024 seconds.

It was an exciting ending to a clean running of the 65th Little 500. Black Key Bulls, the defending champions, finished second and Beta Theta Pi came in third.

“Sig Ep just had a great run there in the end,” Brauchla said.

Indeed, it took some nifty work from Torrance at the beginning of the final lap. Torrance, who rode the final 15, started Lap 200 behind Beta’s Chris Craig before catching him in Turn 2. Craig held the inside, forcing Torrance to the right. Torrance pedaled through and took the lead entering Turn 3 as Craig’s legs began to give out, and that’s when Brauchla made his move and overtook Craig from the far right.

Torrance moved onto the inside of the track entering the final turn and Brauchla caught up to his side, but the Sig Ep rider held just enough of a lead and maintained it down the stretch.

“Looking back on it, there really wasn’t anything I would change,” said Brauchla, who hopped on as BKB’s final rider of the day with five laps remaining. “I mean, it was definitely hard coming back that far and then losing like that. If there was any way to lose, for it to be that close and knowing there was nothing else that could be done, I can hang my head up.”

It was a minor miracle that Sig Ep was even around.

The team was nearly taken out of the race within the first 40 laps when Sig Ep rider Chris Turi wrecked near the first turn. Turi was trying to work his way to the front of the lead pelaton when another rider bumped into his bike and sent him sprawling to the cinders.

“I thought we were done. I really thought we were done,” Torrance said. “… Our strategy completely blew up. We wrecked pretty early and it’s a crazy race. All strategies go (away). Our team was pretty tired. I wasn’t planning on doing that much at the end, but I got it so apparently it worked.”

The rest of the afternoon featured only one major wreck that claimed polesitter Wright Cycling on Lap 168. Sigma Alpha Epsilon finished fourth, Forest came in fifth, Delta Tau Delta was sixth and Cutters came in seventh.

Delta Tau Delta surged to the front of the pack on Lap 178 and, at one point, opened a 14-second lead. The top pelaton closed that gap by Lap 190, when Beta started moving toward the lead.

Craig got them there, but he couldn’t hold on to it — not with Torrance on his trail and four years’ worth of work pushing Sig Ep to the win.

In Torrance’s first year, Sig Ep finished 12th. The team moved into sixth place when he was a sophomore and finished fourth last year before winning it all in his last turn. He was joined on the team by Turi, Sam Anderson, Brandon Sakbun, Ben Gavette and Charlie Hicks.

“Nick’s a fourth-year senior and captain of the bike team,” Turi said. “We had all the confidence he was the one we wanted the bike with. … We just knew that he would be in the right position when it came down to a sprint. He took the inside line right when he needed to and they weren’t able to come around him.”