Cutters win program’s 13th Little 500 title

As the Cutters’ Noble Guyon approached the start-finish line Saturday, the white flag waving to signal the final lap of the men’s Little 500, only one thought held in his mind.

“Never again.”

For the last year, Guyon had visualized the deciding lap of the 2017 race. His final sprint landed the Cutters in third. This time, he was at the head of a pack of about 10 teams, gunning it for Turn 1 and the inside track with a competitor from Gray Goat.

Guyon beat his man to the mark, and then he held that lead through three more turns, his hands raised high as his bike coasted past the line. He waited a year for this moment, but, as a program, the Cutters had been waiting much longer.

It has been seven years since the Cutters’ last victory, which, for an average team, wouldn’t be all that long of a wait. But the Cutters’ six-year drought came immediately after a streak of five straight titles from 2007-11. Now the program has 13 Little 500 championships, the most of any team in the race.

“The pendulum swings,” Guyon said. “It’s taken a long time for us to get our own identity back and really make the race our own. And that’s what we did today.”

The Cutters (2:10.21) edged out Gray Goat and Black Key Bulls in a race that set up very much like Friday’s women’s race. Guyon, like Kappa Alpha Theta’s Rachel Brown, endured a longer-than-usual final set on an anchor leg, riding out the final 20 laps for his team.

No one was able to break away from the leaders’ pack and avoid a sprint, but a couple teams tried. Jet Blach, the No. 30 qualifying team, was the first team to make an effort to break from the pack, jumping out to a half-lap advantage with 80 laps to go. By the time Jet Blach made an exchange on Lap 140, however, they were absorbed back into that sustaining mob of cyclists.

Senior Trevor Schwedland was on the bike for the Cutters during that pursuit, all while battling through a meniscus injury he sustained in the winter. The chase suited him, because it required more endurance than breakneck sprints, allowing him to eat up laps while the pack closed in.

All the while, Guyon waited.

“There were some hard laps in there Noble didn’t have to ride,” Schwedland said. “He got the bike and he probably had 15 to 20 laps in his legs.”

Guyon, a junior, was on the bike when Beta Theta Pi attempted to seize control with a dozen laps to go. But Guyon held back, settling in while the defending champions, the Black Key Bulls, did most of the work leading the pack’s charge.

Beta Theta Pi, the No. 21 qualifier, tried for an exchange with three laps remaining, and that’s when they were caught.

“Let the yellow jersey do the work,” Guyon said of his strategy to hold behind BKB. “I pulled off, let everybody else go through, and they pulled it back, and I had a little bit left at the end. So I was able to put myself in a position to win on that last lap.”

Jim Kirkham, the Cutters’ longtime coach, became a spectator when he put Guyon on the bike for his long, final set. It was a risky strategy, but knowing how the women’s and men’s races mimic each other, and knowing how hard Guyon prepared for the moment, it was his best option.

“I know how strong he is, I know how much he wanted it, I know how much he prepared,” Kirkham said, “but that doesn’t always guarantee you win.”

So like everyone else, Kirkham anxiously watched as Guyon made his turns on that final lap. When Guyon appeared down the homestretch, his arms lifted in the air, the Cutters knew they were champions again.

A celebration erupted in the pit, and Kirkham blew off some energy, running into the stands.

“I know we’ve won our 13th race, and all the emotions that are pent up over the years just come out,” Kirkham said. “It was very emotional for me.”

After the Cutters’ victory lap, Schwedland was more stoic about the win.

“It’s nice. I don’t have much else to say about it,” Schwedland said. “It’s good to win. That’s what you train for. That’s the only tradition the team has, is winning.”

Guyon deflected all praise toward his teammates, highlighting the gutsy effort by Schwedland.

“I couldn’t have gotten there without them,” Guyon said. “I was able to save energy until the end, because this guy has a torn meniscus and he rode, probably, 70-plus laps. These guys put everything on their back and I wouldn’t even have been close if it wasn’t for them.”