Little 5 leaders emphasize safety in training, planning

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Sophomore Quinn Carrico remembers finishing his first Little 500 bike race, but he doesn't remember beginning it.

Carrico was riding in a cluster of competitive fraternity boys in DePauw University's 2010 Little 5 when he was launched over his handlebars and onto the track during the third lap of the race. He got up, readjusted the chain of his bike, got back on, and began pedaling to catch up with the rest of the riders.

He doesn't remember any of it.

"I came to [consciousness] 24 minutes into the race and I remember thinking ‘Why is my head pounding? Why are my knees red?'"

Carrico did not find out he had a concussion until he went to the hospital after the race. A collision of riders in the final minutes sent other male riders to the emergency room as well.

DePauw University's Little 5 committee has decided to increase several safety procedures and requirements for participants in this year's race after students were injured in last year's event. By altering the race's track and enforcing stricter rules for the cyclists, the committee says it's making safety its paramount concern.

The committee's first priority was to change the location of the race.

The event originally took place on the streets throughout campus, but was moved to Blackstock Stadium's track when the Julian Science and Mathematic Center was undergoing construction in 2005.

When the committee decided in November to change the location, they first presented the plan to the team captains of each greek house.

"Some were upset about the change of the track since it makes it a ‘different race,'" said senior Ellie Weed, one of the committee's co-chairs and a designer for The DePauw. "But we knew it'd spread people out so there wouldn't be large clumps [of riders]."

A large clump of cyclists in last year's men's race is believed to have been the cause of the brutal collision.

"When you get people in a big group who all want to win, they tend to all rush into a big pileup," said Little 5 coordinator Kent Menzel.

Last year's collision was the first "pack crash" he had seen in the 18 years he has been helping with the university's Little 5. "You can't win if you crash — they forgot that rule."

To reduce the danger of riding within a tight space, the committee mapped out a course throughout campus that would accommodate both participants and spectators. The course circles Julian Science and Mathematics Center and the Lilly Center. Aware that cyclists face a risk of riding on city streets, the committee intends to close off the streets on race day to avoid any collisions with cars. In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 700 bicyclists in the United States were killed in crashes with vehicles and 43,000 riders reported injuries.

To avoid any injury during training and the actual race, Little 5's committee wants all of the riders to know the basics of cycling. Each year, the committee has conducted safety meetings for its participants to cover the important rules of bike safety before they begin training. This year, however, the committee made them mandatory.

"If Little 5 is not your main priority, you should not be in it," said Weed, stressing the importance of attendance at the meetings.

Menzel agrees that knowing cycling etiquette can decrease chances of getting into an accident. At scratch races, or the mock races where participants train on both the track and the street route, Menzel begins with a mini-lecture on bike safety. His stresses the importance of not overlapping wheels, staying in line, and communicating with fellow riders.

 "I go over it over and over again, whenever I get a chance to talk to the riders," Menzel said. "If you constantly reinforce [the rules], the riders constantly think about them until they become habits that they don't have to think about.

Carrico would agree: "You can never hear it too many times," he said. The committee insists that riders come to at least two out of the four scratch races. Last year, skilled riders were only required to attend one. However, Weed said the experienced cyclists can "lead the pack" when training with the less-experienced.

Trista Wyman, a sophomore, agrees that the constant safety reminders are beneficial, and she hopes her fellow competitors are taking them seriously.

"If someone wrecks me, I'm going to be mad that I spent the last five weeks training and then only got to ride for five minutes," she said.

If an accident should occur, the committee is ensuring that plenty of outside help will be available.

"Officers will be at each corner and spotted along the route," said Public Safety Officer David Barber, who is in charge on race day.

"Every officer has some degree of first-aid training or better. Help will not be far."

The committee is fortunate to have professional help on hand. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies have indicated that many bicycle crashes requiring emergency room treatment are not even reported. Only 10 percent of the cycling accidents are reported to the police because they do not deal with vehicle or roadway hazards.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, of the 500,000 bicyclists who visit the emergency room each year due to cycling accidents, 70 percent of the injuries do not involve vehicles and 31 percent of the cyclists were injured in non-roadway locations.

At DePauw, committee members equipped with walkie-talkies and colored flags will be stationed along the route. If someone waves a yellow flag, the riders will know to use caution when riding, while a red flag indicates an emergency vehicle is on the track, explained Barber.

While the committee may be optimistic about its new safety requirements and route changes, there are no guarantees riders will be safe.

"Try to do this sport without crashing. You just can't," Menzel said.

For some riders, the risk is part of the race.

"I couldn't stand on the sideline," said Carrico, who will be riding in his second Little 5 on Saturday. "I'd hate watching and feeling like I could be out there."