Five stages and over a week has gone by since the 2013 Tour de Twin Cities began at Wirth Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and on Sunday the event concluded dramatically with a 10/15 k freestyle pursuit. After dozens of accumulated laps around the 3.3 k course, Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation/Rossignol) and Rosie Brennan (Alaska Pacific University) each maintained starting leads and emerged victorious in the overall Tour standings. Husband-and-wife duo Brian and Caitlin Gregg (Central Cross Country) both posted the fastest times of the day for the stage five wins.
On a short, rolling course, the men’s 15 k unfolded in predictable fashion: the leaders played with a confortable pace until a final sprint to the finish. Koos began the 15 k pursuit with a 17-second lead on Mike Sinnott (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation), and with such a small head start he expected the race would come down to the last stretch
“Even before the Tour began, I just knew it was going to come down to the final hunting-start 15 k freestyle,” Koos wrote in an email. “And after seeing how it was so hard for anyone to break away and hold a lead in the mass start 20 k classic, this became more apparent.”
Sinnott and Mark Iverson (APU) left the gate only nine seconds apart and skied together to close the gap on Koos, and by the end of lap three the trio was skiing together at an easy pace, with Iverson leading.
“We slowed down after that and played some little cat and mouse games for laps four and five, content to let it come down to a sprint,” Sinnott said.
Iverson attempted to drop the other two on the last few laps, but was unsuccessful. “On that course, fast with only one real working section, it didn’t work. So we all just settled down with me leading,” he said.
Koos surged ahead with a kilometer to go and held on to the lead through the finish, ultimately winning the Tour by a few seconds.
“In the end, I had an extra step on those two guys and was able to take the [Tour] title by a ski length,” Koos said. “I was pretty psyched to take the overall win. It’s a really great event, one I hope that becomes a staple for the U.S. ski racing circuit.”
Behind him, or rather almost next to him, the battle for second and third was less certain. A jockey between Sinnott and Iverson for the same finish lane generated some contact between them, which Sinnott considered to be the result of a questionable move from Iverson.
With a lead of a few meters Koos was able to chose the center finishing lane, forcing Iverson and Sinnott to go to the inside as they came out of a hard, downhill corner that spit into the finish stretch. The two skied neck-and-neck as they sought the same left-hand lane, causing their boots to briefly connect in the last 50 meters of a fast finish.
In Iverson’s words, he chose the left lane “just in front of Mike. I didn’t want to go wide. Mike and I bumped a bit fighting for the left lane and we both lunged together for the line. Torin was able to get the win and it was really close between Mike and I.”
Sinnott was more descriptive about how the sprint played out, and considered the “bump” with Iverson in the finishing lanes to be a definite infraction of the rules.
“In the finish, I took the inside line as Torin went wide and Mark skied between lanes,” Sinnott wrote in an email. “Mark then decided to shift over, making contact between his boots and mine. He knocked me into the V-boards and I was forced to double pole the remaining 50 m as my lane was no longer mine. The result left me in third and pretty peeved about the clear infractions.”
After the finish Sinnott found spectators who had taken photographs of the incident and brought them before the Technical Delegate, but to no effect.
“I found some photos and several witnesses but was told by the TD, ‘you can protest, but I’ve already made up my mind. So…’ He refused to look at the photos, and again dismissed me when I mentioned [Alexander] Legkov’s move in the Tour [de Ski], resulting in a 15 second penalty,” Sinnott said.
“Basically, I had a strong chance to win, it’s hard to say, but was unequivocally obstructed by Mark as he moved between lanes. As a result, I ended third. It was not how I’d like to see the hard fought five-day event end.”
FasterSkier was not present at Wirth Park, and at press time had only Sinnott’s and Iverson’s accounts of what happened. Besides the finish line incident, Tour competitors were generally happy with how organizers put together the event.
Regardless of how the last 100 m unfolded, Iverson’s run at the podium this week has been the best racing of his career. On Sunday he skied the second-fastest time of the day, 36:07.4.
“It has been really exciting, and satisfying to feel I’m in the race everyday and be confident in my skiing,” Iverson said. “I wasn’t sure that I could catch up and make it a race today after loosing some time to Koos and Sinnott yesterday, but I was patient and just tried to ski my race.”
Gregg, after starting stage five 1:36 down to the leaders in sixth place overall, skied the fastest time of the day to move up to fourth in the final standings.
“I went in to the day planning on skiing my own race against the clock today,” Gregg said. “I started 1:36 off of the lead, but I wanted to have the fastest time of the day.”
He made up the difference between himself and Karl Nygren (CXC) and Brent Knight (APU) by 4 k, and together the three skiers made up some of the time on the leaders by the final lap.
Everyone became intimately familiar with the Wirth Park course by the end of the week, but Gregg is especially at home on it as he lives only a few minutes away. He thought the proximity to the race venue played a big part in his success on Sunday.
“It is a huge advantage to be at home during the middle of the ski season and to be so close to the race venue,” Gregg said. “I think that played a large role in our success on this fifth day of racing. Not too many people are lucky enough to have a 3.3 k snow-making loop within jogging distance of their house.”
Women’s 10 k Pursuit
As in the men’s race, the women’s 10 k pursuit was a closely-fought race. Rosie Brennan (APU) began with a small lead on her competition —Jennie Bender (CXC) started 17 seconds behind her, Kate Fitzgerald (APU) left the line 13 seconds after that, and Caitlin Gregg started at 1:05. With such formidable skaters hunting her down, Brennan knew the overall Tour victory would take everything she had.
“I had the whole field chasing me which certainly added to the nerves this morning!” Brennan said. “I went out hard hoping [to] make catching me harder, however, after racing the previous two days, my legs did not feel good so I ended up really fighting the whole way.”
On the relatively short loop Brennan could see her competitors as the course wound around twists and turns, which alerted her to the fact that Gregg was having an incredible race.
“I could see my chasers frequently and was doing my best to judge time, but man, that’s hard to do and really only led me to panic more seeing who was coming for me,” Brennan said. “By the end of the second lap I realized Caitlin was crushing it and not slowing down, so I did my best to hold it together and push hard on the last lap.”
Brennan was able to hold Gregg at bay and win the overall, which she was plenty happy with.
“It was really stressful and not much fun having to hammer out 10 k alone with a whole field chasing, so I am thankful to have been able to hold it together and stay tough,” she said.
“I don’t think there was anything I could have done to beat Caitlin on the day, though. She was just flying out there. I have always admired Caitlin’s incredible skating so I really can’t complain about taking second to her.”
Gregg ended posting the fastest time by 35.9 seconds. Taking a page out of Lindsay Vonn’s book, the 32-year-old decided right before the start to race on her husband’s winning skis from earlier that morning.
“He told me how fast they felt and I realized that with such a flat course I could probably get away with longer stiffer skis!” Gregg said. “So I tested them for a lap and confirmed I could ski them on the short steep climbs (without tripping) and went with them. The skis were actually Brian’s stiffest pair so he told me to ski like a big girl on them to make them work.”
With the goal of setting the day’s fastest course time, Gregg was pretty happy with how the choice turned out.
“I knew I had a lot of time to make up but I wanted to win the individual race, so I just went out gunning for a good time,” she said.
Brian and Caitlin have been racing together for years, but Sunday was the first time they both won the same race.
“I have always wanted to share the top step of the podium with Caitlin in a Super Tour and it was cool to have that happen,” Brian said.
Stage winners receive $450 for the win on top of the overall purse that goes six deep. Between the Greggs’ stage five victories, Caitlin’s second place finish overall and Brian’s fourth, the couple earned $2,700 on Sunday alone.
“Race winnings are the largest part of our income and it was great to have things come together today,” Brian said.
Kate Fitzgerald (APU), one of the most consistent skiers all week, finished third on the stage once again to take third in the Tour. She started just ahead of Gregg with full knowledge of the latter’s strength in skating, and sought to hold her off as long as she could.
“I know that she is a ridiculously strong skater, and sure enough she came storming past me and it was all I could to do hang on!” Fitzgerald said. “Caitlin, Jennie, and I were in a pack for a little while but then Caitlin’s speed started to break us up. She had an awesome race today.”
Bender finished fourth in the overall standings, Clare Egan (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) took fifth and Erika Flowers (SMS T2) was sixth.
Overall Tour Standings not yet available – check back at Summit Timing.