With her second win out of three races in the Tour de Twin Cities on Wednesday, Jennie Bender (CXC) now leads the five-stage event. The 1.4 k freestyle sprint prologue was held under the lights at Wirth Park in Minneapolis, Minn., and was the final race of the Mayor’s Challenge phase of the Tour. Lauren Fritz (APU) was the runner-up and Bender’s teammate Caitlin Gregg (CXC) was third.
“I really wanted to get today,” said Bender in an email.
The last time she contested a freestyle sprint was at U.S. Nationals, where Bender fell in the finishing lanes just before the line during the A-final. It cost her at least one place and she wound up in third.
Wednesday’s sprint started and finished with the qualifying round. In the solo race against the clock, Bender was the first women’s starter and was almost literally racing blind.
“The darkness with scattered lights made it seem like you were flying, which is always a good sensation,” she said. “The course was fairly well lit, although there were a few spots with only the cast of distant light posts, so other than whipping away the water from my eyes on the downhill, I may have not blinked the whole time.”
The qualifier-only format also forced Bender to adjust her usual approach to sprinting.
“I usually turn on in the heats, so I knew I had to make some changes for just a qualifier. I experimented with a longer and harder warm-up, on top of my usual intervals. Some people race fight, others race flight. I usually fight in the heats, but because I was starting first today, I had to change my mentality to ‘RUN AWAY,’” said Bender.
Fritz, who started several positions behind Bender, had a bit more information to go off of.
“At the top of the second big climb someone said I was even with Jennie, with really motivated me since I figured she was leading,” said Fritz.
“It was still kind of weird going in and out of the light, but I’m kind of used to it from skiing a lot at night on lit trails in Anchorage.”
The course was a good one for a sprint race, said Fritz, featuring plenty of opportunity gather speed, a technical downhill corner, and a few climbs.
“It was definitely a working course,” said Fritz.
Bender agreed, adding that the manmade snow on the course held up well.
“They have been making snow for that loop consistently, so it was even fairly clean, considering the numbers who ski it,” she said.
A night sprint is unusual for the SuperTour, and though the fields were slimmer in the absence of most college skiers, a race under the lights created a unique race experience for the athletes.
Apart from not knowing exactly what to do with the rest of her day, Fritz said an evening race made for a fun night.
“The night sprint aspect was pretty exciting and a fun change,” she said.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Tour moves to nearby St. Paul for a mass start classic and freestyle pursuit at Green Acres. Bender now leads the Tour’s points list, and she’s focused only on the upcoming weekend.
“It’s not over till it’s over,” she said. “I’ll be excited Sunday afternoon.”
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.