After five races over the course of nine days and never once relinquishing his lead, Matt Liebsch (Team StrongHeart/Team Birkie) took home the overall victory in the Tour de Twin Cities on Sunday after crossing the line first in the 20 k freestyle pursuit at Green Acres. Pat O’Brien (CGRP), with the help of Saturday’s bonus sprint, claimed second in the inaugural Tour. Karl Nygren (CXC) took third after a series of consistent performances.
“I’ve had this [Tour] on my radar for a while because it’s in my hometown,” said Liebsch on Sunday. “I was really happy [to win].”
Though he was first across the line, Liebsch’s was the second-fastest elapsed time of the day to Brenton Knight’s (APU), who climbed his way from the 10th starting position at 36 seconds back to end in second in the pursuit with an elapsed time of 49:46.1.
Starters left the gate at intervals based on Saturday’s classic race; Liebsch trailed Dylan McGuffin a second, and a handful of other top skiers worked their way into the mix to make the race play out like a mass-start.
McGuffin took off from the line and took a lap for Liebsch to reign in.
“I wasn’t feeling super peppy after the mosh-pit crash from yesterday,” said Liebsch. “I wanted to take it easy, since I knew I didn’t need a lot of points. I just wanted to do what I needed to secure the overall.”
With two wins and a second, Liebsch entered Sunday’s race with a considerable lead in the Tour standings, which were based off of SuperTour points.
On lap two, the paced had slowed, and the lead pack gres to a group of about ten skiers, with more athletes gaining.
“One of our coaches said we were going at a pedestrian pace on the third lap—I don’t know, it felt good to me!” said Liebsch.
At the prompting of his coach on the sidelines, Liebsch said he began to turn up the heat on the fourth lap.
“I hit the gas pretty hard, and I think those other guys who’d worked hard to catch back up hadn’t quite recovered, and they popped away off the back,” he said.
Bryan Cook (CGRP), who was the third athlete over the line on Sunday, hung onto the quickened pace for a brief period.
“Matt made a big move with around three and a half laps to go and I was the only one to stay with him,” Cook wrote in an email. “We skied together for about a lap and a half before I just couldn’t keep up with his pace.”
Knight, a late starter, took advantage of being in the chase position and managed to make gains on the leaders as others began to fade. By the end of the second lap he had caught the back of the front pack.
“Unfortunately that wasn’t a whole lot of rest time—that’s when Bryan Cook and Matt Liebsch took off,” said Knight.
Knight felt like he still had enough gas in the tank to go with them, and moved around a few more people until he passed Cook to get in second, where he stayed for the remainder of the race.
After crossing the line, Knight didn’t immediately know that he’d posted the fastest elapsed time of the day.
“I didn’t even see [Liebsch] on the last long climb—I was like, ‘Okay well, I’ll go for the second-fastest time,’” Knight recalled. “Then [after the finish] Matt said he saw me coming down the hill.”
With the extra five points for skiing the fastest 20 k, Knight ended fourth in the overall Tour, which came with an $800 payout.
“I wouldn’t have been winning any money unless I won, basically. It’s what you’re shooting or, but I was more shooting for doing what I could do,” said Knight.
The top-heavy points system, coupled with the intermediate preem on Saturday, put O’Brien in position for second in the Tour overall despite being sick over the weekend and finishing eighth in the 20 k. His second-place in the sprint prologue on Wednesday was his top result of the week.
“It’s definitely different with points rather than time [-based scoring],” said O’Brien. “Whether you win by a minute or a second, it doesn’t matter, if you’re getting the same points for it. A timed tour values consistency more; if you’re way off in one race, you could be totally out of it.”
With two back-to-back wins out of the gate last weekend, Liebsch set himself up well for the Tour title, but he knew he had to stay consistently near the top to come away with it.
“It was kind of stressful trying to be on for an entire nine day period, and looking at points, saying, ‘Oh, I need to do this good, keep racing this fast,’” Liebsch said. “You don’t want your body to have an off day.”
“I can’t imagine doing the Tour de Ski, that’s got to be crazy.”
20 k pursuit elapsed time results (from which points were awarded)
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.