With temperatures barely extending into the single digits Sunday, the second stage of the Tour de Twin Cities SuperTour circuit was already shaping up to be a tough one. Add to that the nature of classic mass starts – up to six times around a 3.3-kilometer track – and you’ve got quite a race.
Saturday’s 5 k freestyle winner, Rosie Brennan of Alaska Pacific University (APU) arrived to Wirth Park in Minneapolis on Sunday in time to check out the preceding men’s race on the second day of the Tour de Twin Cities.
“I went out to see how the boys were doing, only to witness many boys slipping on ice, falling, and many more yelling for poles causing me to panic a little for our own race,” Brennan wrote in an email. “It was really cold, fast, and icy in some parts.”
A little unsure of how to strategically approach five laps for the women’s 15 k classic, Brennan decided she’d set a high pace and hopefully wear others down.
“As a result, I probably led a fair amount,” she explained. “I had many laps to come up with a game plan after realizing I wouldn’t be able to just ski away from a pack on such a fast course. However, excitement and cheering got the best of me and I went for it on the last lap.”
Using some early hills to her advantage, Brennan built a small gap on the group. The final 1.5 kilometers, however, were flatter and “very twisty,” she wrote. “Both significant weaknesses of mine. I did all I could do to stay away, but Jennie [Bender] just ate me up on that stuff.”
Bender, the Central Cross Country (CXC) skier who skied in second for much of the race, wrote in an email that she found to stay with Brennan on the final lap.
“I thought she was gone, but due to sitting in 2nd my adrenaline kicked in, and I kept hammering,” Bender wrote. “Suddenly I was behind her, and was able to shift into high gear for the last hill.”
Bender nabbed the distance victory, her first on the SuperTour circuit this season, by 6.6 seconds over Brennan in 46.09.9. APU swept second through fourth with Kate Fitzgerald making the podium 8.1 seconds back from first and Becca Rorabaugh placing fourth (+18.4). Caitlin Gregg (CXC) was fifth after crashing just before the last lap when she, Fitzgerald and Rorabaugh tried to pass group of lapped skiers.
“On the big wall before the last lap started we ran into some skiers we were lapping and got tangled,” Gregg explained.
“At that point Caitlin was right in front of me and she fell and I had to stop because I was pinned against the side of the trail,” Fitzgerald wrote.
While those three tried to recover, Brennan started to go for it.
“I gunned it to try and catch back up to Rosie and Jennie,” Gregg continued. “I could see them playing cat and mouse up ahead and thought maybe I could catch them. … Kate, Becca and I tried to reel them in but couldn’t.”
After starting near the front, Bender was happy to stay out of trouble and ski a tactically smart race.
“Every race, I hope I will feel better than the last, and lately that hasn’t been hard since all my distance races thus far have sucked pretty bad,” she wrote. “There were definitely a few moments in the race, where I looked around and felt good that I could add to team red (CXC) once again. It’s a team of 3 this year, but having two in the top five is great. The APU girls are a force to be reckoned with, that’s for sure.”
Brennan took her hat off to Bender, but felt there were some areas she could improve.
“She skied that last section beautifully and overtook me with lots of momentum leaving me in the dust into the finish,” Brennan wrote. “I am happy with the result, but frustrated with my own weaknesses and certainly have made a list of things to keep working on.”
“It was definitely a fun race with some very fast conditions,” Fitzgerald added.
In the men’s race, Torin Koos (Bridger Ski Foundation/Rossignol) foreshadowed his own victory – stating Saturday: “I just didn’t have that edge that I been needed to win. It wouldn’t be surprising, though, if today’s effort gives me that little bit I was missing for tomorrow.”
The runner-up in the 10 k freestyle, Koos went on to win Sunday’s 20 k classic mass start by 1.9 seconds over Brian Gregg (CXC) in 47:53.0.
“Today was a cold and icy one, though not as cold as I had prepared for,” Koos wrote. “The biggest name in the game today was staying out of trouble like crashes and broken poles, with so many turns. I raced much more at the front for this reason. Most all of the race I felt so very much in control aerobically.”
A Twin Cities native, Koos explained that he secured the win – his first this SuperTour season – by opening a small gap up “inner-tube hill” on the last lap and holding it to the finish.
“With such high speed snow, I felt skiing in the pack was much easier, though a riskier option,” he wrote. “The cheering section was out there in force again today. The cold weather was nothing for them!”
Gregg was glad to be back on the SuperTour podium for the first time this year. Living with his wife Caitlin just a few blocks away from Wirth Park, Gregg wrote it was great to be able to perform for so many supporters and friends.
“The home course advantage is pretty nice too,” he added. “I have logged many km on the 3.3k loop. It is pretty cool to train in the afternoons with about 300 other skiers. I think training with all the high school skiers last week was helpful in feeling comfortable in the big pack today.”
On the last lap, Dylan McGuffin (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) started to push the pace up front while Koos chased him down, Gregg explained. At the top of the hill, Koos was about 15 meters ahead of Mike Sinnott (Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation). Sinnott was about 15 meters ahead of his teammate, Matt Gelso, Gregg and Canadian David Greer (Yukon Elite Squad).
“About 500m from the finish Mikey went down on an icy corner,” Gregg wrote. “He had a gap and it is always a bummer to pass some one simple because they fell.”
Gregg, Greer, Gelso and Mark Iverson (Saturday’s winner from APU) passed by, and Sinnott ended up sixth (+8.3). Greer was third, 2.4 seconds back from Koos, Gelso was fourth (+5.3) and Iverson was fifth (+6.4).
Greer, who made the long trip down from the Yukon Territory with teammates Knute Johnsgaard and John Parry with some time to kill between NorAm races in Thunder Bay and Duntroon, Ontario, met his goal of the podium after being sick last week. After feeling like he was missing his top gear in Saturday’s race, he decided to go for it on Sunday.
Greer was around 12th when Koos attacked the last kilometer. He followed, picking off the places and moving to fifth and then third by the top of the last hill.
“I usually have a decent sprint finish, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do anything today because the finish stretch was very short, no time to pass,” he wrote.
“It felt more like a criterium than a ski race. You needed to be really aggressive to stay near the front,” Greer explained. “I consider myself lucky not to have fallen or been taken out because racers were falling right, left and centre throughout the entire race! It was very chaotic.”
With temperatures forecast to remain below zero on Monday, it was unclear whether the third stage of the Tour, the classic sprints, would take place as scheduled.
Thanks to Reese Hanneman and his photos from EngineRoomMedia.net.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.