January 29, 2012 (Lake Elmo, Minnesota) – The final day of Tour De Twin Cities SuperTour competition played out as expected: Matt Liebsch (Team Strongheart/Team Birkie) and Caitlin Gregg (CXC) skied away from their respective fields, and Liebsch and Jennie Bender (CXC) held on to win the overall titles.
The race at Green Acres was a skate pursuit with starts determined based on Saturday’s classic event. The race loop was slightly extended from the prior day with the addition of a generally flat lap around a field. This made the loop 3.1 kilometers, so women raced five laps for their 15-kilometer event, while the men completed seven for 20 kilometers. Once again, the course proved surprisingly hard. Tour winner Bender called the course, “…repeated abuse. You hit a wall and then you still have to work the flats after.”
Gregg found the course to her advantage. “My plan was to play to my strengths. There was a lot of steep V1 climbing, which is one of my strengths. I tried to be smooth and relaxed on the flats and then really work the climbs.”
In the race for second, Brennan made up her 8-second starting deficit on Bender and passed her on lap 2. Bender, with her mind set on the overall classification, was able to grab Brennan’s draft and hang on for the entire race. “It was a survival race for me,” explained Bender. Brennan outsprinted Bender at the line, posting the second fastest skate time. Bender’s skate time was good for third.
For a while, the men’s race looked like it was going to be large pack affair. A lead pack of five formed on lap one, grew to six for lap two, and then eight on lap three. On lap 4, knowing the pack was continuing to expand, Liebsch attacked and only Bryan Cook (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) could respond. Then Cook dropped off the pace on the lap’s biggest climb, and Liebsch put 10 seconds on him over the next lap.
Laps 6 and 7 saw Liebsch well off the front and gaining, while the battle for second came down to Cook and Brenton Knight (APUNSC). Knight had made up a lot of ground to contend for the podium; he started the pursuit in 10th, 36 seconds behind.
Cook held on for third in the pursuit, 46 seconds off the pace. Samuel Naney (Methow Olympic Development), who started ninth, moved up to fourth by skiing the third fastest time of the day.
With the race over, the top-6 in the overall classification got a “payday.” Bender and Liebsch took home $3,000 each for their wins.
Bender expressed her appreciation for the big payout. “With all the travel I do in the winter, I can’t have a regular job. This is the job. I know this is the biggest payday I have ever had!”
Matt credits his community for making it “financially feasible to continue training and racing.” This fall, Liebsch and community members revived Team Birkie, the Twin Cities based development program Steve Gaskill founded in the 90s. Today’s Team Birkie provides masters access to elite-level support and coaching by Liebsch. In turn, these masters give some financial and logistical support for Liebsch. He says, “They are a huge part of why I am skiing so well.” Matt explains their support, as well payouts at events like the Tour, “take the financial burden off my shoulders.”