Lauren Fritz (APU) and Nick Hendrickson (now University of Utah, former U.S. Nordic Combined) each reached the quarterfinals to finish 14th overall in Stage 5 of the China Tour de Ski, a 1.2-kilometer freestyle sprint held in Xiwuqi, in the Inner Mongolia region of China, earlier Saturday.
The two-lap race was held beneath sunny skies and cold temperatures, with race-time temps a barely FIS-legal –17 C, or 1.4° F. It was the third skate sprint in five stages, following 1.5 k skate sprints in Stages 1 and 2 in Changbaishan and Changchun.
First place in the women’s race went to Li Xin of China, who also won the sprint in Stage 1 and the prologue-distance mass start in Stage 4. Chinese and Swedish skiers made up the rest of the four-person final. Fritz made it as far as the quarterfinals on the day after qualifying in 13th.
In the men’s race, Norway’s Haakon Hjelstuen (formerly of Michigan Tech), who also won Stage 1, logged his second victory in this year’s Tour, coming out ahead of a French–Norwegian four-person final. Behind him, Hendrickson qualified in 12th and ended his day 14th overall. Jack Novak (APU) was 19th in qualifying (only the top 16 made the heats). Skyler Kenna (APU) was a few places back in 23rd.
Hjelstuen has already wrapped up the overall Tour victory; with Monday’s final stage still remaining, Hjelstuen leads Samuel Rege Gianasso of France by 102 points. With 100 points awarded for a stage victory, Hjelstuen is assured of the final overall title and an additional 20,000 yuan (slightly under $3,000). The women’s overall race is much tighter, with Li Xin holding a 31-point lead over her countrywoman Meng Honglian going into Stage 6.
Hendrickson is currently eighth in the overall Tour standings, Novak 15th, and Kenna 23rd out of 42 racers. Fritz ranks 15th out of 37 on the distaff side.
The Tour ends with Stage 6, one last 1.5 k skate sprint, at Shijinglong Ski Resort, in Yanqing, roughly 80 kilometers outside of downtown Beijing, on Monday morning. Tour racers are due in the hotel parking lot at 4:30 a.m. Sunday for the bus from the hotel to the airport to begin the process of returning from Inner Mongolia to Beijing.
— Gavin Kentch