Can you hear the whisper in the alpine wind fellow trail nerds? It’s talking about sub zero temperatures, waterproof trousers and al fresco broth. Calling for fans of pain caves, gilets and incredibly competitive mountain running ...
... In other words it’s time to unleash the mountainous hype beast once again; Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc 2019.
Let’s start the predictions with the main race and longest abbreviation of the week;
UTMB, 165 km / 11000 m
The 2018 edition of this epic Mont Blanc loop was a strange one. Suffering with everything from bee stings to “Walmsley Bonks” the elites were dropping like banana peels in an aid station. Never in the race’s history have we seen so many big names be airlifted from the mountain tops and it made for interesting top 10’s. After working her way up the field during the second day Aosta Valley’s own Francesca Canepa was first woman across the line in what was arguably the best race in her long career. She is back to defend her title this year so lets take a look at the long list of fierce gritters she’s up against.
When the list of elite runners was first published back in January Courtney was down for the slightly shorter TDS but following an injury induced DNF at WS100 and Hardrock’s cancellation (which she was also down for) she moved up to UTMB. Possibly due to it’s more runnable and less technical course which should both suit “Dewey” better and cause less of a concern for the hip injury to resurface BUT it could also be down to her former A-race being cancelled leaving her with time on her hands to focus on another 100 miler. Courtney had an incredible start to a year where we’ve seen her race with less frequency but each time she’s crossed a finish line it’s been for the win (Tarawera, Behind The Rocks and MIUT). Sleep deprivation is not a factor for this multiple 200 mile champ and if that hip is properly healed up then there is a big chance that Courtney Dauwalter will stand on top of the podium in Chamonix next weekend.
Last year Schide who is an American runner living in Switzerland was second lady behind Miao Yao at a record fast CCC. She started her 2019 by finishing second to Dauwalter at MIUT and it’s noteworthy that even though Courtney had one of the fastest splits OA from the last aid station into the finish Schide made some serious ground on her over the last quarter of the race, especially on the technical descents. Katie followed up her MIUT podium with a 20 minute win at the 90 k Marathon du Mont Blanc leaving us with no doubts that she runs well enough on the trails around Europes highest mountain to be a serious contender for the UTMB trophy.
Last year a contingent of young and relatively unknown Chinese runners took Chamonix by storm. Miao Yao had already proved her strength with wins at Hong Kong 100 and Yading Skyrace but the way she crushed all competition at CCC with a course record breaking time which also landed her on the top ten OA still made many a jaw drop. So far her 2019 has not been as succesfull, at least not on European soil where she DNF’ed at both Transgrancanaria and Marathon Du Mont Blanc. In her defence she dropped out of the latter after receiving a 45 minute penalty for not carrying a whistle, up until then she was sharing the lead with the above mentioned Schide so it’s very likely that she has found her running form during the summer. Yao has spent the past two months training in Chamonix and her partner Qi Min revealed in a recent interview that Yao’s goal is to win and set a course record at all four UTMB courses.
Similarly to Yao, the previous CCC (and current TDS-) record holder Mimmi Kotka had a fantastic 2018 where she won both Marathon Du Mont Blanc and MIUT and appeared unbeatable on the longer trail distances. Sadly her winning streak came to an end when she started UTMB with both an injury and an infection and had to call it quits at the second aid station. Mimmi’s 2019 has not been up to her 2018 standards and after finishing 13th at MIUT she took a step back from racing to find her joy in running again. She returned to compete at the low key La Course Des Geants 6000 in July where she won the women’s race with an hour and finished 5th overall. Mimmi has been living in the alps for the entirety of the summer and i would not be surprised if shes been saving up all her race energy for this one. Fingers crossed we finally get to see that Dauwalter and Kotka battle one could only dream about a year ago!
Maite has been on top of the podium at short races like Zegama and Limone Extreme for half a decade but its only of recent that she’s started testing her legs on the longer UTWT scene. In 2017 she was second fastest lady behind Clare Gallagher at CCC and this year she placed 4th and 5th in stacked fields at MIUT and Lavaredo. I believe this will be Maiora’s first attempt at a 100 miler and after the season she’s had so far I’m very curious to see what she’s got up her long distance Lycra sleeve!
Kaci might not have lived up to her US success on European soil yet but then she has not been on a UTMB start-line in great racing shape until now. After a long recovery period following her pelvic stress fracture in 2017 Lickteig finally looks to be back to her old running self. So far this year she’s won the Black Canyon 100 which earned her a golden ticket for WS100 where she went on to take third behind Peterson and Gallagher and finally she tuned up her altitude lungs with a win at the 50 mile long Pikes Peak Ultra last month. With her experience of the race and positive spirit I have no doubts that a Kaci in good shape will give us her best UTMB performance yet. Question is how far up the rankings she will land.
Eva-Maria WHO you might ask yourself, then you either have a poor memory or missed the round up from the Grosslockner Ultra Trail where Sperger did not only win and obliterate the course record set by Kristin Berglund with over an hour but also placed 3rd OA. Earlier in the year she won both Schlegeis 3000 and Hochkonigman as well as landing a top ten at a stacked Transvulcania. I hold Sperger as my firm under-dog favourite for this years UTMB and think she could very well, if not win, then at least battle it out for a top 3.
The american trailheads only just got to know the strength of this British runner as she introduced herself with a 4th at Western States back in June. Here in Europe though we’re used to seeing Beth Pascall place high up in the mountain race rankings. Last year she was 4th at both UTMB and Transgrancanaria and in 2017 she took second at MIUT. Leading up to Western States she won the fling and nearly took down the course record in her tune up race at North Downs Way 50.
Similarly to Miao Yao we don’t have much evidence of Núria Picas current shape as she has raced very conservatively since sustaining an injury early in the season last year. The last time this incredibly strong runner started at UTMB she won the race though and the fact that she is back on the start list for this year should be proof enough that she is ready to race for another podium.
Another ‘under the radar’ runner is multiple UTMB champ Rory Bosio who since she took second at TDS last year has only appeared on one start line. That was the one of Ushuaia by UTMB which she won ...
Last time she raced the original UTMB she had yet to discover poles and she’s expressed in interviews that she is curious to see how fast she could complete the Mont Blanc circuit with their aid. I reckon pretteh pretteh swiftly.
That’s my top ten, but the list of contenders definitely does not stop there, Spanish runner UXUE FRAILE has a history of great performances at UTMB; she was second in 2015, third in 2016 and last year second again behind Canepa. Poland’s experienced MAGDALENA LACZAK won this years Transgrancanaria and it will be interesting to see what this 41 year old can do in her first UTMB since 2012. EKATERINA MITYAEVA had a great 2018 which cumulated with a win at Ultra Pirineu, this year she has placed fifth at Hong Kong 100 and fourth at Transvulcania but since then we have not seen her race. CORINNE MALCOLM was fourth at TDS and 9th at WS100 last year but did not have a great start to her 2019 with a DNF at Hong Kong 100. She was back at Western again in June where she placed 10th, could it have been that she was holding back for a big push at UTMB? In a weeks time we will know!
Previews of the equally stacked fields for TDS, CCC and OCC will be with you later this weekend!