The young Spaniard is taking the ultrarunning world by storm.
Written by: Meghan M. Hicks
Tonight at 11:30pm Central European Time*, 2,300 runners from around the globe will set off through the cobblestone streets of Chamonix, France to begin a voyage in the Alps. These racers will head out on an approximately 100-mile race** called The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a circumnavigation of the race’s namesake peak, Mont Blanc, that involves about 30,000 feet of climbing.
* This is a five-hour delay from the race’s original 6:30pm CET start time due to a cold front that’s scheduled to pass through this afternoon and evening with severe thunderstorms, hail, and heavy rain. This new start time is 4:30pm Central Daylight Time in the United States (US).
** The regular course of about 103 miles has been modified to avoid the race’s last high, technical pass and the cold and snow it will likely acquire in this weekend’s storm.
In its ninth year, UTMB has become one of the world’s most popular ultramarathons, drawing folks from all over the ultra-distance community, including elites. Though perhaps two dozen elite men will toe tonight’s line, here is a run-through of that list’s most probable top ten finishers and, essentially, a cheat sheet with which you can follow along from your side of the world.
Catalonian Kilian Jornet is a European mountain and ultramarathon racing phenom. He’s a two-time UTMB champion and he won the 2011 Western States 100 in California. Since the Western States 100 in June, he’s been racing and (mostly) winning shorter distance mountain races in Europe. Each year, Jornet puts in hundreds of training miles on and around Mont Blanc, too, so he has intimate course knowledge. He is, for certain, the man to beat in this race.
Geoff Roes splits his time between Colorado and Alaska and he’s the US’s best 100 mile runner right now. After winning a remarkable seven 100-mile races, he dropped from the 2011 Western States 100 after having a bad day. Roes said last week that, “I gave my body the active rest it needed this summer, and now I’m back to feeling like myself again.” Look for him to run steady and near the front of the pack and to challenge for the win.
Miguel Heras, of Spain, may be best known in the US for his win at the 2010 The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in California, but he’s well known in Europe and a definite podium contender at tonight’s race. He recently won the 2010 The North Face TransGranCanaria on the Canary Islands, the 2011 Zugspitz Ultratrail in Germany, and the 2011 Andorra Ultra Trail in Catalonia.
Jez Bragg of the United Kingdom (UK) is the UTMB defending champion. Bragg has a strong ultramarathon resume that includes fourth place in 2011 and third place in 2009 at the Western States 100 as well as a spring win at the 2011 Fellsman in the UK. This summer, he’s between jobs and essentially living the life of a professional runner, spending much of it training in the Alps. Bragg is a quiet, strong racer who told us after his fourth place finish at the Western States 100 in June that, “I didn’t have any more gears to go with the leaders at the end of the race.” If he’s found them this summer like he did to win the 2010 UTMB, watch for him to grab a podium spot.
For the past few years, Mike Wolfe has been silently carving a spot for himself among the ultrarunning elite. That is until he flew onto the radar with second place finishes at the 2010 UTMB and 2011 Western States 100. Most notable was that his second place at the Western States 100 was just four minutes behind Kilian Jornet. Wolfe says he’s in great form after a summer of recovery from the Western States 100 and a big block of training that included lots of vertical.
One of France’s endurance studs is Sebastien Chaigneau. Loved by most folks for his charisma, he’s got the legs to go with it. He was second at the 2009 UTMB and, earlier this year, he won The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy and was third at The North Face TransGranCanaria.
You may not have heard of Spain’s Zigor Iturrieta, but he should be on your UTMB radar. He hit the European ultrarunning scene hard in 2010 with a third place finish at UTMB. Earlier this year, he won The North Face TransGranCanaria. At a press conference this week, Iturrieta spoke through a translator and said that he is fitter than ever for this edition of UTMB.
A slough of other men deserve a spot on this list for the hard work they will do in tonight’s race. Keep your eyes peeled for American Scott Jurek (a seven-time Western States 100 champion and American 24-hour record holder), Hal Koerner (of Oregon, a two-time Western States 100 champion), Tsuyoshi Kuburaki (of Japan, fifth in 2011 and second in 2009 at the Western States 100, Nick Clark (a British national living in Colorado, third place at both the 2011 Western States 100 and Hardrock 100 in Colorado), and Dakota Jones (from Colorado, second place at the 2011 Hardrock 100).
A few men on the registrant list will not race today, including Canada’s Gary Robbins (injury), Colorado’s Anton Krupicka (injury), and Utah’s Karl Meltzer (injury).