Hawker, Moehl, Africa expected to contend for the win.
Written by: Meghan M. Hicks
The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) will begin at 11:30pm Central European Time* tonight. One of the world’s most popular ultramarathons, it draws 2,300 runners from around the world, this year including perhaps ten elite female ultrarunners. These ladies, as well as all of the runners, will travel roughly 100** miles around the perimeter of famed Mont Blanc and through France, Italy, and Switzerland.
* 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.
Last year, the race was canceled after the start, then restarted the following day with a shorter distance due to the same kind of foul weather that’ll pound the region tonight. With inclement-weather plans in place by the race organization, it looks like these women will be battling some fierce weather.
Though all these women have long race resumes, it’s most realistic to divide them into two categories: those in contention for the win and those who will race to the podium. Expect Lizzy Hawker, Krissy Moehl, and Darcy Africa to each run for the win.
Hawker, who hails from the United Kingdom, is UTMB’s defending champion. She’s won UTMB a total of three times, and she placed second in 2009. She is a mountain woman through and through who seems to excel more with every added foot of climbing and descending. This year, she’s won The North Face TransGranCanaria in the Canary Islands and the Swissalpine Davos in Switzerland. She’s been training in the Alps this summer, too, including a two-day run of the UTMB course. Expect her to go out hard and stay at the front throughout the race.
Washington’s Krissy Moehl is another woman to beat. She’s a two-time winner of UTMB, a previous winner of the Hardrock 100 in Colorado, and was second place at the 2009 Western States 100 in California. She’s won dozens of ultramarathons in the United States and abroad. Moehl periodizes her training and racing, and brings it all to her ‘A’ races. This year’s UTMB is her top race for the year, and she’s in fine form. She arrived to the Alps a couple weeks in advance to get in a four-day training stint on the UTMB course.
Darcy Africa, of Colorado, is fresh off second place at the 2011 Hardrock 100 and in the hunt for a win at UTMB. Since then, she’s taken time to “rest, recover, and go on some fun weekend runs” in the mountains surrounding her home. This week, she said that she feels completely recovered from the Hardrock 100 in July. This may be Africa’s first visit to UTMB, but she arrived early enough to spend time on the course and she’s strong in the mountains, having also placed second at the Hardrock 100 in 2010. Africa and Moehl are good friends, so watch for these two to push each other to strong races.
Nerea Martinez, of Spain, is tough as nails. Americans may know her from her drop at the 2011 Hardrock 100, where she got lost on the course for hours. Europe knows Martinez well, however, as she comes to ultramarathoning from a decade-long career in adventure racing. She was second this year at The North Face 100 in Australia and The North Face TransGranCanaria. Alhough mountains are her specialty, her leg speed is usually a gear lower than that of Hawker, Moehl, and Africa.
Colorado’s Helen Cospolich is one of the US’s sweetheart ultrarunners. She placed seventh at last year’s UTMB, her international racing debut. She’s run strong so far in 2011 and she said at a press conference yesterday, “The worse the weather gets, the stronger I run.” Watch for a possible breakout performance from Cospolich in the expected inclement weather.
Karine Herry hails from France and was the 2006 UTMB champion. She placed third at both the 2005 and 2007 Western States 100. Not much is known about her current racing results except that the 2011 UTMB is her goal race.
Fernanda Maciel is a Brazilian citizen living in Spain. One of The North Face’s sponsored athletes, her resume most recently includes a win at Italy’s The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail in 2011.
Germany’s Julia Bottger won the 2011 Zugspitz Ultratrail in her home country, and she sports a four-year resume of success in ultramarathons. One of her hobbies is long-distance hiking, so she possesses some serious trail toughness.
A notable no-show from the registrant list is Diana Finkel from the United States.