The over 100 miles around the Mt. Blanc massif that is the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc has yet to have an American male standing on the top podium. For American women, three have captured the title five times. This year’s deeply-talented American field, however, has perhaps the best chance ever to place both a male and a female finisher in the top spot.
Taking place on August 31, the event will feature many returning champions and past challengers. Weather, preparation and well-rested legs will all add to the variables—and as in past years—anything can happen as the runners traverse the mountain through France, Italy and Switzerland.
This year’s lineup of American males features deep talent. Favorites include Jim Walmsley, Tim Tollefson, Zach Miller and wild card Alex Nichols. Running coach and writer of The Morning Shakeout podcast, Mario Fraioli, is betting on Tollefson, who finished third in 2016 and 2017. “As his coach, I’m admittedly biased, but he’s coming into the race prepared and often flies under the radar,” he says. “It’s an exciting field and equally as strong as last year’s.”
Walmsley, who placed fifth last year, is coming off a record-setting victory at Western States, which proves both an asset and a liability for the daring, run-from-the-front athlete. “Everything from last year’s preparations, race and experience make me more prepared and relaxed this year,” he says. “I had to take a gamble and get my training going quickly after Western States, but now I have had more time to taper going into race day.”
Unquestionably, American Magda Lewy Boulet is gunning for a win in her third attempt at the race, and Fraioli sees her as the favorite. She finished fifth in her 2016 debut and ran to a tough 18th-place tie last year. With a focus on the top, Boulet passed up running Western States in June. “My training has been very different this year in order to dedicate an uninterrupted block to UTMB,” she says. “I have confidence coming off last year’s challenging experience.”
Other American women to watch include Clare Gallagher, who won last year’s shorter CCC in Chamonix; Kaci Lickteig, who finished alongside Boulet at last year’s UTMB; and Amy Sproston, who placed eighth at UTMB in 2012 and 2017.
Standing between the Americans and a win is a formidable cast of runners from around the world. On the men’s side, Kilian Jornet of Spain, Xavier Thévenard of France, and Spain’s Luis Alberto Hernando promise to be tough competition. For the women, 2017 champion Nuria Picas of Spain is returning, Sweden’s Mimmi Kotka promises to challenge, and Spain’s Uxue Fraile brings a strong past history to the line.
No matter how you slice it, UTMB is always exciting to watch and this year promises to live up to the hype.