The Ultra-Trail World Tour merry-go-round kicks off this weekend – first stop – Hong Kong. The race lures runners into a little bit of a false sense of security, beginning somewhat benignly on road and flattish trails, before the stairs and climbing takes over in the second half of the race.
Go too hard too early on and pay one must for cookies out of the jar one has taken. OK, enough Stars Wars analogy. You want to know who’s running and who’s going to win yeah?
In the ladies, Dong Li is the big name featured and will be known to many of our Aussie readers having taken the win at UTA here in the Blue Mountains last year. She also claimed a podium at Transgrancanaria, but the back half of 2015 saw her fade away slightly, pulling out of UTMF. Despite that, it would be difficult not seeing her win this one with the caveat of her being fit and raring to go.
A dark horse challenger to Dong is Marie McNaughton, a Hong Kong-based Brit who’s steadily rising through the ranks in terms of performances on the island. She just missed out on the podium last year, but wasn’t far behind Italian, Lisa Borzani and since then, last year has won the 70km Lantau Trail Race and The North Face 100k in HK. A lady on the rise – watch this space. We think she’s due a podium here and if Dong isn’t up to full fitness, Marie could well take this one out.
The above named, Lisa Borzani is of course a name to keep an eye on. Like our own Brendan Davies, Lisa appears to be at most races on the international circuit and its a testament to her longeviety that she can keep churning out race after race. Mike Wardian, running in the men’s field is another example of this.
In the men’s, it looks like a three-horse race between some very well-known athletes on the international circuit. Gediminas Grinius from Lithuania had a cracking 2015 winning Transgrancanaria and UTMF, along with a highly credible fourth at Western States. This man has a proved appetite for both the ‘track’ ultras (read flattish trail ones), as well the big mountain stuff. He’s an all-round versatile kinda guy and I think this course is going to suit him very well, given its mixture of a flattish start and mountainous climbs towards the back-end. The question will be whether he can contain his excitement early on to bring it home at the end.
Up against him is last year’s winner from China, Yan Long-Fei. He obliterated this field last year with a new course record. He’s very quick on his feet being a very quick marathon runner (think two-teens), so expect him to go very hard again early on to build a lead on the rest. Aussie runners will recognise him as the guy that finished fourth at UTA last year too.
Last but by no means least is our favourite French winemaker, Francois d’Haene. Francois has a massive 2014, that wasn’t quite reflected in 2015. He made the trip over to Australia where he finished fifth at UTA, but you could see he was fatigued and the pace was hot. That again was reflected in his decision to not race for most of the rest of 2015 – he is a wise man, striking the balance between what he would like to do versus what he knows he needs to do.
I’m sure he’s now firing and ready to go again and we look forward to an awesome 2016 for the fabulous Frenchman and what he can do in the ‘montanes’.
Finally, keep an eye out for Hong-based Aussie, Vlad Ixel. He’s got plenty of speed to burn and had a great 2015. I’d say very much in line for a top five placing, maybe higher if he’s fit and raring to go.