After our preview of some of the top five ladies you might expect to see on the podium at UTMB this coming weekend, this time it’s the turn of the men where the line-up is just as tasty as a croissant with Nutella in the cafe’s lining the streets of Chamonix. As with the ladies, we’ll single out five or six of the leading men, with a few more honourable mentions and given the line-up, I think we’re going to see a fast year. Not record-breaking, but certainly fast.
As always, there are a couple of gun-runners headed over from the US. One of them with some previous form here, one of them tackling his first 100 miler. But the guy I’m going to start with is Jason Scharlb. How in the hell this guy has his body in tact again after finishing equal first with Kilian at Hardrock recently is anyone’s guess, but he’ll be starting his second ‘tough’ mountain miler again this weekend. This kind of thing can go one of two ways and much of it will depend on the last six months or so worth of training.
If he’s been hammering it like a gun, I worry about the body’s ability to take another tough mountain miler on in such a short space of time. If the training has been sensible and not pushed to the limit, then Jason can and should feature strongly here. Maybe not enough for the win, but with a sensible strategy in place, a top five finish is certainly within the realm of possibility.
Moving across to the Euro side of things and the man to beat is Luis Alberto Hernando. He’s had two attempts at this race with one second place and one drop. But he’s had a fine year to date, winning Transvulcania and the recent Skyrunning World Champs at the Buff Epic Trail. While not as massive as Hardrock, the Buff Epic was quite literally an epic race of technical running and vertical. Luis is a guy that pushes things to the wire in a bid to win. It’s all or nothing for this guy and given the fairly flat 30kms or so at the start of UTMB, he doesn’t need to get caught up racing people up front in a sprint to the montanes.
Two guys likely to push Luis in that first 30kms or so will the US runners, Zach Miller and David Laney. This is Zack’s first 100 miler, but it’s not his first time in the foothills of Chamonix having won the CCC here last year. That’s going to hold him in very good stead for what’s to come in this race. But you know what they say, sometimes 100kms in a 100 miler race can only be the halfway point, so there’s a lot of big unknowns for Zack. But the man has good form leading into this race having already won Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115 km back in April. He’s under-raced this year which is code for ‘fresh as a daisy’. I think Zach will podium this weekend.
Challenging Zach is David Laney, US Ultrarunner of the Year. He podiumed here last year for third place in what was a very tight race overall. Like Zach, David has not raced much at all and that was for a 20:06 finish at Western States, which by his standards was a blow-out. David raced a lot in both 2014 and 2015 and mentally, I’m sure he’s learned a great deal from WSER100 so will perhaps bide his time a little more? Or has all of the racing from the last few years decided to play a bit of catch-up on the body? Of course, all I hope is that we see him perform back to his best here and what we know he’s capable of and go a few steps better than his result last year. He has all the right tools to do the job.
Next up is Gediminas Grinius, a man of steel who enjoys the track meets at WSER100 as much as he does the mountain goat races of UTMB. He has form across both styles of discipline, where he secured a fourth place at WSER100 back in 2015 along with a win at the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji too. This year has seen him bag second place at both Lavaredo and Transgrancanaria. I’m not quite sure if he’s quite got the goods to take out the win, but you know for sure he’ll be running with Luis, Zach and David up front for a good proportion of the race. Definite podium material.
A compatriot of Luis’, Tòfol Castanyer is certainly worth a mention here too having grabbed second place at UTMB a few years ago. Back in April he finished second to Zach at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115 km, but like many others also suffered in the heat at WSER100 probably by pushing the pace a little too hard for a 17+hr finish. On his day, Tòfol can win this race I feel, there’s just a hell of a lot that has to go right for him to do it.
Other big names to look out for include a well-known one to Aussie shores and that’s Ryan Sandes. He’s had some solid results down this neck of the woods again this year and he’s a bit of a local favourite among us Aussies where he’s come back to race time and time again. With a few things going his way, I would see Ryan sneaking a top five finish.
Also keep an eye out for Miguel Heras, Andy Symonds another UK runner, Paul Giblin, who managed a sneaky fifth place at WESR100 this year. UTMB is a massive step up, all of these guys could challenge for places 5-10.
That rounds it up folks. For me, the scores on the doors suggest Luis Alberto Hernandez in the mens and for the ladies, I’m calling Caroline Chaverot for the win.