In just under a week, the UTA bus will have firmly arrived in town with a whole host of runners present and set on the start line to experience the joy that I get to experience most weeks on some of the most awesome trails around.
Some will have more fluro than a Berlin rave, while others will approach this more from the perspective of an understated tramp, an Osprey backpack and some Kendal mint cake at hand for when they get a little peckish.
UTA has over the years managed to bag some pretty sweet talent from across the seas, but on initial glance of the hit list of ‘lead’ (I hate the word ‘elite’) runners headed over, my very first thought was, ‘I think we can have a local Aussie winner this year.’
Of course, I’m biased as an Australian-based website, but if I don’t pump up our local runners, who will?
That’s not to say the international field is weak, more of a complement to some of our local Aussie and Kiwi guys and girls, a few of whom I know are very primed for this race. As usual, I’ve put the feelers out among my network of contacts, fishing for information and clues as to how the lead guys and girls are travelling.
Today we’re going to kick off with the men’s 100, and I’m hugely excited as pie for our local Aussie and Kiwi runners. Tuesday, we’ll have the ladies 100 and then finally the 50km preview.
One call I’m going to make is that this is going to be very tight. I think around 9:15 will win it, due to the course reverting back to its original intention after the slight bitumen detour last year, which made things a little quicker than usual.
I think there’s going to be a lead group of around 6-8 runners and most of them will be in earshot of each other as they run into the Aquatic Centre, namely Jono O’Loughlin, Ryan Sandes, Scotty Hawker, Timo Tollefson, Mario Mendoza, Pau Capell and Yun Yan-Qiao.
The section from the aquatic centre through to Wenty Falls will then test the flatlanders from the quadzillas. This is a very deceptive little section of the course. It looks simple on paper, but it can get gnarly and then there are the infamous stairs of UTA too. This is where guys like Jono O’Loughlin and Scotty Hawker will start eating things up for breakfast.
But, like I said, it will be massively tight up front, all the way to Jamieson Creek and then the final 11-12kms slog out of the valley.
He who “redlines” it here the most shall taketh the prize.
I’m going to start a guy who for years I’ve known has had bags of talent, but just lacked the guidance on how to channel that talent properly. This year he’s bagged himself a coach in the form of Andy DuBois, and having had first-hand experience of being coached by Andy, I know he’s gonna knock a sizeable chunk from his time from previous years.
He popped round my house on Saturday and we had a good chat. I’ve always given it to Jono O’Loughlin pretty straight, “Nah mate, you’ll do well for top five” or, “Nah, top ten at best this year mate.” And each year I know it annoys him and he tries to prove me wrong, but the idiot writing this always seem to call it 🙂
He had an awful Six Foot track by his own standards, carrying a few too many kegs and going out too hard, thinking he was in better ‘nick’ than he actually was. He then turned that around with a cracking performance at the Mount Solitary Ultra a few weeks back, beating last year’s second UTA/TNF place guy, Scotty Hawker. Jono reeled Scotty in on the climb up Kedumba and this is where Jono has more balls than any other guy in this race. When it comes to that final climb out of Jamieson Creek, there’s no-one in this field who’s going to redline themselves more.
I’m giving him a big pump up here, but it’s time for Jono to take his chance and this year is his best shot. It will be massively tight and there are some quality runners in the field out to spoil that party, but I genuinely think he’s a big chance this year. I think I know what time he’s going to run, but that would spoil it all really, wouldn’t it 🙂
Ryan Sandes looks to be hitting his stride now after taking some time out in 2015. Ryan has been here a few times before, knows the course and knows when to push the gas on hard. He had a cracking run at Tarawera earlier in the year to grab third, just behind our own David Byrne. Ryan will be on song, expect him to be running in the 9:15-ish bracket.
Conversely, 2015 was the year that Scotty Hawker really stepped up a gear, finishing second here at UTA in that controversial finish with Dylan Bowman. He also notched up a win at the Ultra Easy and finished fourth at Laveredo. After some time off following that placing in Italy, Scotty is getting back to his near-best and he too will run well here, likely to be in contention to the very end. After last year, Scotty wants this race big time and a win at the weekend will be no less than he deserves. He too will be knocking 9:15-9:20.
Yun Yan-Qiao was the guy Scotty finished ahead of last year to finish second. Expect him to be wiser after gaining some good course knowledge last year. If he’s in the led group at QVH, watch this guy fly off the handle down Kedumba. He’s slight of build and the downhills are where he shows his skills. If he’s in that lead group, expect him to be in the lead come the bottom of Kedumba, that’s how and where Yun can win this race. He then has to hope that he’s got enough of a lead to hold off the quadzillas up the mountain to race finish. Personally, I think he needs 3-4 minutes at the bottom of Kedumba to stand a chance of holding off the likes of Scotty and Jono.
Spanish runner, Pau Capell looks to be a serious threat for this one and someone I can see winning overall. He has really solid form and looks to have a great combination of being quick over the flats, but similarly enjoy the gnarly stuff too. He’s already podiumed this year at Transgrancanaria and grabbed fourth at the tough Hong Kong 100kms too in January. I fancy this guy’s chances for a darkhorse win.
Also in the mix will be Aussie Ben Duffus. He’s had a rather mixed couple of races of late on the comeback trail from injury, but on his day is one of our best mountain runners between the 50-100km distance. He had a cracking result at the Hounslow Classic Ultra towards the backend of last year, but then DNF’ed (I believe) the Ultra Easy and Buffalo. I’m not quite sure if Ben will be in tip top shape for this, but he’s got a heart of steel and will give this one a good bash. I’m thinking 9:20-9:30ish.
Finally, we have the American duo of Mario Mendoza
and Tim Tollefson. Both have had solid podium results, with Tim’s form perhaps a little easier to read, given he’s racing in Europe. Mario who has predominantly raced in the US, grabbed a second at the Ultra Race of (American) Champions this year, while also grabbing a third place at Lake Sonoma 50 miler just a couple of weeks back, beating the winner of this race last year, Dylan Bowman by a minute. That kind of form suggests he too will be racing with the lead pack. But given the lack of competition outside the US, it’s hard to contrast and compare. His results suggest he’ll be racing with the lead group.
Tim is now scratch for UTA.
has a slightly better benchmark to compare, having finished second at the Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC) last year, but then had an awful Transgrancanaria back in March finished outside the top 100. It appears with Tim, it could go either way – he could be awesome, or he might not feature at all.
So who’s going to win? Honestly, it’s going to be very very close. I think we could see the top five finish within five minutes of each other if they race sensibly and within their means i.e. someone doesn’t go off crazy quick. Jono and Scotty have learned a lot in this race, they will work well together, but I do think it will come down to who wants this the most as they climb out of the Jamieson Valley. It’s at that stage the physical takes a back seat to the mental and it’s about desire and want to win.
All I can say is, go Scotty and Jono.