Well UTMB crept upon me like the stinking smell of a pair of trainers in the far corner of the boot of my car. If Western States is the ‘track meet’, then UTMB is ‘le test des chèvres de montagne’ – something to do with mountain goats.
Excuse the intermittent French. It is UTMB after all and someone has to inject a vague sense of culture as we countdown to what is one of the biggest races of the year. Each year we ponder if a US man might take the line honours, or if the French reenact the traditions of their rugby team. That is only one thing matters to them. In the case of their rugby team, they exist only to beat England. For the French ultra runners, it’s all about UTMB and putting on a show.
But the men can wait ‘attendre leur tour’ so to speak until tomorrow. Today we’re all about les femmes and I’ve picked out five ladies that I think will be battling it out for the podium this weekend.
Rory should be the lady to beat, but since her two wins here in 2013 and 2014 she’s been quiet on the world’s global trails. She’s run 22 hours and a bit of change on this course, and that year, finished inside the top 10 too so her credibility on the UTMB course is not in doubt, it all depends on what condition she turns up in. She didn’t run last year and has not raced much at all this year either, bar a trot out at Lavaredo where she finished 14th woman. Who knows where she’s at. She could be just about peaking, or it could be a case of coming along for the ride. My guess is that she’s going to be in good shape, these athletes don’t start a race if they’re not prepared for it, so expect Rory to feature.
Nuria is the golden girl of Spanish running and she’s due a win at this event, and this year might just be the time that she does it. She’s finished second twice here, both of which were behind Rory, so it could be a case of a changing of the guard up front. Nuria has a bumper 2015, sitting on the podium of six races and winning four, Grand Raid Réunion – La Diagonale des Fous, Epic Run Aigüestortes, Els Bastions 50 kms Marathon and Transgrancanaria 125 km. She’s warmed up for this one with a win also at Trail Menorca Costa Sud (TMCS). I think this could be Nuria’s year if she holds it all together.
If anyone’s going to challenge Nuria, it’s going to be Caroline, who’s already had a massive year in 2016 already. She’s won the Trail du Ventoux, the Mont Blanc 80k, Transgrancanaria 125kms, Buff Epic Trail and the Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115 km. She’s quite literally storming it right now and the only question mark will be whether or not she’s done too much already. A lot of that depends on the individual, how their body adapts and what it can take, so it’s a bit of a judgement call, but I think Caroline will certainly be battling it out for top spot this weekend.
Emilie is maybe not a name you’ve come across before, but in her home country of France, she’s known as a hardcore racer among some of the toughest runs out there. She’s a two-time winner at Diagonale des Fous and finished second last year, just behind Nuria She’s also finished Ronda del Cims twice (2013 and 2014) and in 2014 won les Tor des Géants. She’s only taken to the UTMB stage once and that was during the shortened course year of 2012. She may not be on many people’s radars but this girl likes it tough and long, and the longer the race goes on, the more she’ll feature and be a sneaky bet for a podium finish.
Fernanda is well-known to Aussie crowds having raced down under at UTA in 2014 where she finished third. Always there or thereabouts, Fernanda has had her usual stable of solid results this year including podiums at Lavaredo and the marathon des sables. She’s also had three UTMB finishes, but is yet to score a podium here. Could this be the year that she finally does it?
There’s no significant Aussie lady interest this year i.e. potential for top ten placings I feel, but do watch out for New Zealand based UK runner, Becky Nixon. She’s as strong as an Ox and has done well at Northburn the last few years. A top ten placing might be a little out of her reach, but who knows, on a day when maybe a few too many slip-up, anything can happen. As long as she runs a solid consistent race, which I know she’s highly capable of, she could sneak inside.
Tomorrow… les hommes!