The Grand Raid Reunion (Diagonale des Fous) is another historic race on the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) calendar taking place on October 19 on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. There are several distances in the event however for this preview and given the depth of the field, the focus will be on the main 100 mile event.
The route is a point to point course across the island that includes over 9,500m of elevation gain, not to mention the incredibly technical nature of the course that includes many stairs and runners can also experience a variety of weather conditions.
Aside from the race conditions the race is also known for its crazy party atmosphere and the incredible community spirit that rallies around the event every year. Like many other UTWT events this year the Diagonale des Fous field is very deep with a huge global contingent of racers descending upon the island, however given it is the end of the year it will be interesting to see how the race unfolds and who handles the late season fatigue the best. The race has been dominated by the French over the years and this looks likely to continue again this year, however the strong international field will hopefully create a few surprises.
The women’s Diagonale des Fous field is led by defending champion Andrea Huser, Juliette Blanchet, Fernanda Maciel and Melanie Rousset with many other female contenders capable scoring podium positions. Andrea is someone who races a lot but at the same time is very strong and always seems to finish on the podium. She won this race last year and has had a great last 12 months including 2nd place at UTMB both this year and last year. I would normally say that perhaps she is too tired coming into the race but for Andrea this looks pretty much like every other year of racing and barring a major catastrophe it is highly likely she will take out the win again.
Juliette was 2nd here last year and I am sure she would love to go one better this year, and her results suggest that she is ready to give Andrea a serious fight. She was 4th at UTMB in 2016 and she was 7th at Transgrancanaria 125k earlier in the year.
Fernanda is generally very consistent and seems to do well on mountainous courses, she was 3rd at UTMF in 2015, 3rd at Lavaredo 2016 and 3rd at Marathon des Sables 2017. If she is fit and healthy I can certainly see her gunning for a podium spot, however her last few months has left a few question marks. While she seems to have recovered well from the DNF at UTMB this year with the fastest known time for a female up and down Mount Kilimanjaro, I wonder if she has recovered sufficiently from this effort. The final female arguably in the strongest position to achieve a podium position is Melanie Rousset who has had a great last 12 months including 4th at the race last year, plus 3rd Transgrancanaria 125k and 6th at TDS so far this year. There will no doubt be surprises on the day and there is certainly no shortage of other female contenders looking to pick up the carnage.
Other female Diagonale des Fous contenders:
- Kaori Niwa – 8th UTMB 2016, 4th UTMB 2017
- Emilie Lecomte – 2nd Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2015, 3rd Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115k 2016, 4th Marathon des Sables 2017
- Alexandra Clain – 7th Transgrancanaria 125k 2016, 6th Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2016
- Marcelle Puy – 1st Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2010, 1st Ultra Trail Chaouen 2017
- Maud Gobert – 2nd High Trail Vanoise 2016, 4th Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2017, 2nd TDS 2017
- Audrey Bassac – 2nd Grand Raid Reunion 111k 2016, 13th CCC 2017
- Irina Malejonock – 2nd Andorra Ultra Trail 170k 2015, 3rd Grand Raid Reunion 111k 2016
- Jocelyne Pauly – 1st Andorra Ultra Trail 112k 2016, 5th Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2016, 1st Grand Raid Des Pyrenees 183k 2017
- Pauline Carre – 5th Transgrancanaria 82k 2017, 1st Interlac Trail 77k 2017
- Elizabeth Howard – 1st Leadville 100 Mile 2015, 11th Lake Sonoma 50 Mile 2017
- Beth Pascall – 1st Lakeland 100 Mile 2016, 2nd Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115k 2017
The men’s Diagonale des Fous field is just as deep and led by Antoine Guillon, Ludovic Pommeret, Sébastien Camus, Sylvain Camus and Freddy Thevenin. The champion from last year Francois D’haene is not returning this year, however it is still highly likely that another Frenchman will win the race again this year. In case you did not notice all the above mentioned men are French and most of them have featured on the podium of this race multiple times over the last couple years. This wealth of course knowledge and experience, combined with their other consistent results over the last 12 months means that it is highly likely that they will dominate the podium yet again.
Antoine is very consistent and meticulous in his approach to racing and has been achieving top results in mountainous ultras for the better part of the last 15 years. He has shown himself to be a great pacer who runs his own race that has often resulted in many strong finishes as others have faded, especially with the regard to this race. He was 2nd here last year and he won the race in 2015, and he has had a strong last 12 months that includes 1st at Andorra Ultra Trail 170k and 2nd at TDS this year. I certainly think that Antoine is the man to beat, however he may have to work that bit harder for it this year given the field’s depth.
Ludovic Pommeret has had an equally incredible last 12 months that includes a win at UTMB in 2016 and 3rd at CCC this year, he was also 2nd at this race in 2014. Ludovic has not raced as much as some of the others in the field this year and that is due to his focus on this race, given his preparations I think he will definitely contend for the win if not at least podium.
The next three runners all have experience with the course and have had varying amounts of success here over the last few years. Sebastian was 2nd here in 2015 and last year also scored a 7th place at UTMB, Sylvain was 8th here in 2016 and was 3rd at TDS this year, and Freddy was 3rd here in 2015 and has also been 8th at Transgrancanaria 125k in 2015.
These guys have not only experienced success with the race, but they have also raced less than many of the other contenders this year so should be much fresher. They also bring with them a wealth of course knowledge, Freddy actually lives and trains on Reunion Island. The above mentioned males will arguably be competing for the final podium positions, however they will certainly have their work cut out for them. The below list highlights just how deep the field is and there is a serious chance that one or several of these runners could shake up the podium, I guess we’ll just have to see who has dealt with the late season fatigue the best.
Other male Diagonale des Fous contenders:
- Jordi Gamito Baus – 5th TDS 2016, 4th Transgrancanaria 125k 2017, 3rd Eiger Ultra Trail 101k 2017
- Seth Swanson – 4th UTMB 2015, 2nd Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2017
- Jim Walmsley – 19th Western States Endurance Run 2016, 5th UTMB 2017
- Anthony Gay – 9th Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2016, 6th Transgrancanaria 125k 2017
- Tsuyoshi Kaburaki – 7th UTMB 2011, 6th Hardrock 100 Mile 2014, 2nd Ultra Fiord Patagonia 100 Mile 2016
- Shunsuke Okonomiya – 6th Eiger Ultra Trail 101k 2014, 6th Eiger Ultra Trail 101k 2015
- Diego Pazos – 4th Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2015, 8th Transgrancanaria 125k 2017
- Sange Sherpa – 15th Eiger Ultra Trail 101k 2016, 16th Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2016
- Miguel Heras – 2nd UTMB 2013, 1st Ultra Pirineu Trail 110k 2016
- Jason Schlarb – 10th Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2014, 1st Hardrock 100 Mile 2016
- Julien Chorier – 1st Grand Raid Reunion 167k 2011, 8th UTMB 2016, 10th Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2017
- Xavier Thevenard – 1st UTMB 2015, 3rd Hardrock 100 Mile 2016, 4th UTMB 2017
David’s picks for the Diagonale des Fous podium:
Female – 1st Andre Huser, 2nd Melanie Rousset, 3rd Juliette Blanchet
Male – 1st Antoine Guillon, 2nd Ludovic Pommeret, 3rd Sébastien Camus