Sierre-Zinal is also known as the “Course des cinq 4000” for the five classic 4,000m peaks, including the Matterhorn, which are above the route. The stunning scenery of Switzerland’s Valais Alps makes for beautiful surroundings and a very demanding course in a race that attracts a top-class international field.
The course is in two distinct sections. The first half, from Sierre to Chandolin, is a seemingly endless, steep climb through forest and alpine meadow, ascending 1500m in just over 10km. The gradient only shallows on the approach to Chandolin, and the next section is faster and much more runnable, over fire roads and along narrow tracks through rocky areas. Nava is the race high point at 2,425m and from then on for around the final 7km, the course is mostly downhill over rocky paths to finish with a steep descent into Zinal – a perfect last section for those who like descending.
Anna Pichrtova is the women’s course record holder and she says, ‘I love the path from Nava to the finish very much, fantastic views and quite fast running, because I love steep downhill, I really enjoy the last 3km on twisty wooded technical trails. The finish is exciting because so many people warmly welcome you as a hero.’
New Zealand and world champion Jonathan Wyatt is the course record holder, and the winner’s roll reads like a who’s-who of mountain running: Ricardo Mejía, Marco De Gasperi, Kílian Jornet, Billy Burns, Angéline Joly, Angela Mudge and Véronique Marot.
Local people support the race enthusiastically: spectators cheer runners on along the route and especially at the end where the entire village seems to turn out to welcome finishers. There is also a walkers’ class which starts in darkness at 5am, four hours before the main race.
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Photos (c) iancorless.com