Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc UTMB® 2016 Preview

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I won’t be at UTMB this year, Trofeo Kima is happening the same weekend in Italy and I wouldn’t miss this high octane extreme event for anything, especially when it only happens every other 2 years.

But UTMB has a stellar line up this year. It’s going to be a cracking race.

Just in case you didn’t know, UTMB is a 170km circular journey that starts and finishes in Chamonix passing through France, Italy and Switzerland with 10,000+ meters of vertical gain on non-technical trails. In 2014 Francois D’Haene of France set the men’s course record 20:11:44 and the female course record is held by Rory Bosio (USA) who ran 22:37:26 in 2013. Rory in the process ranked in the top-10 overall that year!

Recently, UTMB has hit the headlines after a top 10 finisher in the 2015 race, Gonzalo Calisto, was tested and found positive for EPO. This came to light in June when the IAAF added Calisto’s suspension to its website. However, UTMB were not notified of this positive test? In recent weeks and months, many investigations have been made and you can read them all on this website HERE. Ultimately, this positive test has raised alarm bells and certain aspects of the testing and notification procedure need to change. I hope UTMB will have testing once again this year and they provide data and information to the media.

Racing for the main starts on Friday August 26th at 1800hrs local time and it looks like a great weekend of weather is in store for spectators, it may be a little hot for the runners. Please also remember that many other events happen in and around the UTMB, the PTL, TDS and CCC.

MEN

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Luis Alberto Hernando is in a good place! He is a new Dad, has raced less and when he has raced he has been in top form. A repeat win at Transvulcania and dominant performance at the Skyrunning World Championships for a gold medal and world title and suddenly you begin to see everything clicking into place. Luis dropped from the 2014 UTMB and then came back, one year later to place 2nd. Luis does always race from the front and hard, he tempered this in 2015 but it still may well be his achilles heel in 2016? I hope not, Luis would be a popular champion!

David Laney third at UTMB and 8th at Western States in 2015 are two very significant performances and bode well for a great 2016 UTMB. What doesn’t bode well is the most recent 20+ hour finish at Western States. It leaves a huge question mark on David’s current physical and mental ability to take on the big dance in Chamonix.

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Andy Symonds for me is the dark horse. It’s his first 100 miler and that is a huge disadvantage. But Andy knows how to race, prepares meticulously and I know he’s fired up for this race. In the past he has often played 2nd fiddle at the big races but a podium at Transgrancanaria, a victory at Lavaredo and 2nd (silver) behind Luis at the Skyrunning World Championships tells me that the time is right for the Brit who lives in France. Listen to the podcast here.

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Zach Miller is relatively easy to write about… we will see one of two performances: 1. An all guns blazing early race that potentially will open up a gap that he extends and holds on to take the biggest victory of his life! 2. As 1 but a major blow up that sees him lose the lead and drop substantial places or a resulting DNF. Think Max King at Leadville.

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Didrik Hermansen is a potential revelation in Chamonix and I do believe that he can win. I said that at Western States after I saw his run and victory at Transgrancanaria. He didn’t disappoint in the USA and he placed 2nd at WSER. UTMB is a different playground but this guy can run and hike – he is going to need all those skills in France, Italy and Switzerland. Listen to the podcast here.

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Jason Schlarb was fourth at UTMB in 2014, won Run Rabbit Run, completed Marathon des Sables. skied the Hardrock 100 course, won the Hardrock 100 with Kilian Jornet and here he is, in Chamonix, looking to do an epic double – you know what, I think he can do it! I’m not sure that he will have those extra percentages for victory, Hardrock may well have but pay to that. But I do see a potential top 5 and even the podium if the stars align. Listen to the podcast with him here.

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Gediminas Grinius 5th at UTMB in 2014 and what followed was quite a rise in the sport of ultra-running. Gediminas has an interesting back story of post-traumatic stress and it is running that helped. When you have been to hell, pain in an ultra is nothing. It’s worth remembering that this guy can dig deep. A win at Transgrancanaria, a win at UTMF and a string of top 2nd places certainly elevate GG for a top UTMB place. Listen to the podcast here.

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Tofol Castanyer won CCC and was 2nd at UTMB in 2014. He has a string of top performances and results but his recent form seems a question mark. On paper, he’s a podium contender but I said that last year and he didn’t finish. We will have to see?

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Ryan Sandes had a tough 2015 and has patiently come back in 2016 with a 3rd place in Tararwera and 4th place in Australia at the Ultra Trail. Ryan never likes to race a great deal preferring to train and prepare meticulously for key events. He has done that in the past, Western States for example only to not race at the 11th hour due to injury or illness. Apart from FKT records, Ryan’s career highlights are his win at Transgrancanaria and top results at UTMF and WSER. Ryan has been in Chamonix for some time training and I hope he will arrive at the line fresh. He has all the potential to shake up the podium. Listen to the podcast here.

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Fabien Antolinus is an under the radar runner who is known in France and not many other places. A top consistent performer at Templiers and the Ice Trail Tarentaise, Fabien backed this up last year with a 6th place finish at UTMB behind a doping Gonzalo Calisto, so, he finished 5th really. I see a potential repeat performance.

Miguel Heras TNFUTMB 2013 ©iancorless.com

Miguel Heras TNFUTMB 2013 ©iancorless.com

Miguel Heras could win, could finish in the top 10, may not start and if he does start, may not finish. Yes, Miguel is a class act when the stars align but neither he or us can predict when this will happen. A highlight for sure was his UTMB 2nd behind Xavier Thevenard in 2013.

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Javier Dominguez just had a great run at the Skyrunning World Championships with 3rd place behind Luis Alberto and Andy Symonds. He also placed 3rd at Lavaredo. Although he will be in the mix he is potentially a top 5-10 finisher.

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Julien Chorier has the long game, strength and persistence for a top UTMB performance. I’ve seen him time and time again grind out great results. His victory at Ronda dels Cims a few years back is still one of the most dominant performances of running I have seen. Julien has backed that up at Western States, Hardrock, Diagonale des Fous, UTMF and of course UTMB. His best UTMB was 3rd in 2008 and in 2013 he finished 6th.

Paul Giblin for me is a dark horse. Last year he missed UTMB and compensated with focusing on Western States in 2016, he placed 5th. That’s one of the UK’s best performances at the race. He’s a runner and the 10,000m of vertical may go against his natural abilities but don’t rule him out! Listen to the podcast here.

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You have to draw a line somewhere but we also need to consider, Diego Pazoz who has illuminated several races in 2016, most notably victory at the Eiger Ultra Trail and Mont-Blanc 80km.

He could be a huge surprise as could Stephan Hugenschmidt from Germany who has had many notable results.

Zdenek Kris finished 9th at Ultra Perineu in 2015 and recently placed 5th at the Skyrunning World Championships.

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Two Frenchmen, Arnaud Lejeune who was 2nd at UTMF in 2015 and Thomas Lorblanchet who has wins at Leadville and 4th at Western States will also mix things up.

Ryan Smith, Pau Bartolo, Jez Bragg, Aurelian Collet, Ludovic Pommeret, Armand Teixeira, Jordi Bes and Bertrand Collomb-Patton all have top 10 and certainly top 20 potential.

Needless to say there is a whole stack of other male talent that have experienced UTMB before somewhere in and around the top 50. Any of these runners who could make a breakthrough performance and venture into the high ranking top 20’s or even top 10. It’s what makes the race so interesting.

LADIES

Rory Bosio TNFUTMB ©iancorless.com

Rory Bosio TNFUTMB ©iancorless.com

Rory Bosio holds the course record at UTMB – nuff said! Any lady that finishes in the top-10 overall rocks. But where has Rory been since her repeat victory in 2014? Well, believe it or not, she was filming a reality TV show… really, Rory is an actress! In 2015 she won the Atacama Extreme but other than that she has been relatively low key when racing. UTMB performances are backed up by 2nd, 4th and 5th at Western States so Rory needs no other boosting. I do wonder though if she is in the ‘A’ game frame of mind of 2013 and 2014? We will find out…

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Caroline Chaverot for me is the lady that will win UTMB 2016. Caroline is a machine who smiles from beginning to end and her performances over the last 18-24 months have blown me away. She does race a great deal and I think that went against her at UTMB in 2015 when she DNF’d. This year though I have noticed a difference… she obliterated the Transgrancanaria course, she obliterated the MUT in Madeira and she became Skyrunning World Champion at the Buff Epic Trail – 2016 is Caroline’s UTMB year!

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Nuria Picas has twice finished 2nd and I would normally talk Nuria up as the winner. Last year she dropped early and since has had very mixed performances. I do believe she has the UTWT curse of running and winning too many races in a short period of time which has left her drained. I have seen this in 2016 at Transgrancanaria and most recently at the Buff Epic Trail. Of course, Nuria may well have been savvy and kept her powder dry for Chamonix – I hope so! *August 24th, Nuria will unfortunately not run the 2016 edition due to an injury.

Magdalena Boulet will be there or thereabouts but for me, this course will not allow enough running which is Magda’s strength. No doubt she will be in the mix, her 2nd at CCC proved that but 170k and 10,000m is a big difference to CCC or Western States. Listen to the podcast here.

Uxue Fraille will be out of the mix early on and keep going and produce a solid finish. Uxue’s success is all about pacing and finishing. She lets the other ladies race and fade and then she sweeps them up in the final 1/3rd. Last year she placed 2nd at UTMB and she won UTMF.

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Jasmin Paris is one lady who may well win UTMB one day. I’d love to say that 2016 will be the year but I don’t think it will happen. Jasmin runs a great deal and therefore rarely ‘peaks’ for any one race. This is sometimes a good thing but also a bad thing. Although Jasmin can run long, this will be her first big 100+ miler and the Chamonix experience may well overwhelm her. This year she blitzed the Bob Graham Round FKT to a new level and a week after getting married took bronze medal at the Skyrunning World Championships and then won Tromso SkyRace. Personally, I feel Jasmin’s forte and skill set will be best suited to the Skyrunner courses where her fell and mountain running background really shines. She will do well at UTMB but this year will be a learning curve. Don’t get me wrong though, top 5 and certainly top 3 is possible. Listen to the podcast here.

Andrea Huser like Jasmin is a non-stop racer and for me always lacks that extra 5-10% when required due to a constant element of fatigue. Her string of top 2nd and 3rd places for me confirm this. In this 2016 field, Andrea can better her 2014 7th and potentially will make the top 5 and may even challenge the podium but I don’t see a victory.

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Fernanda Maciel is a another runner who mixes many sports, races regularly and is always in and around the action. Like Andrea Huser, I see her in the mix but not taking the top slot. If we look at recent results, the consistency is there – 4th at UTMB in 2010, 3rd at MDS, 3rd at Lavaredo 2016 and a string of other podium places at UTWT races. * Fernanda will not run 23rd August. News from her doctors: “They said I was in an advanced stage of injuries to my kidneys caused by my last 2 long races due to dehydration I suffered during the races. Now my blood tests from last friday done here in Chamonix seem normal but not 100% recovered, and of course I am thinking of the UTMB on friday… I’m really sad because they only told me it today!”

Emilie Lecomte has the long game, strength and tenacity for a 170km race but she lacks the speed of many of the other ladies. A top 10 is an almost guaranteed and as other ladies fade, we can expect Emilie to move up.

Francesca Canepa and Emilie Lecomte in many ways are similar runners and Francesca has a strong history with UTMB and Tor des Geants. On her day, she can be up there and in the mix. Recently her form has been questionable.

Amy Sproston has won Hurt 100 and placed 2nd at Western States. For me, Amy is a runner but then again, Hurt has some gnarly terrain on those 20-mile loops, so, is this the year that Amy puts UTMB demons to rest? Her history is not good with the race – three starts and only one finish when she placed 8th.

Aliza Lapierre is potentially the USA’s top contender behind Rory Bosio. Her list of results in all varieties of races bodes well for a solid UTMB. But at really specific races, Transgrancanaria for example the mountainous terrain has caused her to struggle a little. Aliza like to run and although UTMB has plenty of that, it also has plenty of hands-on-knee action.

Larisa Dannis likes a running race and like many of the American ladies the increased vertical causes an issue. On paper though, she has the racing pedigree for a top performance. you don’t get 2nd at Western States by accident.

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Ester Alves is a good friend and races too much (sorry Ester). One day, Ester will pick a race and prepare meticulously for it and then excel. I saw this earlier this year when she won and dominated The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. I think what worked there was it was the first race of the season and she could therefore be specific over the winter. What has followed is a string of races in many varied locations with a list of good results but no stand out results! Ester placed 8th at the 2014 UTMB so the potential is there!

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Gemma Arenas I know well in the Skyrunning circles but this will be her first 100 and it’s a tough one with strong competition. It will be a learning curve.

Like in the men’s race, curve balls will swing in and we can expect to see these ladies’ mixing it up, Silke KoesterNicky Spinks, Sally McRae, Sarah Willis, Sophie Grant, Frederica Boifava, Joelle Vaught, Alissa St. Laurent and Manu Vilaseca amongst others.

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3 thoughts on “Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc UTMB® 2016 Preview

  1. Ian,

    Thanks for a great race preview, as always!! This will be a deep race and as usual, the podiums contenders are many and difficult to pick..just a small note, Ryan Sandes got 4th not 3rd at the Ultra Trail Australia this year, a great result regardless…heres to hoping that he has a great race at UTMB, I would really like to see him get a good result there.

  2. Pingback: UTMB 2016 - Live Updates From Chamonix

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