UTMB is upon us and the hype just keeps on building and building. The 2018 edition looks set to be another great race and the year when the chances of an American at the top of the podium, have probably never been higher!
The 170km loop that starts in France, passes through Italy, then Switzerland and once again returns to France with 10,000m of vert is considered the pinnacle of 100-mile mountain running.
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It is easy to look at UTMB and the presence of Kilian Jornet on the start line and say, ‘we know who has won!’ To be honest, I think Kilian is the odds-on favourite to win the 2018 edition, particularly with Francoise D’Haene missing the race. What Kilian has achieved in 2018 after a very serious injury has been quite remarkable. What is most impressive is the range of his skill, he can break an almost unbreakable FKT in the UK (Bob Graham Round), win a super-fast and competitive Sierre-Zinal and then win and set a course record at the most technical and pinnacle skyrunning event there is, Trofeo Kima, just 5-days before toeing the line at UTMB. Without doubt, Kilian is the one to beat, however, the one thing he has against him is the lack of specific 100-mile training. For anyone else, that would be a huge problem, for Kilian, no!
Many will say that Jim Walmsley is the prime contender to beat KJ but let’s give a nod and respect to Tim Tollefson who has placed 3rd twice and now knows the race like the back of his hand. He prepares specifically and respects the race and the distance. His form seems a little off based on results in 2018, but, I am sure Tim has only ever had his eye on one prize.
Luis Alberto Hernando is for me one of the greatest and most underrated mountain runners in the world. He is pure class. He is a multiple world champ, has placed 2nd at UTMB before and missed the race in 2017 because he knew he didn’t have the necessary form to win. He has been quiet this year which can only mean very specific training. He hasn’t run many 100’s and this has been his downfall in the past, he always races hard and from the front which can mean he blows up. This may be Luis’s year for the win, but everything will need to go right, and Kilian will need to be a little off. A Luis victory would be extremely popular!
Jim Walmsley finally fulfilled his dreams and ability with nailing Western States earlier this year and obliterating the course record. He has earned his 100-mile apprenticeship. Last year at UTMB it was all going well, and Jim was running a smarter race, it went wrong but he rallied and then finished in the top-10 closing hard. He has a tough decision to make at this year’s race, does he go on gut feeling and run at ‘his’ pace early on and hope he can take it to the line (think Zach Miller) or does he hand with Kilian, mark him, stay with him and then make a move late in the race where he then maybe can use his natural run speed to win? It’s important to note, that running and winning UTMB will be at least 20% more time on his feet than the WSER victory. I think Jim will make the podium this year and yes, he could be at the top of it, quite easily!
Xavier Thevenard has done it all at UTMB winning all the main distances over the past 4-years. He will no doubt be reeling from his DQ at Hardrock and that could work either way at UTMB. It may motivate a superb performance or put questions in his mind. Podium potential for sure but not a winner this year.
Alex Nichols is for me the greatest US potential for a win in years. However, it may take this year for him to fully understand the race before he can come back and win next year or the year after. I said many times in the last 18-months that Alex has the greatest potential and he proved it recently with his Nolans 14 FKT. He is one to watch and a dark horse.
The above are my prime podium contenders but as always, it’s a stacked field with the following toeing the line:
- Gediminas Grinius
- Ryan Sandes
- Mark Hammond
- Michel Lanne
- Stephan Hugenschmidt
- Jordi Gamito
- Sondre Amdahl
- Benoit Cori
- Scott Hawker
- Timothy Olson
- Damian Hall
- Sylvain Court
- Javi Dominguez
That is an A-list of contenders with Gediminas Grinius and Javi Dominguez as stand outs. It is UTMB, so anything can happen on the big loop. One person to watch is the UK’s Damian Hall. Over the past 3-years he has moved closer and closer to the top-10 and last year placed 11th. He is super motivated this year and although I don’t think he will make the top-5, the chances are high for him to fulfil his top-10 dream.
Mimmi Kotka for me is the 2018 UTMB champion. She has won CCC, TDS and has crushed mountain races such as Madeira Island Ultra Trail, Mont-Blanc 90km and the Maxi-Race in Annecy. She eats mountains and although this is her first 100, something just tells me she is ready for the big loop.
Caroline Chaverot of course should be the odds-on favourite but boy-oh-boy as she had a tough time of things after winning ‘everything’ and I mean ‘everything’ a year or so ago. Her form is a real question mark and she has openly discussed on social media that she has been very unwell. Caroline in form is of course podium potential, anything less and she would be disappointed.
Uxue Fraile has a 5th, 3rd and 2nd at UTMB and that alone sets her up as a prime podium contender. She always runs a savvy race, has loads of experience and for me, she may well match her 2015 2nd place.
Kaori Niwa has been 4th at UTMB and recently took 4th at Hardrock 100, so, we know she has endurance. That is super important here at UTMB and although victory is unlikely with Mimmi and Caroline in the race, the 3rd slot on the podium is possible.
Sephanie Violett was 15th last-year which seems a below par performance based on her experience and skill. But UTMB is not the US and Magdalena Boulet and Kaci Lickteig also placed out of the top-10. I have a feeling that these three women will change things around this year and impact on the top-10 with Stephanie my tip as the one who does the best of the trio.
Beth Pascall and Jo Meek are two Brits who I believe this year will turn heads. Beth gets the nod over Jo as she has much experience at the long game with success at races such as Lakeland 100, Dragons Back and the Spine. She dropped at UTMB last year after getting cold, this year I am putting my neck on the line and saying top-5! Jo has trained specifically and knows the UTMB mountains after placing 2nd at CCC. This is her first foray to 100-miles and this length of time on her feet. She has all the ability to do well, so, fingers crossed she makes the top-10.
Fernanda Maciel has buckets of experience at the long game, has excelled at UTMB time and time again and I have no reason not to think she will do the same again this year. A prime top-10 contender and for sure, 4th/ 5th is a distinct possibility; she has placed 4th twice before.
Juliette Blanchet was 4th last-year and has buckets of experience and results at long and tough races… She was 2nd at Raid de la Reunion after UTMB in 2017. She will be fighting for the podium and amongst the 2018 women’s field, she has a great chance.
Cat Bradley has won Western States but, in all honesty, I have no idea how she will fare on this monster 170km loop. You don’t win Western by accident which is why she gets a nod here, but let’s look at Kaci and Magdalena last-year, they were both outside the top-10.
Mariya Nikolova is not a name that many will have heard but she has been in the top-10 at UTMB previously and she has won in Turkey at Cappadocia. Her recent form is a little unknown but an improvement from 9th is to be expected.
Emilie Lecomte has been there and done it in long distances races but seems to be lacking the speed of her prime. Amy Sproston has been 8th before, she will be in the top-10 game but not a podium contender. The UK’s Sophie Grant is another real contender with Beth and Jo, she was 15th last-year. Teresa Nimes was just outside the top-10 placing 11th in 2017. Aliza Lapierre dnf’d last year but has loads of experience as does Ildiko Wermescher who has been 6th and 7th at UTMB previously… In all honesty, Ildiko should be in the list above. Francesca Canepa is a long-distance specialist. Katia Fori also one to watch after 5th at MIUT.
It is all to fight for. The big loop with all that distance, vertical gain and descending, variable weather and just the many, many hours on foot means nothing is guaranteed. So, expect some surprises!
Action stars Friday 31st August.
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