UTMB elite preview

Beth Pascall and Tom Owens are among Britain's top hopes at the world's No.1 trail running festival

UTMB credit: Franck Oddoux

by Trail Running |

The eagerly awaited UTMB festival has returned after last year’s pandemic-enforced hiatus and, as usual, has attracted some of the world’s top trail runners.

With headquarters in Chamonix, France, the events also cross Italy and Switzerland, offering stunning Alpine views to those brave enough to take part in one of the gruelling events.

The UTMB, the flagship event of the week, covering 170km and with 10,000m of ascent, will begin on Friday evening, with the leaders coming in on Saturday afternoon and evening.

When it comes to the top women, Beth Pascall may have her best chance yet of being the first British winner since Lizzy Hawker in 2012. The Derbyshire runner has placed fourth and fifth in this race previously but, with a first place this summer in the Western States in the No.2 time in history, she will start with more confidence than in the past. The junior doctor has clearly benefitted from taking a work sabbatical this year.

American Courtney Dauwalter is a strong contender to defend her title successfully, while Italy’s Francesca Canepa, who won in 2018, will be trying again.

Netherlands’ Ragna Debats, who won the CCC race two years ago, is moving up in distance this time, having finished at Western States this year. France’s Audrey Tanguy, the winner of the TDS event here in 2018 and 2019, is another making her switch to the more prestigious race.

Britain’s Jo Meek lines up having finished second in the CCC race and 19th in the UTMB previously. Others to watch out for include Americans Katie Schide and Hillary Allen and Spain’s Maite Maiora.

The men’s line-up has two three-time winners and another who is easily capable of gaining his first.

François D’Haene, who triumphed in 2012, 2014 and 2017, is back at the event for the first time in four years. He is a particular threat at this sort of distance on the trails.

Fellow Frenchman Xavier Thevenard, who won in 2013, 2015 and 2018, was beaten only by winner Pau Capell when this race was last held.

The ultra-talented American Jim Walmsley has unfinished business here after a fifth place in 2017 and a DNF the year afterwards. Having won his third straight Western States 100 title this summer, he is clearly on form.

There are no certainties over more than 20 hours of running in which plenty can go wrong, so American Tim Tollefson is one who could challenge. Despite dropping out of his two most recent attempts at the UTMB, he has two third places to his name.

Brits who will be seeking top-10 finishes include Tom Owens, Damian Hall and Harry Jones. Owens. Hall’s best race to date was in the 2018 edition when he finished fifth. Having missed the event in 2019 and concentrated more recently on setting FKTs, he is back in racing mode. Owens was fourth in 2019 when he secured the best position by a British male in this event in several years. The fast-rising Jones improved to 15th in 2019.

Others in the hunt will be Russia’s Dmitry Mityaev, Spain’s Pablo Villa and China’s Qi Min. Spain’s Pau Capell will not be defending his title as he is out with injury.

Other races

Of the other three main races, the OCC features an interesting selection of British runners.

Britain’s world trails champion Jon Albon is joined by compatriot Robbie Simpson, who was second this year to Kilian Jornet in the Sierre-Zinal mountain race, and another GB international Seb Batchelor. Skyrunning specialists Oriol Cardona Coll of Spain and Ruy Ueda of Japan, along with Switzerland’s Pascal Egli and Stephen Wenk and American Hayden Hawks will also be ones to watch.

The women’s field has France’s current world trail champion Blandine L’Hirondel, China’s 2018 CCC champion Miao Yao and Skyrunner World Series champion Sheila Aviles.

New Zealand’s Ruth Croft, twice winner of the OCC race and third in the Western States this year, should be favourite for the women’s CCC race. Also in the line-up are Spain’s Eli Gordon and Azara Garcia and Britain’s Meryl Cooper. The men’s side is led by USA’s Dylan Bowman and Jared Hazen, Norway’s Stian Angermund and China’s You Peiquan.

The women’s TDS event includes Russian Ekaterina Mityaeva, American Rory Bosio and Britain’s Sophie Grant. Meanwhile, near the front should be USA’s Tyler Green, second in this year’s Western States and Spain’s former Trail World Championships silver medallist Cristofer Clemente.

Timetable

Tuesday 2pm - TDS - 145km (9100m+)

Thursday 7.15am - OCC - 55km (3500m+)

Friday 8am BST - CCC - 100km (6100m+)

Friday 4pm BST - UTMB - 170km (10,000m+)

Pic credit: Frank Oddoux

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