The trail and ultra world descends on Chamonix this August for what may well be, the ultimate edition of the race! We often hear the hyperbole, ‘the best field ever assembled’ but opinion is equal across the world that the 2017 edition of the race is the best – on paper!
The unpredictable nature of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc course and the physical highs and lows of running 100+ miles are difficult to predict though. We have seen it before, past editions of ‘stacked’ fields only to find that by Courmayer, many of the ‘hot-tips’ have been left either faltering on the trail or retired on feed station.
Yes, the UTMB 2017 circus is coming to town.
The men’s race is beyond comprehension with an elite list that extends beyond 100! The ladies race also has incredible depth but not to the extent of the male counterpart.
So, who’s gonna win?
My head is going on the block and yes, I am sticking my neck out with two predictions:
Kilian Jornet and Caroline Chaverot.
Yes, yes, I know, they are not adventurous off the wall unpredictable selections. I think it’s fair to say that fans and aficionados are reading this and nodding their heads finding it hard to disagree.
Kilian is on home ground, he knows these mountains and trails like the back of his hand and the dude is just a machine. He recently summited Everest twice in one week, won Hardrock 100 single-handedly (literally) and then by contrast went and won the short and super-fast Sierre-Zinal. No disrespect to the competition, but if Kilian doesn’t win it’s because he is injured or ill.
It’s also difficult to argue a case for Caroline Chaverot. She won UTMB in 2016 but only just… she often struggles with cramps in longer races and this may be her downfall this year? But her recent win at Hardrock 100 is a great indicator that her form is good and that she may well be on top of those pesky issues that could scupper her race. Like Kilian, she also has speed and loves to mix up long races with shorter ones. The only blip for Chaverot came at the beginning of this year when she withdrew from Transgrancanaria with health issues – she has that under control now.
So. Do I need to go on?
Well, yes, of course, I do! Nothing is guaranteed in a race that is this long and the depth of talent looking to take over should someone falter is beyond comprehension.
Francoise D’Haene is the most likely runner to topple Jornet, his results over 100-mile mountainous race is exemplary. His Salomon teammates Miguel Heras and Tofol Castanyer can also not be ruled out. But, 2017 may well be the breakthrough year for the USA. Of course, it is fair to say that Tim Tollefson, David Laney, and Jason Schlarb have already broken through but these three are back and on a hunch, I am saying that Schlarb may be the one who moves up a notch. Let’s not forget though that Jeff Browning is running, he is an incredible mountain 100-mile runner and we only need to look at Western States and Hardrock 100 for proof. Dylan Bowman is running too and then we have the new wave of track and field guys who are bringing full-on ballsy running to the front of the race – Jim Walmsley, Zach Miller, and Sage Canaday. Is it the year when one of these guys goes hard and holds on for one of the biggest wins in UTMB history?
In a field with so much depth, Xavier Thevenard as past two-time UTMB winner is the one who along with D’Haene is the most likely to make the podium. He is the only runner to have won OCC, CCC, TDS, and UTMB – a remarkable achievement.
Gediminas Grinius, Javi Dominguez and yes, Andrew Miller, remember him? He won Western States in 2016. Are all taking part, Grinius and Dominguez are tried, tested and proven on this course but Miller – are we in for a surprise?
Didrik Hermansen, Andy Symonds, Pau Capell, Julien Chorier, Vaidas Zlabys, Sebastien Camus and Giulio Ornati lead the 100+ plus charge of those who are going to be seeking glory on the streets of Chamonix.
Who are your picks?
In the Ladies race, the ever-present Andrea Huser (2nd in 2016) is the most likely contender to push Chaverot as she did last year. Huser races a great deal though and she will need to be 100% fresh if she wants to win in France.
Magdalena Boulet was 2nd at Western States and recently won Transrockies and providing the latter race hasn’t fatigued her, I think it may well be a podium year. Following on the US theme, Stephanie Violett (formerly Howe) was one of my favourites for Western States – that race didn’t go to plan but I have feeling UTMB will and I can see her placing 2nd or even winning if Chaverot falters. Kaci Lickteig would have been a contender but life pressures have taken a toll and Lickteig said some weeks ago that she would race, but not for the win – a smart move.
Juliette Blanchet was 4th at UTMB last-year and that took me off guard, it wasn’t expected! Following such a quality result with 2nd at Diagonale des Fous elevates Blanchet has hot for the 2017 race.
Nuria Picas gives me a dilemma. Any other year, I would say she is the hot favorite for victory, but this year I am not sure of her form or endurance for the big loop through Italy, Switzerland, and France – we shall see?
Leading the charge behind my hot contenders for the podium is Fernanda Maciel – she rocks the longer races and I see her being solid once again at UTMB. Emilie Lecomte is equally solid and she will be in the mix as will Kaori Niwa, Manu Vilaseca, Aliza Lapierre, Sophie Grant, and Amanda Basham.
For me though, the UK’s Beth Pascall is a dark horse that many of these ladies will not know. I see her watching Jasmine Paris’s 6th place last-year and don’t be surprised if we have a breakthrough performance that surprises everyone.
As with the men, there are many names not listed here that will threaten the front of the race and rest assured, if anyone above falters, they will be lining up to take over and achieve a coveted top-10 at UTMB.
Who are your picks?
Racing starts on Friday, September 1st at 1800 hours. It’s set to be an iconic edition of the race and with such a quality line-up we will no doubt see something special. I wonder, is a course record on the cards?