2012 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Men’s Preview

The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-BlancThis year’s The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is completely up for grabs. Defending champion Kilian Jornet (Salomon/Spain), who has dominated the last three full runnings of the TNF UTMB, will be in Chamonix on Friday evening, but he will not be running the event. However, numerous past champions will be running the race as well many runners from last year’s Top 10. Let’s start with the past champs and move on from there.

[Note: We’ve also previewed the women’s UTMB field.]

Returning UTMB Champs

Jez Bragg 2010 UTMB

Jez Bragg

In 2010, Jez Bragg (The North Face/UK) won the shorter, restart version of UTMB after foul weather canceled the full version mid-race (post-race video interview). He returned last year, but was unable to defend his title. Once again, he’s back with plenty of experience on the course… and probably extra motivation after a disappointing run at the Western States 100 in June. The ageless Italian Marco Olmo (Italy), who won UTMB in 2006 and 2007, is entered in this year’s race. While unlikely to run at the front of the pack at this point in his 60s, but he will continue to inspire. And if a part champion will amuse the local crowds, it will be Vincente Delebarre (Quechua/France). This local won the second edition in 2004 and his charm has been winning over folks ever since.

The race’s first champion and fan favorite, Dawa Sherpa (Quechua/Nepal) is running the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS) this year.

Last Year’s UTMB Top 10

Out of last year’s men’s Top 10, the only two runners not returning are Jornet and eighth place finisher Antoine Guillon (La Fuma/France).

  • 2nd – Iker Karrera (Salomon/Spain) – On the basis of his second place finish last year, Karrera must be the favorite for this year’s UTMB in Jornet’s absence. Karrera is again in good form this year with a 5th place at TransVuclania in May and a recent victory at the TNF Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
  • Sebastien Chaigneau TNF UTMB 2011

    Sebastien Chaigneau

    3rd – Sebastien Chaigneau (The North Face/France) – Seb Chaigneau is both a fixture of and force to be reckoned with at UTMB. At UTMB, he finished second to Jornet in 2009 and third behind Jornet and Karrera last year after running with the Salomon duo until the final miles. In April, Chaigneau won the TransGranCanaria while he was runner up to Karrera at Lavaredo last month.

  • 4th – Nemeth Csaba (Arc’teryx/Hnugary)- This Hungarian runner has at least five Top 10 UTMB finishes – 2nd (’06), 4th (’11), 5th (’04), 7th (’09), 8th (’08), so he likely has more experience up at the front of UTMB than anyone else. He has raced much this year, with mixed results, he was 40th at TransVulcania in May, but 3rd at Lavaredo last month.
  • 5th – Carlos Sa (Portugal) – We know nothing of Portuguese runner Sa’s running since his 5th place finish last year. Can an iRunFar reader in the know fill us in on what Carlos has been up to?
  • 6th – Patrick Bohard (Asics/France) – This year, Patrick has finished 2nd at the Trail des Piquers 70k and Le Quechua Tour des Fiz.
  • 7th – Tsuyoshi Kaburaki (The North Face/Japan) – Japanese runner Tsuyoshi Kaburaki is always a threat to  make the podium when he starts a race, no matter how deep the field. Kaburaki has four UTMB finishes – 3rd (’09), 4th (’08), 7th (’11), and 12th (’07). In July, he won the Ontake 100 mile in 14:44.
  • 9th – François Faivre (La Fuma/France) – Frenchman Faivre has 3rd at La Transju’Trail 70k and 2nd at the Ultra Tour  du Beaufortain this year.
  • 10th – Kenichi Yamamoto (Haglofs/Japan) – In the past three years, Yamamoto has finished 8th (’09), 12th (’10), and 10th (’11) at UTMB. This May, he took 3rd at the inaugural Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji.

The North Americans

Admittedly, the North American men’s contingent doesn’t have the star power that it’s had in recent years and even the registered field has been trimmed by injury and life events. To be more specific, many time USATF champ Mike Wardian (The North Face/USA) is beset with a stress fracture, Adam Campbell (Arc’teryx-Salomon/Canada) couldn’t log the proper training while fighting a leg injury after his second place finish at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, Grand Slam of Ultrarunning record holder Neal Gorman (Salomon/USA) is staying home to await the birth of his first child, and Dave Mackey (Hoka One One/USA) has switched down to the CCC race as his schooling has prevented him from adequately training for the longer event.

Mike Foote - 2012 TNF EC 50

Mike Foote

Mike Foote (The North Face/USA) of Montana surprised everyone but himself when he was the top American at last year’s UTMB with his 11th place finish in 24:25. This year be on the lookout for him to surprise again as he’s quite capable of a top 5 finish. In early June, he tuned up with a win and course record at Wyoming’s Bighorn 100 mile. Here’s our pre-UTMB interview with Mike Foote.

Luke Nelson (Patagonia-UltrAspire/USA) was long known as a trail running speedster. Then, this past winter he became the American Ski Mountaineering national champion. While not known as a 100-mile specialist, he’s finished three 100 milers including a 19:52 for second place at last year’s Wasatch 100 mile. He was only the 6th person to break 20 hours in the race’s 31 editions. Here’s our pre-UTMB interview with Luke Nelson.

Canadian Gary Robbins (Montrail/Canada) has won the now defunct Stormy 100 mile and the arduous HURT 100 mile; However, his best 100 mile performance might be his 6th place finish in 17:06 at the 2011 Western States 100. Since then Robbins has dealt with repeatedly broken foot bones. He has logged a few tune up races this spring and summer. Here’s our pre-UTMB interview with Gary Robbins.

Topher Gaylord (Montrail-Mountain Hardwear CEO/USA) has started eight of the nine UTMBs, with a second place finish in the inaugural edition. After dropping from the race last year, he’ll be shooting to make it back to Chamonix under his own power.

Additional Contenders

While past champions and recent top 10 finishes are a good spots to look for future champions at any race. However, there are five exceptional athletes outside that category at this year’s UTMB each of whom could win. We address them in alphabetical order.

  • Jonas Buud (Sweden) – Buud is the Swedish 100k national record holder (6:28:57), which he set in finishing second at this year’s IAU 100k World Championships (post-race video interview). He’s twice won the IAU 100k World Championship (’10, ’11) and had won the Swiss Alpine Marathon countless times. He also holds the 100 mile world record on trails, 12:32, which he set in 2010.
  • Julien Chorier 2011 Hardrock 100

    Julien Chorier

    Julien Chorier (Salomon/France) – The methodical French runner showed his stuff in winning the 2011 Hardrock 100 (post-race video interview). Since then Chorier has won Le Diagonale des Fous, the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, and the Zugspitz Ultratrail. In 2010, Chorier took fourth after holding a late lead in the shortened TNF UTMB. He wins nearly every 100-miler he starts. Here’s our pre-UTMB interview with Julien Chorier.

  • François d’Haene (Salomon/France) – D’Haene has many top finishes around the world. Of particular note are his 4th place finish among the stellar field at this year’s Transvulcania and his 4th at Le Grand Course des Templiers in 2010.
  • Zigor Iturrieta (The North Face/Spain) – Iturrieta has been at the front of many top races during the past two years. To start that stretch, he finished 3rd at the shortened UTMB in 2o10. Since then, he’s notably won the TransGranCanaria last year as well as picking up a 2nd (’11) and 4th (’12) at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
  • Miguel Heras (Salomon/Spain) – Although he’s had a limited racing schedule of late due to an injured knee that forced him from the lead pack late in last year’s UTMB, Miguel Heras wins nearly ever ultramarathon he runs. In the rare instance he doesn’t win, look for him to take second. Here are some of Heras’ victories from the past two years: 201o TNF EC 50 (post-race video interview), 2011 Transvulcania, 2011 Zugspitz Ultratrail, 2011 Andorra Ultra Trail, 2011 Cavalls del Vent, 2012 TNF 10ok – Tawain.

The Rest of the Field

And for the sake of having time to interview some of the top runners before the race, here’s another set of speedsters to keep your eyes out for:

  • Michel Cercueil (France) – 15th at 2011 UTMB.
  • Matthias Dippacher (Salomon/Germany) – 12th at 2011 UTMB.
  • Mick Donges (Salomon/Australia) – 1st at Tarawera 100k.
  • Emmanual Gault (Asics/France) – 1st at 2011 CCC.
  • Nicolas Mermoud UTMB 2010

    Nicolas Mermoud

    Stu Gibson (Australia) – 1st at 2010 TNF 100k – Australia.

  • Andrew James (UK) – 1st 2011 Highland Fling 53 mile.
  • Nikos Kalofyris (Salomon/Greece) – 3rd at 2011 CCC.
  • Aitor Leal (Spain) – 3rd at 2011 Cavalls de Vent 84k.
  • Nico Mermoud (Hoka One One/France) – 3rd at 2007 UTMB.
  • Nikos Sideridis (Greece) – 1st at 2010 Rodopi Ultra Trail 162k.
  • Armando Teixeira (Salomon/Portugal) – 2nd at 2012 TransGranCanaria.
  • Yun Yanqiao (The North Face/China) – 2nd at 2009 TNF 100k – Beijing.
  • Minehiro Yokoyama (The North Face/Japan) – 6th at 2009 UTMB.

Call for Comments

  • Who do you think will win the men’s race at this year’s UTMB?
  • Who will be following close behind the winner?
  • Any contenders that we’ve left off the list?

There are 47 comments

  1. David T

    Got to pick Julien Chorier. He seems to win every 100 he enters, including what many feel was the most challenging running of the Hardrock 100 (2011).

  2. Ultra168

    No Stu Gibson from Australia this year – he is working on a base in the Antarctic unfortunately – but Jim Villiers is worth watching. Previous seed and Top 12 placing

  3. Elsa Dias

    Hi there! Just to fill you in on what Carlos Sá has been up to since his 5th place finish last year: besides participating in several nacional (Portuguese) events, he finished 4th in this year's edition of Marathon des Sables (he had finished 8th in 2011). He's been training hard for this year's UTMB. Since I'm here, allow me to suggest that you also take a close look at another Portuguese runner in this year's UTMB: Armando Teixeira (who finished 2nd in TransGranCanaria this year, behind Sebastien Chaigneau). Thank you, iRunFar, for you good work

  4. Dan Afshar

    With Kilian not running, a lot of the guys mentioned above will start too hard to try and win from the front, and consequently blow up. Expect a lot of casualties.

    Patience will be key, and the winner might not emerge until late in the race. Just like Jez Bragg's win in 2010 coming from behind. Hope he can repeat.

    NB, Emmanuel Gault won the Trail Verbier St Bernard 110km trail race (held on similar terrain on a course that overlaps UTMB) in July by almost an hour. He and Jonas Buud will be close to the action.

  5. Jeremy

    "Admittedly, the North American men’s contingent doesn’t have the star power that it’s had in recent years"…

    Star power? How many Geoff Roes and Mike Wolfe 100 mile course records must one smoke to become a star?

    Mike Foote will win. Chorier #2. Iker #3.

  6. Pete

    Seems to be a pretty deep field. Should see a tight pack for a while. Hoping Foote crushes it. Certainly seems to me that Cholier is the guy to beat though.

  7. LantauBaseCamp

    According to the french magazine "Endurance Mag" facebook page, Vincent Delebarre finished 2nd last weekend at the GRP, so I don't think he will be racing the UTMB this weekend!

  8. manu

    Kenichi Yamamoto just won the Grand Raid Des Pyrenees last Week-End, a race regarded as as tough as the UTMB, if not harder, so I doubt he will compete in this year's UTMB… If he does, what a challenge !

  9. Luis Leite

    Heras is coming from injury recovery, so he may be in the lead but probably not for the whole race…

    For podium I put my money on (no particular order):

    Iker Karrera

    Carlos Sa

    Sebastien Chaigneau

    Nemeth Csaba

    The dark horses (can do top 10):

    Aitor Leal

    Armando Teixeira

    Jonas Buud

    Julien Chorier

    François D’Haëne

            1. Luis Leite

              Correct, he won hardrock last year, my mistake…

              UTMB 2010 was… a different race from the usual… the favorite top guys were somewhere else…

              I would like Chorier to make the podium, he is a hell of an athlete (well so are the others), but I don't feel he has shown (yet) is game against a strong deep field as this UTMB. Will it be this weekend?

        1. David T

          For me it was not so much who he beat at Hardrock (although he beat some very fine athletes) it was they way he won the race and the conditions under which he did it. Snow, freezing rain, lightning, cold, high water, mud, an extended race (additional miles), etc. And he still posted one of the fastest times ever! Likewise, Hardrock and UTMB are both true mountain/alpine ultras so there is at least some comprarabilty. Likewise, the conditions under which UTMB will be run seem to be close to those that existed when he won Hardrock.

    1. manu

      Seb Chaigneau also suffered a bad knee injury a few weeks ago. 24 stitches as a result, and some weeks without training. He just decided he will be able to compete a few days ago, but he probably won't be in his best shape.

      1. Luis Leite

        With that info (thanks Manu) then Chaigneau joins Heras: favorite competitors but recovering, it's a complete surprise how they'll perform.

        It's a prediction for a 100mile mountain race, everything can happen!

        Acording to the weather news, it's gonna be bad baby! The kind of bad weather that suits well Iker Karrera and Carlos Sá (hardcore mountain guys).

        1. emmanuel

          My bet is on Chorier… I've just read an interview of him, he seems to have trained very well, on the trail of the UTMB, in Corsica, with a vertical kilometer race, … Moreover he's a strong man and I think he can face the bad weather quite well.

  10. Bryon Powell

    James, it's likely that you did see Dakota in Chamonix, but he is not running any of the TNF UTMB family of races this year. He's running the Cavalls del Vent in Spain at the end of September, but has come to Europe early. He's hanging out in Cham at the moment and will be crewing Mike Foote this weekend.

  11. Eric Ahern

    I did a UTMB training camp with Vincent Delebarre in July. He was asked to commentate at one of the aid stations, and accepted it as an honor, causing him to choose to sit out this year and do the GRP instead. As noted, a charming guy, and a formidable runner. I'd recommend the camp to anyone interested in getting to know the UTMB course in a less ultra fashion (over four days).

  12. John

    Being from Montana my vote has got to go to Mike Foote. I was at BigHorn in June and he looked smokin fast. His 3rd at the Bridger Ridge wasn't to shabby either, especially considering that he ran about 20 extra miles BEFORE the race for some extra training.

  13. Rahul

    Oy! serious mad style….I woudln’t even know where to begin with my French chalet…will you PLEASE come over so we can “nut it out” together? Thanks. ;) xoMelis

Post Your Thoughts