2013 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) Men’s Preview
August 26, 2013 by Bryon Powell · 118 Comments
This year’s men’s race at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc promises to be as strong as ever. In addition to the always strong European contingent is the best assemblage of Americans yet to tackle this Alpine race. Whatever the course, there will be ten or more guys with a real shot to win this one. Let’s get into it shall we?!
[Editor's Note: We've also previewed the 2013 TNF UTMB's women's field.]
Last Year’s Top Ten
2nd – Jonas Buud (Sweden) – With last year’s champion, François D’haene, not racing UTMB this year, last year’s runner-up, Jonas Buud of Sweden is the top returning man. Buud is a two-time IAU 100k World Champion (2010 and 2011), has won at least seven-straight Swiss Alpine Marathons, and owns the fastest-ever trail 100 miler of 12:32 in 2010. This June he patiently and methodically moved his way up to a second-place finish at the Comrades Marathon. Buud has to be one of the favorites to win this year’s UTMB and with how consistently he runs, a near lock for a top-five finish. (Our pre-race interview with Jonas Buud.)
3rd – Mike Foote (The North Face/USA) – Hampered by injury, Mike Foote’s been quiet this year with only a second at the Zane Grey 50 Mile and fifth at the TNF Lavaredo Trail (after getting lost) on his resume this year. That said, he consistently crushes tough mountain races having taken second at the Hardrock 100 in 2010 followed by eleventh and third at UTMB the past two years. [Added 8/27: Lavaredo Ultra Trail result.] (Our pre-race interview with Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe.)
4th – Carlos Sa (Berg/Portugal) – Sa improved from fifth to fourth at the past two UTMBs. He’s also got diverse talent as he won the Badwater 135 this July (after taking seventh at the Marathon des Sables this spring). It will be interesting to see if one can have success running two such different races less than seven weeks apart. If he finds success, he’ll be able to lay claim to one of the best ultrarunning seasons anywhere this year.
6th – Jean-Yves Rey (Salomon/Switzerland) – This year Rey has won the 71k Trail du Gypaète. We’d love to know more about him and his running this year.
7th – François Faivre (La Fuma/France) – Faivre took seventh at UTMB last year after taking ninth the year before. He’s finished in the top ten in at least two shorter French ultras this year. He’s another runner we’d love to know more about.
8th – Arnaud Lejeune (Hoka One One/France) – After taking eighth at last year’s UTMB, Lejeune took third at the Diagonale des Fous. It looks like he’s run well in his tune-up races, although he finished fifth behind Jean-Yves Rey’s first at the Trail du Gypaète.
9th – Sébastien Buffard (Brooks/France) – In the year since cracking the top 10 at UTMB, Buffard has a pair of wins at the L’Ultra Lozère and the Andorra Ultra Trail – Ultra Mític 118k. French readers, fill us in on this runner.
10th – Tsuyoshi Kaburaki (The North Face/Japan) – Kaburaki-san has five UTMB finishes ranging from third to eleventh, including tenth last year. Earlier this year, he traveled to the US where he won the Bighorn 100 in 18:51, only 15 minutes off Mike Foote’s course record. Rumor is that Kaburaki isn’t sure if he’ll start this year’s UTMB. He’s headed to Chamonix and will decide once he’s there. [Update 8/26: Tsuyoshi Kaburaki has confirmed that he will not be racing UTMB this year.]
Last year’s fifth-place runner, Csaba Nemeth of Hungary, is not running the race this year.
We know of three past UTMB men’s champions entered in this year’s race. Vince Delebarre (’04), Marco Olmo (’06 and ’07), and Jez Bragg (’10). Of these, only Bragg is a likely contender in this year’s race.
Vince Delebarre (Quechua/France) is still a capable racer having taken eighth at this year’s Ice Trail Tarentaise, even if well behind winner Kilian Jornet. However, Delebarre is closely connected to the UTMB organization and last year took on a role with the race’s Web TV despite being entered in the race. We suspect the same thing may happen this year.
Marco Olmo (Italy) is known as being an ageless wonder, having last won UTMB at the age of 59. He also runs the Marathon des Sables nearly ever year. In his five MdS runnings between 2003 and 2007, he finished sixth, seventh, eighth, eleventh, and ninth. From 2008 through the present, he’s placed eleventh, twelfth, eleventh, fourteenth, and thirteenth. So, while he’s running incredibly for a 65 year old, his performances appear to be slowly slipping relative to the field.
Jez Bragg (The North Face/UK) is the most recent UTMB champion returning to the race. He’s been very light on the racing side this year, but he did have quite the run this winter when he covered the entirety of New Zealand’s 1,900-mile Te Araroa Trail. He recently detailed his build up to this year’s UTMB.
The North Americans
With past champions and the most recent UTMB success stories spelled out, it’s time to look back across the pond to the North Americans who’ll contend at this year’s UTMB. Including Mike Foote noted above, any of six North American men could stand on the podium on Sunday if all goes right. Here are the other five:
Dylan Bowman – (Pearl Izumi/USA) – With the international ultra community’s eyes focused on the likes of Krupicka and Olson in the American contingent, Dylan Bowman could be seen as a sleeper pick despite amazingly consistent high-level results the past few years. He’s got a pair of podium finishes at Leadville (3rd in 2010, 2nd in 2011), a seventh and fifth place at Western States (’12 and ’13, respectively), a second at last year’s Run Rabbit Run 100, and seventh at last December’s TNF EC 50 Mile.[Update 8/26: Dylan Bowman announced he won't be racing UTMB this year due to an ankle injury.]
- Anton Krupicka – (New Balance/USA) – Anton’s in great shape and ready to rip one. Heck, he already did in placing second to Sage Canaday at the Speedgoat 50k by just 90 seconds last month. He traveled over to the Alps three weeks before UTMB so that he could get some fun time in the mountains before actually tapering. If he manages to stick to that plan, watch out. (Our pre-race interview with Anton Krupicka.)
Timothy Olson – (The North Face/USA) – Yeah, he won Western States for the second straight year (interview, race report). He’s also taken second at the Tarawera 100k, fourth at the Transvulcania Ultramaraton (80k), and seventh at the Speedgoat 50k. You could say he’s in good form, but can he keep performing in so many big races? (Our pre-race interview with Timothy Olson.)
- Gary Robbins – (Salomon/Canada) – Robbins took a disappointing 53rd at last year’s UTMB, but opened this year with a course record at the HURT 100 Mile, besting his old course record (2010) by 37 minutes. He’s won a couple tune-up races in Canada while logging ridiculous training. (Our pre-race interview with Gary Robbins.)
Mike Wolfe – (The North Face/USA) – Like his fellow Montana Mike mentioned above, Mike Wolfe has seen success at UTMB, having taken second on a weather-shortened course in 2010. Wolfe’s 2012 was forgettable on the race front and he’s only toed the line for two races that we know of in 2013, a win at the Pocatello 50 Mile and a second (after getting lost) at the TNF Laverdo Ultra Trail. However, Wolfe’s got the requisite training miles in, having set the FKT on California’s 210-mile John Muir Trail (and 11-mile Mount Whitney Trail) alongside Hal Koerner earlier this month. It’s a tall task to bounce back from that kind of effort and race another 100-plus miles. [Added 8/27: Lavaredo Ultra Trail result.] (Our pre-race interview with Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote.)
Other North Americans who could place well are Eric Lee, Adam Lint, and Brendan Trimboli
, and Jason Loutitt. Canadian Loutitt has twice won the difficult HURT 100 in Hawaii, where he finished second to Gary Robbins this past January. He recently took second at the Arc’teryx Squamish 50 Mile on the heels of Adam Campbell. [Update 8/26: Canadian Jason Loutitt will not be running UTMB. Update 8/27: Added Brendan Trimboli.]
While entered, Dakota Jones, Adam Campbell, and Michael Wardian are not racing UTMB this year. Eight-time finisher Topher Gaylord will also miss this year’s race.
UTMB might have the most international elite field of any trail ultramarathon in the world this year. Despite all the world-class names listed above, we’ve got another five with pedigrees that should have them shooting for the podium this year.
Vajin Armstrong – (Macpac/New Zealand) – Despite having a great 2012 in which he took first or second at the Tarawera 100k, American River 50 Mile, TNF 100 – Australia, White River 50 Mile, and Kepler Challenge, Armstrong remained largely under the radar outside New Zealand and Australia. That’s changed this year as he’s again been on podiums regularly far and wide. So far in 2013, he was third at the Tarawera 100k, second at TNF 100 – Australia, second at the Zugspitz Ultratrail, and second to Jonas Buud at the Swiss Alpine Marathon. Okay, so the podium at UTMB would be a big leap for Vajin, but he keeps surprising us, so why not?
- Sebastien Chaigneau – (The North Face/France) – Seb is sneaky fast and always smiling. He’s run UTMB a few times and has placed second in 2009 and third in 2011, when he, Kilian Jornet, Iker Karrera, and Miguel Heras all ran together until the final miles of the race. In March, Seb won the TransGranCanaria for the second-straight year before taking third at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji in April. This July, he set the counter-clockwise course record at the Hardrock 100, a notoriously difficult race in Colorado. It will be a tall task for Seb to perform at a top level after running so well at Hardrock. (Our pre-race interview with Seb Chaigneau.)
Julien Chorier – (Salomon/France) – A methodical monster. Chorier picks a big race, trains like mad for it, and usually nails it. It could be said that no one has won a wider variety of major (approximately) 100 milers than Julien, as he’s won Diagonale des Fous (2009, 2011), the Hardrock 100 (2011), Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (2012), and Ronda del Cimes (2013). UTMB is the one title that’s been just out of Chorier’s reach. After winning the CCC (UTMB’s original sister race) in 2007, he took third at UTMB in 2008 and fourth in 2010 (pre-race interview), after fading from the lead late in the weather-shortened 89k version. Chorier arrived in Chamonix to take part in last year’s UTMB, but did not start after the race route and distance was altered. (Our pre-race interview with Julien Chorier.)
- Yoshikazu Hara – (Japan) – “Who?,” you ask. Yoshikazu Hara, this year’s Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji champ who beat, in order, Julien Chorier, Sebastien Chaigneau, Gary Robbins, and Brendan Davies, with more talent behind them. Hara-san has had much success at the 100k distance with a PR of 6:33:32. While road 100k success does not guarantee success at UTMB, Jonas Buud and his 6:28:57 100k PR showed that it doesn’t hurt at last year’s UTMB. (Yes, last year’s UTMB was short, but it certainly wasn’t a flat road 10ok.) Koichi Iwasa of DogsorCaravan points out that Hara is better prepared for UTMB than one might think, as he attended last year’s UTMB to learn about the event. (Our pre-race interview with Yoshikazu Hara.)
Miguel Heras – (Salomon/Spain) – Outside of Kilian, a healthy Heras may be the most unstoppable force in men’s trail ultrarunning. Unfortunately, Heras has seen plenty of injuries the past few years, including a knee injury that caused him to drop from the 2011 UTMB while he was running with the leaders very late in the race. Among his notable wins from 2010 to 2012, are The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships in 2010 and 2012; TransGranCanaria in 2010; Transvulcania, Zugspitz, and Cavalls del Vent in 2011; and the TNF 100–Taiwan in 2012. Heras has won a few ultras in Spain without challenge this year, but did drop out with an injury 5k from the start of this year’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. While he’s largely been off the radar this year, it looks like he’s been putting in some big days in the mountains of late. (Our pre-race interview with Miguel Heras.)
Other Top Runners
- Pascal Blanc – (Lafuma/France) – Pascal took tenth at the shortened UTMB in 2010. In 2010, he also took fourth at the Diagonale des Fous before improving to second place the following year.
- Miguel Capo Soler – (Spain) – Capo Soler ran out of his mind to take third at this year’s Marathon des Sables. As far as we know, he’s not yet seen that sort of success in the mountains. (He finished 57th at UTMB last year.) He did take tenth at this year’s TNF Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
- Giuliano Cavallo – (Salomon/Italy) – A local from the Aosta Valley who was ninth at Transvulcania and ninth at the IAU Trail World Championships in 2011. We think this is his 100-mile debut, but his vast local experience may make up for that. [Added 8/28]
- Cyril Cointre – (Hoka One One/France) – Cointre was fifth at the shortened UTMB of 2010. This year, he’s been eighth and ninth at TransGranCanaria and Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, respectively.
- Terry Conway – (UK) – Conway won the Lakeland 100 Mile in both 2011 and 2012. He dropped 30 miles into this year’s race.
- Emmanuel Gault – (ASICS/France) – Speedster Gault had a win and three second-place finishes at the Éco-Trail de Paris Île-de-France between 2009 an 2012. He also won La SainteLyon last year after taking second in 2009 and 2011. He won CCC (UTMB sister race) in 2011 after taking fifth in 2009, so he’s experienced success on these trails. [Added 8/28]
- Paul Giblin – (UK) – Big course record on the 95-mile West Highland Way race in Scotland. [Added 8/26: Thanks to Richard Felton.]
- Antoine Guillon – (Lafuma/France) – Guillon is an experienced ultrarunner who doesn’t seem to be slowing down at the age of 43. He was fifth at UTMB in 2010 and eighth in 2011. Last year, he was third at TDS (a UTMB sister race), second at the Andorra Ultra Trail – Ultra Mític 118k, and second at the Diagonale des Fous. Earlier this year, he took seventh at Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji.
- Zigor Iturrieta – (The North Face/Spain) – Zigor took third at UTMB in 2010 and followed that with a standout 2011 in which he won TransGranCanaria, took second at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and fifth at Cavalls del Vent. His results haven’t been as strong the past two years. For example, he was fourth at both Lavaredo in 2012 and TransGranCanaria in 2013. He had a very rough UTMB last year.
- Goran Lesjak – (Croatia) – Lesjak has three-straight wins at the 100k Velebit Ultra Trail, which has almost 20,000 feet (6.000 m) of climbing. [Added 8/28]
- Shunsuke Okunomiya – (Montrail/Japan) – We still remember Shunsuke’s shy smile that hid a fierce determination when he finished 13th at Western States in 2011. He was seventh at UTMF last year and has many top finishes at Japan’s Hasetsune Cup. Koichi Iwasa reports that Shunsuke is recovering from a stress fracture.
- Adam Perry – (UK) – All of 23 years old, Adam won this year’s Fellsman race before tying for third at the Lakeland 100 Mile albeit two-and-a-half hours behind Terry Conway, noted above. Adam ran a 10:34 at Fellsman compared to Bragg’s 2011 course record of 10:06.
Gustavo Reyes – (The North Face/Argentina) – Gustavo dominates the competition in South America. Further afield, his best runs are a 14th at the IAU Trail World Championships in 2011 and a 17th at Transvulcania last year.[Update: Thanks to Trail Running Argentina, we've learned that Gustavo Reyes is out with a hip injury.]
- Aite Tamang – (Nepal) – He’s won the last two Annapurna 100ks and taken second and sixth at the past two Hong Kong 100ks.
- Armando Jorge Teixeira – (Salomon/Portugal) – Teixeira took 11th at last year’s UTMB. In 2011 and 2012, he was fifth and then second at TransGranCanaria. He’s already got a long race under his belt this year with a sixth-place finish at Ronda del Cimes.
- Xavier Thevenard – (ASICS/France) – The CCC winner in 2010 went on to win Templiers in 2011. This year, he took a respectable 11th at Transvulcania and third to François D’haene and Michel Lanne at the Mont Blanc 80k. [Added 8/28]
- Siu-Keung “Stone” Tsang – (The North Face/China) – Stone was 21st at UTMB in 2010 after placing 12th at the TNF EC 50 Mile in 2009. In 2013, he’s taken second at the Honk Kong 100k and won the Lantau 50k, also in Hong Kong.
- Anton “Toni” Vencelj – (Slovenia) – Vencelj has twice placed in the top ten at the Marathon des Sables: fourth in 2009 and eighth in 2012. He was 30th at MdS this year.
- Minehiro Yokoyama – (The North Face/Japan) – He was sixth at the 2009 UTMB and fifth at the debut Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji last year. He has had knee problems and had a very rough 2012 UTMB.
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will win this year’s UTMB? Who’ll give the winner a run for their money?
- Who do you think is most likely to surprise the world with their performance at this year’s race?
- Can anyone tell us more about the runners in the back half of last year’s top ten, Jean-Yves Rey, François Faivre, Arnaud Lejeune, and Sébastien Buffard, as well as other runners on the list above who might not be as well known outside their home country?
- Have we missed any contenders? If so, please let us know. With over 2,000 entrants, we’re sure to have missed someone!
- Did we mention someone who’s definitely not running? Let us know and we’ll update the article.