2014 The North Face TransGranCanaria Preview
Since 2009, The North Face TransGranCanaria has served as early-season, warm-weather proving grounds for European trail runners in one of their favorite winter escapes, Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. This five-race event’s headline act is the 125k race, which begins at midnight on Saturday morning Western European Time (Friday, February 28, 5 p.m. MST in the U.S.).
This year, the Transgrancanaria 125k (77 miles) joins the Ultra-Trail World Tour and features a new point-to-point course with 8,500 meters (almost 28,000′) of climb.
Tune in this weekend for our live coverage of the Transgrancanaria 125k!
Men’s Preview – 2014 TNF Transgrancanaria
Man, oh, man, this is going to be good. I can’t believe it’s only February and there’s already a race where these dudes are going head to head. What is our ultrarunning world coming to? I think these six men each presently have the capacity to win.
His past performances have shown us that the longer and more brutal the course is, the more likely it is that Timothy Olson (The North Face/USA) (pre-race interview) will excel. In the last couple months, Timothy has been putting in big, early-season miles in his new/temporary homes in southern California. We last saw him race a few weeks ago at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile in SoCal, where he wandered across the finish line in eighth place with a huge grin and his family. But that was a training race for Timothy, which he ran as part of a 125-mile training week. Last week, he set an FKT on Mount Wilson in SoCal amidst another massive training week, a seven-mile route with 5,000 feet of climb. If he’s decided Transgrancanaria is a reason to taper, watch out for Timothy.
Earlier this month, powerhouse Dylan Bowman (Pearl Izumi/USA) won the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile (post-race interview) against a great field of American runners. In the race’s final 20 miles, as other frontrunners faded, DBo seemed to get stronger, putting 14 minutes on second place Mike Aish and 34 minutes on third place Mike Wolfe. This tells me he’s got both endurance and strength this early in the season, which will be critical factors for success on the long and gnarly Transgrancanaria course. Bowman has said, however, that he recovers slowly from big efforts and he also said after a tempo workout last week that he was still feeling Sean O’Brien a bit. If he can get his legs back and ride the fitness he showed and gained there, he’s a favorite.
Last December, Jason Schlarb (Altra/USA) was supposed to run The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship but couldn’t due to a bum Achilles. Instead, he tried a shorter race, the Lantau 50k in Hong Kong. But all of Hong Kong’s stairs proved too much for his Achilles, so he DNFed. Since then, Jason got his physical act back together with some winter training in his Montana home as well as a trip to Southern Hemisphere summer in Patagonia. There, on January 21, he set a new FKT for the O and W circuit at Torres del Paine National Park, an effort that took 16 hours, 20 minutes. His GPS stats for the route showed it at 75.6 miles and 20,100 feet of climb. Hmm, do those numbers sound familiar? Yeah, similar stats to this weekend’s course. He is another clear contender if his body is sound and recovered.
I think Jorge Maravilla (Salomon/USA) (pre-race interview) is due for a serious win on a serious stage. In the last year, the best performances iRunFar’s witnessed from Jorge were his fourth place at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and his seventh place at the 2013 TNF EC 50 Mile, both within stellar dudes’ fields. But we’ve not witnessed some really good runs of his, too, including his late November 1:09:33 second-place finish at the Berkeley Half Marathon road race and his win of the Bandera 100k in January. We know Jorge spends as much time as he can on Mount Tamalpais, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s tall points, so he’s probably getting plenty of vertical training to do Transgrancanaria right. Will this be the international breakout for which Jorge’s due?
New year, new sponsor for Julien Chorier (Hoka One One/France). (Pre-race interview) We last saw him race to sixth place at the 2013 TNF Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. He also raced the 75k Sainte Lyon trail race in France in December, finishing way back in the field, an hour behind the winner. This winter, Julien has been running, but he’s also been mixing in ski touring and road biking. We know a few other Euro runners who seem to do just fine coming off other sports for hard, early-season runs, don’t we?
Ryan Sandes’s (Salomon-Red Bull/South Africa) last big race was TNF EC 50 Mile in December, where he finished ninth on what he described as a difficult-for-him day. That was about four months after his DNF at the 2013 Leadville 100 due to injury. Since then, he’s been putting a lot of effort into an upcoming FKT project on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse in South Africa and Lesotho, recce-ing and training on the traverse’s highly challenging terrain. He’s had at least one overnight training bout on the route, so I’m guessing he has plenty of the right kind of fitness to run at the front of Transgrancanaria. With the Leadville 100 and the TNF EC 50 Mile as not-too-distant memories, I hope he’s re-discovered his racing confidence.
2010 Transgrancanaria winner Miguel Heras (Salomon/Spain) is either hot or cold when it comes to racing. He ran really hot at the 2013 UTMB, finishing second (post-race interview). He also ran hot at last September’s Cavalls del Vent 100k, finishing third but just four minutes back in a closely contested race. He’d usually be a contender for a win at any race he enters, including this one, but I didn’t place him on the Possible Winners list this go ’round because he’s been recently injured. He’s on the entrants list, but we understand it’s currently doubtful that he’ll race. He just announced a few days ago that he’s racing April’s Marathon des Sables, so perhaps he’s got his eye on the longer-view prize, as well. Finally, we also know that he races as much with his head as his heart, so his confidence or lack thereof with regard to that injury will certainly play into his race day. [Feb 27 Update: Miguel Heras is not running TGC due to a knee injury.]
Javier Domínguez (Spain) exploded on the international scene at last year’s UTMB when he placed third (post-race interview) in smiling, confident style. His September result at Cavalls del Vent where he finished seventh and more than an hour back from the winner was not as strong, however. What has Javier been up to since then? We don’t know. Javier, we know you read iRunFar. How are things looking for you this weekend? Let us know!
There’s not another way to call it, Mike Wolfe (The North Face/USA) is a machine. Last summer, he and Hal Koerner set an FKT on the super-tough John Muir Trail, which sent them both into near trail running comas for a couple months. Mike came back at December’s TNF EC 50 Mile and just went for it, hanging in the lead pack as long as he could, eventually finishing sixth. Then he and his wife became new parents. Then he turned up at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile and ran to third place among that stellar field. While Wolfe faded in the late miles of both those races, he consistently showed his ability to hang with the biggest dogs of our sport despite other distracting life elements. I call him top five this weekend. [Feb 28 Update: Mike Wolfe is out because he came down with the flu the day before the race.] A little over a year ago, Jez Bragg (The North Face/Great Britain) spent 53 days running the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, and it took him a long, long time to bounce back from that effort. At last summer’s UTMB, he ran super smart and squeaked into the men’s top 10 late in the race, staying strong as other runners faded. Last month, he finished 10th again at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k. We know he’s been getting in some good training during the UK winter, which is always a skin and soul toughener with its nasty weather. What does this all mean for Jez this weekend? Top 10, I’ll bet! [Feb 25 Update: Jez Bragg is out due to a lingering case of the flu.]
The reigning and two-time champion of the Transgrancanaria Sébastien Chaigneau (The North Face/France) (pre-race interview) is returning to defend his title. In the field of guys we’ll see this weekend, however, I like him for a top-five finish, possibly as high as third place if he’s having a really good day. Previous races have proven that the longer and tougher the race course is (think 2013 Hardrock, where he won and set a course record), the better Seb runs. I’m just not sure if he has enough real estate along the length of Gran Canaria to get the job done this time.
We last saw Scott Jurek (Brooks/USA) at the 2013 Leadville 100 where he raced aggressively early and faded a bit later to an eighth-place finish. Since then, he’s taken a huge trip to the high-altitude Himalayas for some explorations and trained in his home territory around Boulder and the Front Range of Colorado. He’s also been doing loads of promo work for Ultimate Direction and his book Eat & Run. I’m a huge fan of Scott Jurek, but I don’t think he can contend for the podium this weekend, among this competition. I see him finishing in the second half of the top 10.
Other Men to Watch
- Arnau Julià Bonmatí (BUFF/Spain) — Winner of the 2013 TDS (a UTMB sister race), fifth at the 2013 Trans d’Havet, 15th at the 2013 Transvulcania
- Pascal Blanc (Hoka/France) — 13th at the 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, third at the 2013 Diagonale des Fous
- Antoine Guillon (Team WAA/France) — 14th at the 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, fourth at the 2013 Diagonale de Fous (behind third place Pascal Blanc), second at the 2013 TDS (a UTMB sister race) (behind Arnau Juliá Bonmati)
- Yeray Durán (Spain) — Finished third at Transgrancanaria last year, but one hour behind Seb, fifth at the 2013 CCC (a UTMB sister race)
- Santiago Obaya (Spain) — Fifth place at Transgrancanaria last year, but an hour back and just minutes behind Yeray Durán
- Cyril Cointre (Team WAA/France) — Eighth place at Transgrancanaria last year, 11th at the 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k
- Scott Bradley (UK) — 12th place at the 2012 Transgrancanaria
- Christophe Le Saux (Team WAA-Hoka One One/France) — 16th place at last year’s Transgrancanaria, 15th at the 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, ninth at the 2013 Marathon des Sables
- Casey Morgan (UK) — Seventh at the 2013 Transgrancanaria Advanced race
- Fulvio Dapit (Italy) — Fourth at the 2013 Ice Trail Tarantaise
- Remigio Queral (Spain) — Sixth at the 2013 Trans d’Havet
Women’s Preview – 2014 Transgrancanaria
Núria Picas (BUFF/Spain) (pre-race interview) is almost unbeatable whenever she races (though she did lose last year to Emelie Forsberg and Rory Bosio), so I’ll call her the all-day favorite. We last saw her race the 2013 UTMB, where she ran strong in her debut 100-mile race from the start to her second-place finish (post-race interview) behind the ungodly fast Rory Bosio. Since then, she won September’s Cavalls del Vent and October’s Grand Course des Templiers. And this winter, she’s been both running and skiing. My guess for this weekend is that she’ll lead the charge, set the pace, and have a couple women chasing her closely in the early 30 or 40 miles. I also predict that she’ll forge off into her own, first-place realm during the race’s second half, winning with little challenge.
Nathalie Mauclair (La Fuma/France) is one little challenge that Núria might have to be on the lookout for on Saturday. She’s small but fiery, and her 2013 results show she’ll be a contender this weekend. She finished fourth at Transvulcania (a bit less than 30 minutes behind second place Núria Picas) in May, won the IAU Trail World Championships in July, won TDS (a UTMB sister race) in August, and won Diagonale des Fous in October. Nathalie’s stated her intention to race for the Ultra-Trail World Tour series win. [Feb 28 Update: Nathalie Mauclair has decided not to run TGC because she says her body isn’t yet in form to run the race.]
Uxue Fraile (adidas/Spain) will find herself among the women’s top contenders. Though she’s only been on the ultra scene with gusto for a couple years, she’s got some awesome results to her name, including a third place at the 2013 Transvulcania (25 minutes behind second place Núria Picas and a few minutes ahead of Nathalie Mauclair), third place at Trand d’Havet last July (just a couple minutes back to second place Núria), and a second place at last September’s Cavalls del Vent (a bit over a half hour back from, you guessed it, Núria). Though I see her finishing either second or third and maybe 30 minutes back to Núria on Saturday, Uxue has to be on the hunt for a race in which she breaks out from finishing behind her.
We can’t forget Francesca Canepa (Vibram/Italy), the prolific racer. Last year, she won Ronda del Cims, Eiger Ultra Trail 101k, and the Tor des Géants. And last month, she won the Vibram Hong Kong 100k, the first race in the Ultra-Trail World Tour. She also had some mixed-bag results last year, including 27th at the IAU Trail World Championships and 10th at the Speedgoat 50k. My take on Francesca? She’s like the Energizer Bunny of ultrarunning, especially when the conditions are difficult. She just keeps going and going when other runners have race-ending problems, and when she has problems herself. This quality combined with a desire to score some more Ultra-Trail World Tour points will see her finish easily in the top five.
Nerea Martinez (Salomon/Spain) is the ladies’ defending champion. Last month, she finished fourth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k (behind Francesca Canepa), and said she suffered with cramping in the heat and humidity. Surely, she’s now got a pair of hot-weather legs for Transgrancanaria. Her top result from 2013 was a second place at Tor des Géants (again behind Francesca Canepa). She’s competing in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, too, so we suspect she’ll hang tough this weekend for some more tour points. Where will she finish? If her 2013 results are any indication, it’ll be behind Francesca Canepa.
Fernanda Maciel (The North Face/Brazil) (pre-race interview) is the 2012 Transgrancanaria champion. She comes to this race after a difficult 2013, including drops from couple big races, Transvulcania and the CCC (a UTMB sister race), due to injury. It appears she’s on the up and up though, after having just placed second three weeks ago at The North Face 100k Peru (in addition to losing the course and running an extra 15k). Before that, in December, she ran 3:55 or so at the Red Bull Kirimbawa 50k in Brazil. Just this weekend Fernanda won the Trail des Fars Half Marathon on Menorca, so it seems like she’s bounced back just fine from her 115 kilometers of running in Peru just four weeks before Transgrancanaria.
I would put Julia Böttger (Salomon/Germany) higher on this list, but Julia just finished second at the 225k The Coastal Challenge stage race in Costa Rica less than a month before Transgrancanaria’s game day. As someone who knows well the toll stage racing takes on the body, I can’t help but think that Julia won’t be at her best this Saturday. Last year, Julia came second at the Grand Raid des Pyrénées 80k, first at the Ultra Trail Atlas Toubkal (about 35 minutes ahead of Nerea Martinez), and first at TransMartinique 133k. [Feb 27 Update: Julia Böttger is not running TGC due to leg pain and not enough recovery since running The Coastal Challenge just a few weeks ago.]
Other Women to Watch
- Caroline Chaverot (Hoka One One/France) — Winner of the 2013 CCC (a UTMB sister race), winner and course-record holder of the 2013 Mont Blanc 80k, seems new to ultrarunning, but she has a number of other wins to her name in the last 18 months
- Karine Sanson (Salomon/France) — Mixed results in the last year including sixth at the 2013 Transvulcania and 34th at the 2013 Speedgoat 50k
- Ildiko Wermescher (Mammut/Hungary, but living somewhere else in central Europe) — Winner of the 2013 Zugspitz Ultratrail and the 2013 Swiss Irontrail T81
- Laura Barrera (Spain) — Fourth at the 2012 Transgrancanaria
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- How do you see the men’s and women’s races playing out? Who do you think will win?
- Will anyone have an unexpected, breakout race?
- Do you know something about the fitness and preparation for any of the runners we’ve mentioned or any we’ve missed? Who else could contend? Is someone we mentioned not running after all? If so, let us know in the comments!