2014 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji Preview
April 21, 2014 by Bryon Powell · 7 Comments
Currently, one of this year’s best 100-mile fields is assembling in Japan to take on Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, a 105-mile (169k) clockwise loop around Mount Fuji that features more than 30,000′ (almost 10,000 meters) of gain. This race, the fifth event in the Ultra-Trail World Tour, kicks off at 3 p.m. local time on Friday, which is midnight Friday morning MDT in the States.
Women’s Preview – 2014 UTMF
Although she only has one 100-mile race under her belt, Catalonia’s Núria Picas (pre-race interview) must be the favorite on the women’s side. Over the past year, she and Emelie Forsberg have consistently been the strongest women mountain ultrarunners out there. Already this year she ran away from the rest of the women at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview) after being first or second whenever it counted last year. Her second-place finish at last year’s UTMB (post-race interview), her 100-mile debut, was particularly impressive.
If anyone is likely to outrun Picas, it would be France’s Nathalie Mauclair (pre-race interview). The strongest, most-relevant finish in support of her having a victorious run is her win at last year’s Diagonale des Fous. Nathalie had a stellar 2013 having also won the 45-mile IAU World Trail Championships and the approximately 100k TdS, a UTMB sister race. She did finish fourth, half an hour behind runner-up Picas, at last year’s Transvulcania.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Picas is Francesca Canepa of Italy. She’s got a ton of 100-mile (and longer) experience that she can draw upon during the race. She’s also clearly aiming for a win in the Ultra-Trail World Trail series having already won the Hong Kong 100k and taken second at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview). If Nuria and Nathalie falter, Francesca is the woman most likely to step up and win.
Australia’s Shona Stephenson (pre-race interview) was second at last year’s UTMF. Expect her to be aggressive in the early going before seeing where she settles in. Last month, she was sixth at the Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon about half an hour behind the winner in the modified 69k headline race.
Nerea Martinez of Spain has won UTMF before, taking the inaugural race in 2012. Although she was second woman at Tor des Géants last September, she’s not been placing as high as she was just a few years ago. For example, like Canepa, Martinez has raced both the Hong Kong 100k and Transgranaria, but was well off the pace in fourth and sixth, respectively, at those races.
Fernanda Maciel isn’t likely to win UTMF, but a top-five finish seems certain for this Brazilian living in Spain. Maciel had a very strong 2012 before an injury-filled 2013. That 2012 included a win at STY, UTMF’s shorter sister race, a win at Transgrancanaria, and a seventh at UTMB. Maciel got off to a strong start in 2014 with a third-place finish at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview) just two minutes behind Francesca Canepa.
Other Top Runners
Manuela Vilaseca of Brazil is a strong runner, but she’s unlikely to outrun the favorites on race day. That said, it’s possible she could crack the top five on a good day. Last year, she was seventh at TNF Lavaredo, eighth at TNF UTMB, and 15th at TNF EC 5o Mile – San Francisco. The UTMF terrain might suit her particularly well, however, as she did win STY, UTMF’s half-distance (approximately 82 to 85k) sister race, last year.
Germany’s Julia Böttger logged lots of wins and runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2014, but we’ve not seen her at a top-level field during that time. Her most recent big-time performance was a third place at the 2012 Diagonale des Fous. She logged some early-season racing in taking second at The Coastal Challenge stage race in early February.
Maria Semerjian of France is a consistent runner who took eighth and seventh at UTMB in 2011 and 2013, respectively. She’s won at 100 miles before, taking the Grand Raid des Pyrénées in 2012.
DogsorCaravan reports that neither Caroline Chaverot of France nor Hiroko Suzuki of Japan will be running.
Surely, some Asian runners will contend for top positions. Here’s some insight on the women’s field from our friend Koichi Iwasa of DogsorCaravan.com.
- Kumiko Amikura (Japan) — Amikura was fourth at UTMF last year after placing second at the STY in 2012. She could be Japan’s best female hope for a podium this year.
- Akemi Ban (Japan) — Ban finished sixth in UTMF in both 2012 and 2013. A top-five finish is possible for her this year.
- Hitomi Ogawa (Japan) — Ogawa improved from fifth in UTMF in 2012 to third last year. She’s not run major races since then, but she should play an active part in this year’s race.
- Nora Senn (Hong Kong/Switzerland) — In 2012, Senn was third at UTMF. Last year, she stepped down to the STY, where she took second.
Ru-Ling Xing (China) — A Chinese runner who has raced often in European and American ultras. She is a regular podium finisher in TNF 100k China (Beijing).[Update 4/22: Ru-Ling Xing will not start. Source: Koichi Iwasa]
Men’s Preview – 2014 UTMF
The Favorites The Field
Previewing a of field like the men running this year’s UTMF is an exercise in futility. There’s a ton of talent at the top of the race with no clear favorite. Literally, any of eight men could win the race without it being surprise. And, to be honest, that’s with only really knowing one Japanese contender for the win… one I’d not have known before he won last year’s race! With that noted, I’ll take an unusual (for me) step of alphabetically listing the men most likely to win.
Basque runner Iker Karrera is, by far, the most under-recognized of the European mountain trail runners. In a span of three weeks late last summer, he won the 100-mile Grand Raid des Pyrénées and 200-mile Tor des Géants. In 2012, he won both TNF Laveredo and the GORE-TEX TransAlpine Run, while taking fifth at Transvulcania. In 2011, he was runner up to Salomon teammates at Transvulcania, Zugspitz, and TNF UTMB. He’s due to win a race of UTMF’s stature one of these years.
Sébastien Chaigneau finished one position and 10 minutes behind Karrera at UTMB in 2011. Last year, Seb took third at Mount Fuji after winning Transgrancanaria and before going on to win the Hardrock 100 (post-race interview). Last month, he was running in the lead late at Transgrancanaria before dropping due to dehydration.
Last summer, Nick Clark (pre-race interview) worked his way up the 100-mile ranks, seemingly getting stronger as time and miles went by. He was sixth at Western States in June, third at Vermont in July, second at Leadville (post-race interview) in August, and, finally, winning the Wasatch 100 (post-race interview) in early September. In recent years, he’s also run to a pair of third-place finishes at Western States and a third place at Hardrock just weeks after one of those thirds at States. While seen as a mountain man, Clarkie does work to maintain his speed on the flats.
François D’Haene (pre-race interview) has been one of the world’s very best trail ultrarunners the past two years. He’s won both the 103k version of UTMB (post-race interview) in 2012 and Diagonale des Fous last autumn. He’s racked up shorter world-class wins at the Ice Trail Tarentaise and Mont Blanc 80k. Other top finishes include a second at the TNF EC 50 Mile Championships (post-race interview) in 2012 and a fourth at Transvulcania last year. While François won a 63k trail race earlier this month, UTMF will be his first top-level competition of the year.
Never underestimate Mike Foote (pre-race interview). Foote could be in 10th at mile 40 this week… and still win. He’s crazy patient and WILL run his own race. That’s not just lip service from this guy as we’ve seen it the past two years when he’s taken third and fifth at UTMB (2012 and 2013 post-race interviews), which is a strong analog for UTMF. The biggest difference between the two events are UTMF’s flat road sections and Mike has more raw speed than you think. Watch out for this guy.
Speaking of guy with speed… there’s Yoshikazu Hara, last year’s UTMF champion who has a 100k road PR of 6:33:32. Often, defending champions are the de facto favorites in the subsequent edition of a race, but there are two factors cautioning against such a pick. First, while Hara-san beat Julien Chorier, Sébastien Chaigneau, Gary Robbins, and Brendan Davies to win last year’s UTMF… the field is significantly better this year, so, at worst, his odds are simply longer than they’d otherwise be. More important, we’ve heard the Hara continues to battle injury, the same one that forced him to withdraw prior to the Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon last month.
France’s Thomas Lorblanchet (pre-race interview) has a couple big wins the past two years, specifically the Leadville 100 (post-race interview) in 2012 and the Grande Course des Templiers last October. Those show that he can win in a strong field. However, he’s also got some strong, but unspectacular results at some national level (as opposed to international) races. If there’s a guy amongst this top group that I can’t quite pin down, it’s Lorblanchet.
Ryan Sandes is in incredible form. The question is whether or not he’s already burnt all his candles after winning Transgrancanaria (post-race interview) and setting the Drakensberg Traverse FKT (post-FKT interview) last month… and as he’s entered autumn in his South African home. We should know whether he’s got more gas in his tank by halfway. If he’s in the top five, he could win.
Anton Krupicka would be listed among the above, but he’s not running due to an ongoing hip injury.
Other Top Runners
Brandon Davies (Australia) — An hour behind Hara-san in fifth at last year’s UTMF. He’s not run as strongly the past half year or so.
Emmanuel Gault (France) — Two wins and two seconds at the last four SaintéLyon races show he’s got plenty of speed. However, we don’t think he’s ever raced much further than 100k.
Joe Grant (USA) — Fresh off winning Alaska’s White Mountains 100 last month, he’s looking to emulate his even effort there. He hung with Seb Chaigneau through the halfway mark of last year’s Hardrock 100 before kidney stones took him out.
Antoine Guillon (France) — Guillon is pursuing the UTWT with a 14th at the Hong Kong 100 and fifth at Transgrancanaria this year. He was seventh at Mount Fuji last year before taking fourth at Diagonale des Fous. A true the-harder-the-better guy.
Dave Mackey (USA) — He’s got decades of endurance-racing experience, but hasn’t yet run up to his incredible potential at 100 miles despite two great runs at Western States (second in 2004, fourth and a master’s record in 2012).
Gary Robbins (Canada) — Fourth at last year’s UTMF 40 minutes behind the winner. He can handle hard 100s, as he also showed in winning the two most recent HURT 100s.
John Tidd (Uruguay) — Last year, Tidd was sixth at Transgrancanaria, sixth at UTMF, and 10th at UTMB… not bad for a 49-year-old you probably don’t know! Look for another top-10 finish for Tidd now that he’s 50.
Yan-Qiao Yun (China) — If you want to pick a long-odds dark horse, Yun is your guy. I was incredibly impressed with his second-place run at Tarawera last month. He was second at the TNF 100k – China three times before sliding to third last year… but he did win the Hong Kong 100k last year. He’s yet to race much longer that 100k as far as we know. [Update 4/22: Yan-Qiao Yun will not start. Source: Koichi Iwasa]
Fabrice Armand (Reunion), Vincent Delebarre (France), François Faivre (France), Christophe Le Saux (France), Timo Meyer (Germany), Jeremy Ritcey (Hong Kong), Marcelo Sinoca (Brazil), Lionel Trivel (France).
[4/21 Updates: Yeray Duran is not running; thanks Koichi Iwasa for the info. Jordi Bes Ginesta is out with broken arm; thanks to Mauri Pagliacci for the info.]
Some more Asian insight with help from our friend Koichi Iwasa of DogsorCaravan.com.
- Shunsuke Okunomiya (Japan) — Shunsuke was 13th at the WS 100 in 2011 and took seventh at the HK 100k this January. He did drop from both UTMF and UTMB last year. [Added 4/21, thanks to Koichi.]
- Siu Keung (Stone) Tsang (Hong Kong) — A frequent international competitor. His notable finishes include an 18th at UTMB last year and a ninth at the Hong Kong 100k in January.
- Kenichi Yamamoto (Japan) — Third at UTMF in 2012, he has also finished eighth, 12th, and 10th at UTMB between 2009 and 2011. He took second at Ronda dels Cims last year.
- Hiroki Ishikawa (Japan) — The guru of Japanese trail ultras and once a well-known runner in the U.S. when he raced there frequently from 2002 to 2007. He DNFed UTMF in 2012.
- Shinsuke Isomura (Japan) — While he was ninth at UTMF two years ago, his other results don’t suggest he’ll be in the top 10 this year.
- Shougo Mochizuki (Japan) — Fourth at UTMF in 2012. Two-time reigning champ (2010, 2012) of the biannual 415k single-stage TransJapan Alps Race.
- Katsutoshi Saijo (Japan) — Eighth at UTMF in 2012 as well as eighth at the Waldo 100k in the U.S. in 2013.
- Tsuyoshi Soma (Japan) — Won the Shinetsu Trail Race (100 to 110k) three years in a row from 2009 to 2011. Finished 21st at UTMF last year almost four hours from the leaders.
- Koji Yamaya (Japan) — Finished sixth and eighth the past two years at UTMF.
Minehiro Yokoyama (Japan) — Sixth at UTMB back in 2009 while he finished fifth at Mount Fuji in 2012.[4/24 Update: Minehiro Yokoyama has the flu and won't be racing. Source: Koichi Iwasa] Sim Jae-Duk (South Korea) — Yes, it was eight years ago, but he ran, perhaps, the best Massanutten 100 ever in beating Karl Meltzer there in 2006. He’s twice run Western States, taking 11th in 2007 and 12th in 2011. Perhaps, the Michael Wardian of South Korea.[4/21 Update: We've learned that Sim Jae-Duk has always planned to run the STY, not UTMF.]
Call for Comments
- Who do you think are most likely to be this men’s and women’s champions at this year’s UTMF?
- Who’s most likely to surprise the world with his or her performance?
- Anyone noted above who you know won’t be running the race?