2014 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Men’s Preview

TransvulcaniaThe Transvulcania Ultramarathon has been run five times and each time a new men’s course record has been set. With the incredible men’s field lined up for this year’s race, the season opener for the Skyrunner World Series, there’s a strong chance that will happen again so long as the weather cooperates. Let’s just jump right into a look at the front of the field!

First, as you might expect, we’ll be covering Transvulcania live starting at 6 a.m. local time (WEST) on Saturday, May 10, which is 11 p.m. (MDT) on Friday, May 9 in the U.S.

Read our Transvulcania women’s preview to see which leading ladies will be racing.

Transvulcania 2014, Who Will Win?

In considering who might win this year’s Transvulcania, one needs to first look at the race’s two most recent champions.

Kilian Jornet - with stache

Kilian Jornet

Kilian Jornet (pre-race interview) is the defending Transvulcania champ (post-race interview) and always amongst the favorites in any trail race. As usual, he’ll go into Transvulcania with only a handful of runs logged in the previous five months due to his skimo season. Of course, that didn’t stop him from winning and setting a course record last year or taking third to Dakota Jones in 2012. He’s Kilian Jornet… need anything more be said?

American Dakota Jones shocked many when he beat Jornet to win Transvulcania in 2012 (post-race interview). Also surprising was his decision to skip last year’s race when he was the defending champ. Still, he’s back after a year’s absence from La Palma. Last year, Dakota took down Matt Carpenter’s record at the San Juan Solstice 50 Mile in June (race report) and finished second at the UROC 100k in September (post-race interview). Since then he survived an illness-limited The North Face 50 in December before running some races in South America and most recently in Australia (race report) earlier this year. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of form Jones is in now.

Jornet wasn’t the only one to go under Jones’s 2012 course record at last year’s TVU. Hot on his heels was Luis Alberto Hernando (pre-race interview), the former Olympic Nordic skier from Spain. While I still mention Hernando’s Olympic skiing heritage, it’s moot now that he established himself so well as an ultrarunner over the past year. Following his second place four minutes behind Jornet at Transvulcania, he won the 80k Trans d’Havet, was second to Jornet at the 46k Matterhorn Ultraks, and won the now 100k Cavalls del Vent. Call me crazy, but I’ve got a good feeling about him at this year’s race.

Timothy Olson - 2014 TNF TransGranCanaria

Timothy Olson

Sage Canaday and Timothy Olson (pre-race interview) had two of the best seasons by American ultrarunners last year and they just so happened to take third and fourth at last year’s Transvulcania. They were less than two minutes apart with Canaday taking third 16 minutes behind Jornet. This year, Canaday has already won the Tarawera Ultramarathon (post-race interview) and, last month, a speedy third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview). Olson’s already off to a good 2014 start, too, by logging major training miles in the mountains of Southern California, taking eighth at the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, and nabbing third at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview) two months ago. He’s been on La Palma a good bit ahead of the race to get acclimated.

It’s a testament to this field that I’m five runners deep before I mention the reigning The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc champ, Xavier Thevenard (post-race interview). A dedicated Nordic skier from France, Thevenard still managed to take 11th at last year’s Transvulcania. After a very strong 2013 (he was also third at the Mont Blanc 80k and second at the 73k Grand Trail des Templiers), we’ll see this weekend where he sits in terms of running fitness this year.

The Next Wave

Having already discussed six runners with the best shot at winning, here’s another even-more-sizable group that should fill out most of the remaining top-10 places. One or two of these runners could crack the top five.

Spain’s Tofol Castanyer has been racing trails for ages, but has increasingly edging into ultras in recent years while maintaining a presence in marathon-distance races. Having won the 101k CCC in 2012 and the Salomon 4 Trails, a 160k, four-day stage race, last year as well as having twice taken second at Cavalls del Vent (2011 and 2013), Castanyer has a shot to crack the top five on a good day.

Jason Schlarb - 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100

Jason Schlarb

Two more Americans with a shot at the top five (in addition to Jones, Canaday, and Olson listed above) are Jason Schlarb and David Laney. Schlarb broke into the ultra scene three and a half years ago with a fifth-place finish at the TNF EC 50, a solid finish among a top field. Last year, he again showed what he’s capable of in taking third at the Speedgoat 50k and winning the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile (post-race interview). Look for Schlarb to continue his recent upswing in 2014. David Laney is barely a year into his ultrarunning career but has put up some great results. He’s already won the 2013 and been second at the 2014 Chuckanut 50k (post-race interview), won the 2013 Waldo 100k, and been second at the 2014 Bandera 100k. Racing his strongest ultra field to date, he was fifth and 23 minutes behind the winner at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile last month.

For whatever reason, (with some notable exceptions) top British trail runners can stay under or even off the international radar. For example, his win at last year’s IAU Trail World Championship shows that Ricky Lightfoot is an absolute beast. Yeah, we know he’s won a 100k in Singapore and run well at some races in the U.K., but it’s awfully hard to place this guy in terms of where he stands amongst the world’s best! Do you know? [May 6 Update: Ricky Lightfoot writes that he won’t be racing.] Then there’s Tom Owens. Did he race at all in the past year and a half? What’s he been up to since placing second to Jornet at Trofeo Kima in 2012? These aren’t rhetorical questions–shed some light on these speedsters!

New Zealand’s Vajin Armstrong continues to show that he’s capable of taking on the best in the world. The past two years he’s taken third against international fields at the Tarawera Ultramarathon. Last year, he also ran to second-place finishes at the The North Face 100k – Australia, Zugspitz Ultratrail, Swiss Alpine Marathon, and Kepler Challenge. He was also fourth against a top field at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in January.

Javier Dominguez of Spain has started building an excellent ultrarunning resume and could really make a name for himself with a top finish at Transvulcania. Previously, Dominguez has most notably improved from 12th at UTMB in 2012 to take 3rd at UTMB 2013 (post-race interview). He took seventh at both Cavalls del Vents last autumn and Transgrancanaria this March.

Philipp Reiter

Philipp Reiter

Philipp Reiter is a very strong runner, but I get the sense that he doesn’t perform at his best. He seemed to suffer a good bit at the two previous editions of Transvulcania, finishing 11th and 12th. Those rankings are likely a good indicator of how he’ll fare this year with anything above eighth a tremendous run by the German.

Two runners on the rise in 2013–Ryan Ghelfi and Martin Gaffuri–were also very consistent in running well among top competition. I don’t see either figuring in the top five, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see both finish between seventh and 13th. Last year, the U.S.’s Ghelfi was ninth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, fifth at the UROC 100k, and tenth at the TNF EC 50. Already this year, he was fourth at the Chuckanut 50k and sixth at Lake Sonoma. That’s some really solid work. Gaffuri’s worst finish over the past year was his 21st at Transvulcania last year. Otherwise, the Frenchman’s been seventh at Ice Trail Tarentaise, eighth at UROC, and 13th at the TNF EC 50… so consistently just a bit behind Ghelfi. Gaffuri was sixth at Tarawera earlier this year, 50 minutes behind Canaday on the shortened 69k course. [May 8 Update: Martin Gaffuri will not be racing the ultra at Transvulcania. He is running the 26km option so that he is rested for the Zegama Marathon in two weeks.]

Three additional runners from the past two years’ top 10’s will be running. Jordi Bes Ginesta, of Spain, who was seventh at Transvulcania in 2012 and 50 minutes behind Jones, looks to be running after having to cancel his plans to run Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji due to a cycling accident. Bes Ginesta won the CCC last year. Giuliano Cavallo of Italy was ninth in 2013, a bit more than an hour behind the lead. Poland’s Marcin Swierc was about an hour behind Jornet in finishing 10th at Transvulcania last year.

One final intriguing runner, Florian Neuschwander of Germany, was second behind Lightfoot at last year’s IAU Trail World Championships. He’s also run a 2:58 50k on the roads.

Other Top Runners

  • Josh Arthur (USA) — 3rd 2013 San Juan Solstice 50 Mile; 4th 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile
  • Pau Bartoló Roco (Spain) — 14th 2013 Transvulcania; 5th 2013 Templiers; 6th 2013 Cavalls del Vent; 1st 2014 Transgrancanaria Advanced (less competitive 82k event) [May 6 Update: Pau Bartoló Roco is out.]
  • Maxime Cazajous (France) – 6th 2013 Templiers
  • Fulvio Dapit (Italy) — 4th 2013 Ice Trail Tarnentaise; 10th 2013 Templiers
  • Stephan Hugenschmidt (Germany) — 2nd 2013 Salomon 4 Trails; 3rd 2013 Swiss Alpine Marathon; 8th Matterhorn Ultraks
  • Johan Lantz (Sweden) — 6th 2014 Transgrancanaria Advanced (less competitive 82k event)
  • Arnaud Lejeune (France) — 8th 2012 & 9th 2013 UTMB; 3rd 2012 Diagonale des Fous  [May 8 Update: Arnaud Lejeune is out with a back injury.]
  • David Lopez Castan (Spain) — 1st 2011 GORE-TEX TransAlpine Run; 1st 2013 Tenerife Blue Ultratrail 101k
  • Danny Kendall (U.K.) — 5th 2014 Marathon des Sables [May 9 Update: Danny Kendall will not run Transvulcania as he has not recovered from the Marathon des Sables.]
  • Manuel Merillas (Spain) — 4th 2012 and 2013 Cavalls del Vent
  • Luke Nelson (USA) — 2nd 2011 Wasatch 100 Mile; 4th 2013 San Juan Solstice 50 Mile; 6th 2013 Speedgoat 50k

Ryan Bak (USA) is on the elite-runner list but, strangely, not the main entrants list. He isn’t racing.

Call for Comments

  • So who’s gonna win this thing?!
  • Who’s likely to surprise the field out there on Saturday?
  • Anyone you know out with an injury or coming to the starting line less than healthy?
  • Did we miss anyone?

There are 22 comments

  1. David_FL

    This is rare, but I have to pick against Kilian. The guys are getting faster and faster and their training is getting more specific and scientific. Also, Kilian showed considerable fatigue at the end of the last season and has not dominated SkiMo this season like he used to. Likewise, he seems to be more focused on, and inspired by, his FKT quests than racing. Finally, jumping from skis to running shoes is going to put him at a disadvantage, as the other top guys have been gearing up for this race for months. Top 3 would be great for Kilian.

    My picks for the top three men: 1st Hernando, 2nd Jones; 3rd Jornet

    1. David_FL

      Also add that it is forecasted to be very hot. That, more than anything, is what took Kilian out 2 years ago (recall he passed out during the race and at the finish). And this year he has been playing in the snow up near the arctic circle for the last several months.

  2. @iainridgway

    Donnie Campbell + Robbie Britton two more from the UK who will be going to do well, but Ricky and Tom will be there for the wins, just maybe too early this year as both only just coming back from injuries but had good runs at the recent 3 peaks. Florian could be the big surprise, a big trainer, another 2:20 marathoner stepping over who can also run the big distances, just depends how he finds the continuous ascent and descent.. the world trail was hilly but not not mountainous (no prolonged climbs/descents).

  3. Alanpspurr

    Ricky Lightfoot has probably the best chance of finishing in the top 5 of the British runners. At the recent Yorkshire 3 peaks race he beat Tom Owens by 3 min and Thorbjorn Ludvigsen by 13 min. We know he can win big races e.g Zegama 2009 , Otter trail 2013 , and is in good form so why not? Should be a great race again both men and women.

  4. ukrunrambles

    To echo what others have said Lightfoot will be up top all day i think- His otter trail was incredible, he crushed a pretty tough course record and he knows how to suffer. Tom Owens has the skill set for sure but its too early, a year off from injury and not forgetting this is still a long way for tom, still only has a handful of races over the 4hr mark- earmark him for podium spot in 2015 if he stays with Ultras. Robbie Britton is one of the toughest/gutsiest runners I have met, this is a learning curve for him but he'll look to pick of any top runner not on top form on the day. Maybe we throw Kim Collinson in the mix too- recently won fellsman ahead of Jez Bragg but the significance of that in relation to a stacked short ultra remains to be seen….guess we'll find out on Saturday. Lastly is Stu Air running? Thought he was, if so then Ice trail top 10 last year and he has come on heaps since then but last I heard he had a slight niggling injury. cheers

  5. astroyam

    Kilian will suffer from the heat, leaving a chance for others. Sage might be tired from Sonoma, and the long downhills drag him down. Dakota, Hernando, and Kilian will duke it out for the win. I'm predicting Dakota – Hernando – Jornet.- Tofol – Thevenard.

  6. sharmanian

    Should be a great contest and come down to that annoying last uphill after they hit sea level. I love that it's another world class field where there are genuinely several contenders who all could win if they nail it. But I've got an inkling it'll be Dakota over this distance.

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