Le Grand Raid Réunion, more commonly know as the Diagonale des Fous, is the final stop of this year’s Ultra-Trail World Tour. Starting on Thursday, October 23 at 10:30 p.m. local time on Réunion Island (a French department in the Indian Ocean), the Diagonale des Fous gets its name from the route it makes roughly diagonally across the island so difficult it’s seemingly fit for fools. This year, a reroute around a landslide makes the race nine kilometers (5.6 miles) longer. In total, the race is 172.6 kilometers (107.2 miles) long with approximately 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) of elevation gain.
Diagonale des Fous typically attracts a couple top-end runners of both genders looking for a huge adventure on a far-off, stunner of an island. However, this year the field is particularly strong on the men’s side and bulked up on the women’s side, as well.
2014 Diagonale des Fous Women’s Preview
France’s Nathalie Mauclair highlights the women’s field. Nathalie came onto our radar in the summer of 2013 when she won the IAU Trail World Championships pretty much unchallenged. This launched her solidly on the international trail-racing platform from her previous national-level success in France. After that breakout performance, she just kept going, also winning the 2013 TDS (a sister race to the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) and the 2013 Diagonale des Fous in a couple month’s succession. Her 2014 season has also been internationally strong, including third places at both Western States (post-race interview) and UTMB (post-race interview). She’s had only one major problem racing this year, a drop with a foot injury from Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. Last year’s Diagonale was her first 100 miler, and she ran off the start at an insane pace from which she ultimately slowed during the race’s second half. Despite slowing down, she finished almost two hours, 45 minutes faster than the second-place woman, Emelie Forsberg. She’s improved her 100-mile pacing strategy since then, so it’ll be fascinating to see how this year’s Diagonale plays out.
Uxue Fraile of Spain will likely challenge for the women’s win. She’s coming off several strong performances in 2014, including taking third at Transvulcania and fifth at UTMB. She’s also peppered in sixth place at the 2014 Transgrancanaria and seventh at the Mont Blanc 80k, which served as part of this year’s Skyrunning World Championships. Her racing style trends toward the more conservative side of Euro women, starting farther back from where she usually ends up placing, and we expect her to race Diagonale similarly.
Does anyone know if Italy’s Lisa Borzani is racing Diagonale des Fous? She’s just six weeks off finishing an incredible double: second-place finishes at both the TDS and the Tor des Géants. That’s, uh, 450 kilometers of racing over about two weeks’ time. If she is racing and if she is recovered, her superior performances from the last couple months make us think she’ll play for the Diagonale women’s podium. Her other highest-level performances of the last 18 months are not close to the level of her finishes in the second half of 2014, but include an eighth place at the 2013 IAU Trail World Championships (just under 40 minutes back of winner Nathalie Mauclair) and 13th at the 2014 Transvulcania.
One of the La Réunion locals who we think has a good chance of finishing as the fastest female Réunionite is Christine Benard. She’s finished Diagonale a whopping five times, going second in 2005, 2007, and 2009, and third in 2011 and 2013. Last year, she ran 34 hours, 20 minutes, which is quite strong but still something like 5.5 hours back from winner Mauclair.
Germany’s Julia Böttger has finished third at Diagonale des Fous, in 2012, but in 39 some odd hours, almost 10 hours more than it took Nathalie to win last year. Julia rarely falters, however, running strong from start to finish in some of our sport’s toughest races. Her top 2014 performance so far was a win of Ronda del Cims (more than two hours ahead of third place Nerea Martinez).
Spain’s Nerea Martinez will be a factor in the women’s race. She races long, tough races frequently. This is just her 2014 international-level race finishes: fourth at the Hong Kong 100k, fifth at Transgrancanaria (she’s ranked one spot ahead of Uxue Fraile but they finished together, on purpose), fourth at UTMF, sixth at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, third at Ronda del Cims (behind winner Julia Böttger), and third at TDS (50-plus minutes back of second place Lisa Borzani). Phew! Her style is to go out hard and hang on as long as she can, so it will be interesting to see where her chips fall at the end of this one.
We’ll also be watching Le Réunion’s Marcelle Puy for a strong finish. She’s a five-time winner of Diagonale des Fous, in 1995, 2002, 2007, 2008, and 2010. The race has grown more competitive and longer since she’s last raced it, so it’s hard to say what we could see from her this go around.
Denise Zimmerman of Switzerland has definite top-five potential. She recently had a heckuva race, finishing third at the 2014 Tor des Géants (behind second place Lisa Borzani). Before that, she’s had loads of other solid finishes, including fourth at both the 2009 and 2011 UTMBs, third at the 2013 Transgrancanaria (two hours behind winner Nerea Martinez), and a win of the 2014 Swiss Alpine Marathon. Notably, while she’s registered in the race, she’s not on the elite list.
Other Women to Watch
- Hortense Begue (La Réunion) — Tenth and sixth respectively at the 2011 and 2012 Diagonale des Fous.
- Juliette Blanchet (France) — She’s competed well at the national level for years. Her strongest international performances are a ninth at the 2013 UTMB and a 10th at the 2014 Mont Blanc 80k (40 minutes behind seventh place Uxue Fraile).
- Alexandra Rousset (France) — She’ll be looking for her fourth finish of Diagonale des Fous. She’s won the 2004 edition, was third in 2007, and fourth in 2012. The women’s race is more competitive this year than in the past, so I think a fifth-place finish this year will be a strong one for her.
- Melanie Rousset (France) — Sixth at the 2013 Diagonale des Fous.
2014 Diagonale des Fous Men’s Preview
Contenders for the Win
François D’Haene. Who is going to bet against this Frenchman, this year? First off, he’s the defending Diagonale des Fous men’s champ. Second and perhaps more significantly, his 2014 resume has shown that he’s virtually unstoppable right now: a win at UTMF (post-race interview); second place at the Mont Blanc 80k, which was part of this year’s Skyrunning World Championships; winner of Ice Trail Tarentaise; and a win at UTMB (post-race interview). His UTMB performance was really something to watch: him leading from tape to tape with a calm confidence no one else had that day.
Xavier Thevenard who? Remember when we all said that at the finish of the 2013 UTMB, when he obliterated the men’s field and won without challenge (post-race interview)? Realistically, before that, there were hints that this Frenchman was going to explode onto the international level, namely a third place at the 2013 Mont Blanc 80k a couple months before UTMB (20 minutes back of winner François D’Haene). Since his UTMB win, his top performances have been a second place at La Grande Course des Templiers in 2013 and his dominating, course-record win of the 2014 TDS. Xavier’s also had a couple downs to his 2014 racing, drops from both Transvulcania and the Mont Blanc 80k. If this kid has an on day, he’ll contend for the win.
France’s Julien Chorier is as tough as they come, as evidenced by his stellar performances at some tough races around the world. He’s a three-time Diagonale des Fous finisher, including two wins, most recently in 2011. He’s a two-time Hardrock 100 finisher, the 2011 winner (post-race interview) and second-place finisher this year (post-race interview). He’s a two-time finisher of UTMF, resulting in a win and a second place. He won the 2013 Ronda del Cims and was second at the 2014 Transgrancanaria (post-race interview). The list goes on. He recently tried for a record on the famous GR20 trail on Corsica, where he finished the trail but abandoned his record attempt due to a rib injury. And at Hardrock this past year, he was crippled by back pain for the final 15 miles, but hung on for second. As such, even a Julien who isn’t at his best will probably be in the thick of things all day.
Iker Karrera of Spain could also contend for the win. We last saw him less than two months back finishing in a second-place tie with Tòfol Castanyer at UTMB (post-race interviews) (about 45 minutes back of winner François D’Haene). Iker’s got a heckuva resume the last couple years, too, including wins of the 2013 Tor des Géants and the Grand Raid des Pyrénées. He was also second at the 2011 UTMB. I’m not sure that he’s quite as fast as a fit François D’Haene or Xavier Thevenard, but he’s fast and only falters if he’s injured. He did drop from UTMF earlier this year with a knee injury.
Other Top Men
Freddy Thevenin is the fastest-returning La Réunion local to this year’s Diagonale. Last year, he was second (and two hours, 40 minutes behind winner François D’Haene). Since that performance, he’s this year run to 12th place at the Hong Kong 100k (behind 11th place Cyril Cointre but ahead of 13th to 15th places Pascal Blanc, Antoine Guillon, and Christophe Le Saux) and fourth place at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (behind third place Gediminas Grinius and ahead of Cyril Cointre, Sylvain Camus, Antoine Guillon, and Christophe Le Saux). He also finished a more lackluster 45th male at the 2014 UTMB.
Pascal Blanc is the other La Réunion local who I’d put money on performing well. A proven Diagonale des Fous entity, he’s finished the race five times, finishing seventh, eighth, fourth, second, and third over the years. Last year, he was third (and a bit more than three hours back from winner François D’Haene). In looking at his results beyond Réunion Island, it’s clear that he performs his best on his home terrain.
American Jason Schlarb is likely to be either real hot or somewhat chilly at Diagonale des Fous. His fourth-place performance at this year’s UTMB (post-race interview) (90 minutes back from winner François D’Haene and 45 minutes off second place Iker Karrera) was super solid. But before that this year, he was 16th at Transvulcania and way out of contention at the Mont Blanc 80k. Then again, his 2013 was really strong, including third place at the stacked Speedgoat 50k and a win of the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile (post-race interview, report). Not on the plus side for Jason is the fact that he arrived on La Réunion with just 4.5 days to spare, not much time to recover from the two-day/night, two-transoceanic-flight journey from the U.S. to the Mascarene Islands, which, when I did it, was a big butt kicker.
Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius has leapt onto the international ultra radar this year, first with his third place at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and even more boldly with his fifth place at UTMB. I look forward to seeing where Gediminas goes at Diagonale and races down the road.
Perpetual travelers, running partners, and UTWT race participants Antoine Guillon and Christophe Le Saux, both of France, will likely be running for top-10 finishes at Diagonale. Antoine has finished faster than Christophe in several races, and they’ve finished in a tie or near-tie in several races as well. Most recently, the pair tied for third at the 2014 Tor des Géants. Antoine, in particular, is the one to watch from this pair for a top-five finish. He’s a seven-time Diagonale finisher, and he’s never finished lower than fourth, including a fourth-place finish last year.
David Pasquio of France is a two-time Diagonale des Fous finisher, having placed seventh in 2012 and fifth in 2013. Notably, this means the top-five men from the 2013 Diagonale edition are all returning!
One thing I’m really stoked about in Diagonale des Fous’s men’s race is that a full half of the 2014 men’s UTMB top 10 are racing, including seventh place Sondre Amdahl of Norway. Sondre has been on a steady upward-performance progression in the last couple years, his standouts including 10th place at the 2013 CCC (a sister race to UTMB), sixth place at the 2014 Transgrancanaria, and a win of the 2014 Highland Fling, a 53-mile race in the U.K. Of note, he’s not listed on the elite entry list, but he’s registered and plans to run.
France’s Patrick Bohard is a proven entity at long-distance Euro ultras. This year he finished second at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (a few minutes back from winner Julien Chorier), and he just won the Grand Raid des Pyrénées a couple months ago. He’s previously finished sixth place twice at UTMB, and he was fifth at last year’s Tor des Géants.
Tsuyoshi Kaburaki doesn’t race major international races very often, but when he does, he tends to bring his A game. Cases in point: second place at the 2009 Western States, sixth at the 2011 TNF EC 50 Mile Championship, a win at the 2013 Bighorn 100 Mile, and sixth place at the 2014 Hardrock 100. At age 46, he doesn’t have the leg speed to compete for the podium, but a great day for Japan’s Kaburaki-san and he’d be knocking on top five’s door. No matter what happens, even if a giant rock hits him in the face–which happened during Hardrock this year–we can guarantee he’ll be smiling.
Spain’s Javier Dominguez is also an interesting entrant to watch. He catapulted onto the international scene when he finished third at the 2013 UTMB (post-race interview). His performances since then have been, overall, strong, but not close to that UTMB breakout. This includes a seventh place at the 2013 Cavalls del Vent, another seventh place at the 2014 Transgrancanaria (behind Antoine Guillon and Sondre Amdahl, but ahead of Cyril Cointre, Gediminas Grinius, and Christophe Le Saux), 11th at the Mont Blanc 80k, and 21st man at this year’s UTMB. He’s previously demonstrated the fitness to go top 10 in this group, but will he pull that performance out on game day? A wild card.
France’s Cyril Cointre should also finish inside or close to the top 10. A regular at the UTWT events this year, he’s so far finished 11th at the Hong Kong 100k (ahead of Antoine Guillon and Christophe Le Saux), eighth at the Transgrancanaria, 13th at the Marathon des Sables, and ninth at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
Other Men To Watch
- Fabrice Armand (La Réunion) — Seven-time Diagonale des Fous finisher; highest placing was 10th in 2011.
- Sylvain Camus (France) — Strong at the national level, finished 10th at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail this year (behind third place Gediminus Grinius and ninth place Cyril Cointre).
- Aurelien Collet (France) — Eighth at the 2013 CCC (ahead of 10th place Sondre Amdahl) and seventh at the 2013 La Grande Course des Templiers (25 minutes back from second place Xavier Thevenard).
- Jean-Claude Guiton (La Réunion) — Eight-time Diagonale finisher; highest placing was ninth in 2011.
- Ronan Moalic (France) — 11th man at the 2013 UTMB.
- Yolain Nagama (La Réunion) — Eight-time Diagonale finisher; highest placing was sixth in 2007.
- Wilfrid Ouledi (La Réunion) — Six-time Diagonale finisher; highest finish was second place in 2005.
- Dany Payet (La Réunion) — 13th male at the 2012 Diagonale.
- Renaud Rouanet (France) — 12th man at the 2013 Diagonale des Fous.
- Minehiro Yokoyama (Japan) — Fifth place 2012 UTMF. Of note, he’s on the entrants list but not the elite list.
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will end up on the men’s and women’s podiums this year?
- Who do you think will surprise with a breakout performance?
- Is there anyone not listed here who you think deserves a mention? If so, let us know who and why.
- Do you know of anyone who is definitely not racing?