2016 UTMB Men’s Preview

UTMB logoWe are closing in on the end of August and, in trail-ultra time, that means it’s UTMB time! If you thought last year’s men’s race (and, let’s face it, the one before that, too) was showdown of who’s who in long mountain ultras, then get ready for another fantastic show. We’ll see two members of the men’s 2015 podium back for more in Luis Alberto Hernando and David Laney, as well as second and fourth places from 2014 back, too–that’s Tòfol Castanyer and Jason Schlarb, respectively. We’ve also got trail-ultra phenom Zach Miller debuting at the 100-mile distance, and a number of other previous UTMB podium finishers from 2013 and further back. And then there are literally about two-dozen more dudes who stand a decent shot making their mark at the front of the men’s race.

Altra Lone Peak 3 - 200-x-167The UTMB is 170 kilometers (105.5 miles) long with 10,000 meters (32,800 feet) of climbing as it loops the famed Mont Blanc, starting and finishing in Chamonix, France after traveling through Italy and Switzerland in the process.

The course records are held by François D’haene at 20:11:44, set in 2014, and Rory Bosio at 22:37:26, set at the 2013 race.

The 2016 edition kicks off on Friday, August 26 at 6:00 p.m. CEST (10:00 a.m. MDT in the U.S.). Stay tuned because, for the seventh year in a row, iRunFar is covering the race live!

GU EnergySpecial thanks to Altra for making our live race coverage possible.

Thanks also to GU for sponsoring our coverage.

Make sure to check out our women’s preview, too.

The Headline Acts

We think the men’s 2016 UTMB champ is going to come out of this short list:

Luis Alberto Hernando - 2015 UTMB second

Luis Alberto Hernando

In the previous two UTMB editions, the men’s champ has prevailed by three quarters of an hour or more. Despite fierce battles for 120k or more, there has been one man each year who stayed much stronger in the race’s final 50k. This year, if this same scenario plays out, I think that guy could be Spain’s Luis Alberto Hernando (pre-race interview). The dude seems primed to win this race. After dropping from the 2014 edition, he came back to finish second last year, his first and only 100-mile finish. Since then, he’s gone on to win both the 2016 Transvulania and Buff Epic Trail, which was the Skyrunning World Championships. Perhaps even more significant, Luis is racing less this year than he did in 2015. There is probably only one or two men who have the talent and drive to beat a rested, focused Luis who now knows how to race 100 miles. Here’s your notice: watch out, world.

David Laney (pre-race interview) of the US had an off-the-hook 2015, and he was rightfully honored for it in being named UltraRunning Magazine’s Ultrarunner of the Year. Among his 2015 performances were a win at the Bandera 100k, eighth at the Western States 100, and third here at UTMB. One of the most pleasurable race battles I was fortunate to witness last year was the late-UTMB match-up between Luis Alberto Hernando, David Laney, and Seth Swanson, who went two-three-four within three minutes of each other. Within that battle, David closed phenomenally, showing not only physical ability but also mental maturity. In 2016, it seems he’s putting his eggs into two very big baskets, Western States and UTMB, but so far he’s suffered to a 20-hour Western States finish. The 2:17 marathoner has proven himself a formidable mountain racer–he’s got the credentials for a UTMB win, but my opinion is that he’s got to do this by racing his own race from the gun, difficult to do at any competitive race these days and supremely challenging at the nutty UTMB. He did it last year, though, so I think he can do it again.

2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships - Zach Miller

Zach Miller

The U.S.’s Zach Miller (pre-race interview) is going to run his first 100 miler! I said the same thing with a certain other runner’s 100-mile debut earlier this summer, and I’ll say it again here: Zach is going to put on a big fireworks show via either a huge performance or a huge blow-up. Though I won’t win popularity points for saying this, I’m just not sure the odds are in Zach’s favor for the former, however. Let’s review the circumstances: He’s racing 100 miles for the first time. He’s racing the 100 miler that runs like a 5k for the first 30k. He seems almost unable to resist running at the front of whatever race he runs. We have precious few (if any, help me out, fans?) examples of this scenario playing out successfully. That said, Zach’s a phenom who’s put on great shows in his winnings of the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, the 2015 CCC, and the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships. This is gonna’ be another good show.

Two years ago here, Spain’s Tòfol Castanyer tied for second place, what I believe was his first 100-mile finish. In his five or so years of trail ultrarunning, Tòfol’s racked up some excellent additional results, including a win of the 2012 CCC, fourth at the 2014 TNFEC 50 Mile, third at the 2015 Les Templiers, and a second place behind winner Zach Miller at the 2016 Madeira Island Ultra Trail. In June of this year, he suffered a bit in the heat to finish 12th at Western States. After running near the front of the race (and while still running near the front of the race), Tòfol dropped here last year. It seems a little like anyone’s guess on how his race will turn out this year, but I think it’s certain that he’ll race at the front from the get go.

2016 Hardrock 100 - Jason Schlarb

Jason Schlarb

American Jason Schlarb (pre-race interview) had what I would call the race of his life in tying for the win at the 2016 Hardrock 100 with Kilian Jornet. Jason has one UTMB finish, a fourth in 2014 and what I might call his other life-best ultra performance. Doubling back just one-and-a-half months after Hardrock, whose verticality and high altitude certainly require extra recovery time, for another top UTMB performance is going to be a challenge. Jason’s other top finishes in the last year or so include second at the 2015 Eiger Ultra Trail and a win at the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile.

I’d argue that Gediminas Grinius’s (Lithuania) steep ascent to highest-level success in long mountain ultras began with his fifth place at the 2014 UTMB. Since then, he’s had some incredible performances, including a win of the 2015 Transgrancanaria, fourth at the 2015 Western States, a win of the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, second place at the 2016 Transgrancanaria, and second place at the 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Gediminas is a markedly better runner than he was when he finished fifth here two years ago, so I’m guessing his current potential here is the podium.

Ryan Sandes - 2014 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji results

Ryan Sandes

To be honest, I’m not sure quite where in this preview to list South Africa’s Ryan Sandes. Remember his 2014? It was really something, with a win at the 2014 Transgrancanaria, second place at UTMF, and fifth at Western States. And then his 2015 was kind of a wash, with it including not starting Western States because of illness and dropping early at UTMB after not feeling well from the start, his two goal races last year. Internationally in 2016, we’ve seen him finish the 2016 Tarawera Ultramarathon in third and Ultra Trail Australia in fourth. No doubt, this guy could use a good race here.

Didrik Hermansen (pre-race interview) of Norway came onto our radar when he ran to fourth place at the 2014 Ultravasan 90k. Since then, he’s taken second at the 2015 Transgrancanaria behind winner Gediminas Grinius, won the 2015 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, been third at the 2015 Ultravasan 90k, won the 2016 Transgrancanaria ahead of second place Gediminas Grinius, and taken second at the 2016 Western States. I’d put Didrik in the category of ‘on the rise’ as I think he’s still developing as a trail-ultra athlete. This will be his first UTMB.

Top-10 Potential

These are the men who we think have the highest potential to finish inside the top 10.

What the heck is happening with the U.K.’s Andy Symonds (pre-race interview)? He is on fire this year. Cases in point for 2016: fifth at Transgrancanaria, fourth at Transvulcania, the winner of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail ahead of second place Gediminas Grinius, and second at the Buff Epic Trail, which served as the Skyrunning World Championships and where he finished a half hour back to winner Luis Alberto Hernando. I believe this could be his first 100 miler, can anyone confirm? Even so, it’s going to be fascinating watching Andy apply his talent to this course and this competitive field.

Miguel Heras - 2015 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

Miguel Heras

After watching this guy race for years, I can safely say that you never know what kind of Miguel Heras (Spain) you’re going to get until you’re about halfway through a race. First, he seems to dance on the boundary of training so hard that he’s ridiculously fit or he’s injured, so getting to the starting line of a race is half his battle. And then, Miguel races at the front from the get go, sticking it and having great races sometimes and dropping in others. But when this guy is on, he’s on. He has one UTMB finish,a second place in 2013. His other top finishes in the last year include third at the 2015 Ultra Pirineu and fourth at the 2015 Les Templiers. He made it ridiculously far at the 2011 UTMB, dropping something like 85 miles in while still at the front of the race with a knee injury.

Spain’s Javi Dominguez has three UTMB finishes, including third place in 2013. Do you recall when, during our live coverage, we reported his status about 6k away from finishing third in 2013? He was running down the mountain back toward Chamonix and talking on his cell phone! Yep, his podium finish is one I won’t ever forget. Since then, his top finishes have been a fifth at the 2014 Diagonale des Fous, third at the 2016 Lavaredo Ultra Trail behind winner Andy Symonds and second place Gediminas Grinius, and a third at the 2016 Buff Epic Trail, which served as the Skyrunning World Championships and behind winner Luis Alberto Hernando and second place Andy Symonds. I think Javi is in form, and his happy-go-lucky attitude will do nothing but help in a race as long and difficult as UTMB.

Sébastien Camus (France) will be going for his second UTMB finish, but his 43rd place last year does not match his potential. Sébastien’s top recent results include second at the 2015 Diagonale des Fous and third at the 2016 Madeira Island Ultra Trail behind winner Zach Miller and second place Tòfol Castanyer.

I will admit that when France’s Fabien Antolinos finished in the top 10 at last year’s UTMB (he was sixth at the finish line but was later moved up to fifth place after the original fifth-place finisher, Gonzalo Calisto, was DQed following a doping suspension), I thought to myself, Fabien who? But that was my mistake as Fabien has been performing well in trail ultras for quite some time, including a respective third and 11th at the 2013 and 2015 IAU Trail World Championships. Earlier this year, he took fourth at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail behind winner Zach Miller, second place Tòfol Castanyer, and third place Sébastien Camus.

Francesc Solé (Spain) took seventh here last year. Ahead of least year’s race, he won the 2015 Ronda del Cims and he went on to finish sixth at the 2015 Ultra Pirineu.

Ryan Smith (U.K. but lives in the U.S.) had a great UTMB finish last year when he took eighth. He followed that up with another great performance in taking fifth at the 2015 TNFEC 50 Mile. So far this year, he’s won the Quad Rock 50 Mile and took fourth at the competitive Golden Gate Dirty 30, finishing a couple minutes back of third place Jason Schlarb.

Alexandre Mayer (France) returns to UTMB after taking ninth here last year. I believe he has one other UTMB finish, 15th place in 2013. Earlier this year, he took fourth at the EcoTrail de Paris.

Put Stephan Hugenschmidt (Germany) square in the category of ‘rising star.’ I think Stephan is seeking his first 100-mile finish, but he has good trail cred in shorter mountain ultras, including fifth at the 2014 Transvulcania, a win of the 2014 Zugspitz Ultratrail, sixth at the 2016 Transvulcania, and a win of the 2016 Swiss Irontrail.

Tim Tollefson (U.S.) has great UTMB potential. He’s got solid leg speed that he’s been converting to trail ultras for the last couple years, including some stellar performances at the 2014 TNFEC 50 Mile (eighth place), the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (seventh place), and the 2015 CCC (second place behind winner Zach Miller). He does have a couple blips on his radar, including a drop because of injury at the 2015 IAU Trail World Championships and a 19-hour finish of the 2016 Transgrancanaria. Also, this will be his first 100 miler. If he can let the early race shenanigans take place without him, I think he can finish top 10.

Thomas Lorblanchet (France) has four 100-mile finishes, a win at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile back in 2012, a fifth and fourth respectively at the 2015 and 2016 Western States, and an off-par 23rd at the 2015 Diagonale des Fous. I find this interesting in that his strongest finishes have been at the more runnable 100 milers. I believe this will be his first UTMB attempt, but can anyone confirm?

Julien Chorier

Julien Chorier

We haven’t seen as much of France’s Julien Chorier in the last year or so at competitive international ultras as we have in years past, as he’s been pursuing triathlon and personal endurance projects. The dude’s got an incredible trail-ultra pedigree, however, including three strong UTMB finishes (sixth in 2013, fourth in 2010, and third in 2008), two top Hardrock 100 finishes (second in 2014 and a win in 2011), a sixth place at the 2015 Western States, two Diagonale des Fous wins (2011 and 2009), and a win of the 2012 UTMF. Phew! This year we’ve seen him race to seventh at Transgrancanaria.

Andrew Tuckey (Australia) won’t be running this year’s UTMB. [Updated August 19] has two UTMB finishes, including sixth place in 2014. In 2015 and 2016 respectively, we’ve seen him run to ninth and 15th places at Western States.

Jorge Maravilla (U.S.) won’t be running this year’s UTMB. [Updated August 18Jorge Maravilla (U.S.) is an interesting men’s entrant. He’s got three Western States finishes, including eighth in 2012. In 2015, he took second at the Tarawera Ultra, fourth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and fourth at the TNFEC 50 Mile. Why is his entrance here fascinating? He’s got great leg speed on the roads and the San Francisco Bay Area trails, where he lives. He’s a patient racer and unafraid to let the fast starters proceed ahead of him. I’d say his skills are a bit untested, however, on the mountainous terrain he’ll find at UTMB. This will be a fun watch.

Pau Bartoló (Spain) is seeking his first UTMB finish, but he’s got plenty of experience in running around Mont Blanc, since he was the 2014 CCC winner and the 2015 TDS champ. His other top performances of late have been a sixth at the 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon and a ninth at the 2015 Ultra Trail Australia.

I admit that the U.K.’s Paul Giblin fooled me at this year’s Western States. He didn’t look so good to me early, but the guy just kept rolling to a fifth-place finish. Paul was 11th at the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships and the 2015 Javelina Jundred winner. I will most certainly not let the expression on his face at UTMB influence my thoughts on how he’s feeling!

I believe that Switzerland’s Diego Pazos has one UTMB finish under his belt, an 11th place in 2014. This guy crushes, but he somehow manages to stay out of the limelight in doing so. Here are a few of his recent results: fifth place at the 2015 CCC, fourth at the 2015 Diagonale des Fous, and wins of the 2016 Mont Blanc 80k and the 2016 Eiger Ultra Trail.

More Fast Guys to Watch

Watch out for these men, who will no doubt add pressure to the pointy end of the racing field:

  • Jez Bragg - UTMB 2010

    Jez Bragg

    Jordi Bes (Spain) — 3rd 2014 TDS, winner 2013 CCC, 13th 2012 UTMB

  • Jez Bragg (U.K.) — Six-time UTMB finisher including a win in 2010
  • Aurélien Collet (France) — 2nd 2016 MaXi-Race Annecy behind winner Ludovic Pommeret, 9th 2016 Transvulcania, 3rd 2014 Diagonale des Fous
  • Bertrand Collomb-Patton (France) — 3-time UTMB finisher including 9th in 2014 and 7th in 2013
  • Takashi Doi (Japan) — 11th 2015 UTMB
  • Juan Maria Jimenez Llorens (Spain) — 14th 2015 UTMB, 8th 2014 TDS, 4th 2013 TDS
  • Ryan Kaiser (U.S.) — 5th 2016 Hardrock 100, 6th 2015 TNFEC 50 Mile, 11th 2015 Western States
  • Arnaud Lejeune (France) — 4th 2016 Eiger Ultra Trail behind winner Diego Pazos, 2nd 2015 UTMF
  • Kazufumi Oose (Japan) — 7th 2016 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, 6th 2015 UTMF, 22nd 2014 UTMB
  • Ludovic Pommeret (France) — Winner 2016 MaXi-Race Annecy, 5th 2015 IAU Trail World Championships, 2nd 2014 Diagonale des Fous, probably the highest upside potential from this list
  • Armanda Jorge Teixeira (Portugal) — 13th 2016 Transgrancanaria, 18th 2015 UTMB
  • John Tidd (U.S. but lives in Spain) — Has run UTMB the last five years, finishing sequentially from 2011 to 2015 in 17th, 14th, 9th, 15th, and 15th. Phew! He’s gonna’ run around 30th place for a long, long time and then start working his way up. Watch out, fast starters.

Still More Runners to Keep Your Eyes On

The list of talented men racing UTMB goes on and on. We’ll likely see these guys in the mix for the top 20.

  • Nicola Bassi (Italy) — 3rd 2016 Ronda del Cims
  • Florian Becker (France) — 8th 2016 MaXi-Race Annecy
  • Victor Bernad Blasco (Spain) — 23rd 2014 UTMB
  • Ivan Geronazzo (Italy) –20th 2014 UTMB
  • Simon Grimstrup (Denmark) — 8th 2015 UTMF, 29th 2014 UTMB
  • Damian Hall (U.K.) — 2nd 2016 Highland Fling, 29th 2015 UTMB
  • David Jeker (Canada) — 8th 2015 Eiger Ultra Trail, winner 2015 Ultra Trail Harricana
  • Zdenek Kriz (Czech Republic) — 5th 2016 Buff Epic Trail (the Skyrunning World Championships), 9th 2015 Ultra Pirineu, 12th 2015 Lavaredo Ultra Trail
  • Gerard Morales Ramirez (Spain) — 12th 2016 Buff Epic Trail (the Skyrunning World Championships), 7th 2015 Ultra Pirineu, 20th 2015 UTMB
  • Masatoshi Obara (Japan) — 5th 2015 UTMF
  • Shunsuke Okunomiya (Japan) — Winner 2015 Hasetsune Cup, 6th 2015 Eiger Ultra Trail
  • Giulio Ornati (Italy) — 4th 2016 MaXi-Race Annecy, 5th 2014 CCC
  • Alvaro Rodriguez Barreiro (Spain) — 9th 2014 CCC
  • Francisco Javier Rodriguez Bodas (Spain) — 11th 2015 Ultra Pirineu, 9th 2015 Mont Blanc 80k, 4th 2014 TDS
  • Brian Rusiecki (U.S.) — Winner 2016 Vermont 100 Mile, winner 2016 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile, winner 2015 Grindstone 100 Mile, 18th 2014 UTMB
  • Sangé Sherpa (Nepal but lives in France) — 7th 2015 UTMF, 4th 2015 Eiger Ultra Trail
  • Quentin Stephan (France) — 6th 2016 MaXi-Race Annecy
  • Siu-Keung ‘Stone’ Tsang (Hong Kong) – 17th at the last three UTMBs, how about that consistency?! Siu-Keung ‘Stone’ Tsang is not running. [Update August 18]
  • Michael Wardian (U.S.) — 4th 2016 San Diego 100 Mile, 7th 2016 Tarawera Ultra, 5th 2015 JFK 50 Mile, winner 2015 Eastern States 100 Mile
  • Henrik Westerlin (Denmark) — 5th 2015 Spartathlon

On Entrants List but Not Running

  • Yan Long-Fei (China)
  • Timothy Olson (U.S.)
  • Seth Swanson (U.S.)

Call for Comments

  • Who’s going to win UTMB this year?
  • How about the balance of the men’s podium? Care to lay out your picks in the comments?
  • Who would you move up from one list to the next? Anyone you’d add to the preview? Anyone you think is particularly primed for this year’s race?
  • Is anyone on this list not racing? Let us know and we’ll keep the list updated!
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com’s Senior Editor, the author of ‘Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,’ and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world’s wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 39 comments

  1. WeiDe

    Fingers crossed for Stephan, he ran that Zugspitz 100k in a little over 10 hours, the race has over 5.000m vert gain and it as times very steep and technical.

  2. Elias

    If he makes it alive to Grand Col Ferret, I’d put my money on Zack Miller. I’d also like to see Julien come back, not being sure whether he can make it, but he is an impressive racer. I thinks Ryan’s not back strong enough, but Gediminus might be good for a surprise…

  3. Truckee Mt Runner

    Watch out for Tollefson for the win. His training has been on point and in the eastern sierras which is no joke. He will contend top 3!!!

    1. Ian Sharman

      Tim’s slower Transgrancanaria was on an injury an he only started to get UTMB points and experience, so that doesn’t reflect his potential. Saying that, predicting the top runners from this list is almost impossible, just depending on who’s uninjured, not over-trained and runs intelligently.

  4. Dylan Bowman

    World class field as always – thanks for the preview!

    I think Zach Miller represents the USA’s best chance ever for a victory here. UTMB is always highlighted by huge carnage and attrition – particularly in the Men’s race. The early fast pace is suicidal for most, but historically, the winner has ALWAYS come from the lead group. Zach is very comfortable running “European style” and has shown the talent and grit to win big races wire-to-wire.

    From memory, Laney was more than 10mins down from the lead group at Les Contamines (30k) last year. He proved you can use a methodical/conservative strategy early and still race onto the podium over the final three brutal climbs. But to win the race, history says you have to take a huge risk in the earliest stage of the race, which most American runners just aren’t used to. This lends itself to massive drop rate and makes UTMB uniquely fun to watch. It’s also exactly how Zach prefers to race, which should put the Europeans on notice.

    Zach’s experience on the course (CCC victory) will also be hugely valuable. His training grounds in CoS offer big/steep vert and he lives 2,000′ above the high point of the course, which is a big advantage.

    Overall, I’m super confident in the whole American contingent this year! Can’t wait to follow iRF updates!

    PS – Jorge is not running.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Xavier Thevenard employed a similar tactic in both his 2013 and 2015 wins, sitting several minutes back for at least a third of the race, then running among the leaders for the next third, then running alone off the front for the final quarter or so. Francois D’haene, in his 2014 win, shared the pace setting at the front of the race (with the exception of the first 10 or 15k where there are were some rabbits out front messing around) with his Salomon teammates for quite some time before they slowly dropped back after halfway while his pace stayed strong. These two styles of running (staying in contact of the lead but a few minutes back and sharing leadership pace setting/working together) are totally different from what we’ve so far seen Zach do–his MO so far has been to run off the front of basically everyone and alone. Do we have an example from a recent big, competitive 100 miler of someone who ran off the front in Zach Miller style and stuck it? I’m totally with you, though, DBo, in that I think the winner will come from whomever is within a few minutes of the lead at Les Contamines or vicinity. But I’m not convinced that it’s going to be a guy who is setting the pace alone and off the front, unless the rest of the big guns are running atypically slow at Les Contamines or vicinity.

  5. David Roche

    Betting against Zach Miller is like betting against a Category 5 hurricane. It’s always tough to predict, but you have to respect such a force of nature.

  6. SteelTownRunner

    Wardian also recently (end of May) ran Cami de Cavalls for 2nd place in 20:45:42. SD100 was a month later and his TGNY 100 win in 16 hrs was just 2 weeks later.

  7. Stephen

    I’ll drop in a word for Steven Moore of Austin, TX.

    1st – Cactus Rose 100 Mile (2x winner)
    1st – Superior Fall 100
    1st – Mogollon Monster 100
    2nd – Arkansas Traveler
    3rd – Brazos Bend 100

  8. Andrew Tuckey

    Thanks for the mention but I won’t be running this year, too many family commitments this time. Looking forward to following the updates

  9. DF

    How is Brian Rusiecki that far down the list? How many 100s has the guy won? He’s been in Ultra Running’s top 10 for the past several years. East coast guys never make the cut do they?

    1. NickT

      I’ll second that! Brian may not have the top speed of some of the other gents, but he’s super tough and will run a smart race. Look for him to start out more conservatively and then pick off the carnage later on. Go Brian!!

  10. Aaron

    Someday Zach and Jim Walmsley need to race at a good 100K. I would drive out to see that race.

    As for Zach, it all depends what’s left in the tank. He’s smart. If he wants it he’ll have to have something left past half way. Just hope it’s enough to take it home.

  11. gonzalo pizarro

    Miguel Heras did not have a tie with Tofol in UTMB, that was Iker Karrera in 2014. Miguel was a solo second in 2013

  12. Eric Senseman

    Andy Symonds – yes, I think it’s his debut at the 100-mile distance. If he’s recovered from those stellar performances so far this year, it’ll be exciting to see what he can do.

  13. Emmanuel

    I confirm, this is the first attempt of Thomas Lorblanchet. Be careful with Ludovic Pommeret. For me he’s one of the favorite.

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