2017 Trail World Championships Men’s Preview

This year, the Trail Sacred Forests will host the Trail World Championships in Badia Prataglia, Italy. While the two most recent trail world championships were hosted on courses of approximately 80 kilometers in length, this year’s course is 50k that packs in more than 3,000 meters (approximately 10,000 feet) of climbing. Still, we’ve heard that the course could be extremely fast with the winner in the low four-hour range. We’re not sure if the world-championship course is the same as last year’s Trail Sacred Forests race, but, for perspective, that 50k was won in 4:40 by a runner (Luca Carrara) who’d likely finish in the teens position-wise at a Skyrunner World Series skyrace.

Last year, I organized the men’s preview by the top contending teams this year, but I’ll revert back to looking at the top individual contenders before separately looking at the team competition. A full list of entrants (pdf) is available.

The race starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 10th, which is 12 a.m. MDT heading into Saturday in the U.S. As you’d expect, we’ll be reporting on the race live.

Be sure to read our in-depth women’s preview, too.

Top Contenders

2016 IAU Trail World Championships - Luis Alberto Hernando Interview

Luis Alberto Hernando

Last year’s World Champ Luis Alberto Hernando (pre-race interview) of Spain is back and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t defend his title this year. While I think of Hernando as a guy who crushes 80k races, he’s won plenty of trail marathons, including the Transvulcania Marathon in May, as well as capturing at least two seconds and two thirds at the Zegama Marathon. In addition to his world championship last October, Hernando was second at the Trail World Championships in Annecy in May 2015.

Back, too, is the 2015 World Champ Sylvain Court (pre-race interview) of France, who returned to finish third at last year’s Trail World Championships. Arguably, those are Sylvain’s top performances on the trails along side his runner-up finish at Les Templiers in 2014. As far as we can find, Court lacks the depth of resume in the marathon to 50k range that Hernando has, but he was fifth and, then, second at France’s competitive Trail du Ventoux in 2015 and 2016.

Marco De Gasperi - 2014 Zegama Marathon

Marco De Gasperi

Italy’s Marco De Gasperi will be running the IAU Trail World Championships this weekend just two weeks after finishing second at the Zegama Marathon, while going under the existing course record. While we’ve not seen De Gasperi at the past few Trail World Championships (this may be his debut at the event?), he does own five Mountain Running World Championships… or six, if you count his junior WMRA world championship back in 1996. Last year, De Gasperi was runner-up at the WMRA Long Distance World Championships.

Frenchman Nicolas Martin is knocking on the door of a major victory. Last year, he was runner up at the Trail World Championships, while he took the same position at Transvulcania last year. Just last month, he was fourth at Transvulcania. In 2015, Martin was seventh at the Trail World Championships before being runner up at Les Templiers and third at the CCC. While I don’t believe I’ve seen him race an event around this distance, he’s been second, first, and third at the past three runnings of the 46k Trail du Ventoux.

2016 TNF 50 - Hayden Hawks

Hayden Hawks

Despite blowing up at Transvulcania last month, I’m including Hayden Hawks of the U.S. here. In less than a year of ultrarunning, he’s already made a name for himself. Last year, there was, of course, that start-to-finish battle at last year’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships when he finished second to Zach Miller, after winning the Speedgoat 50k in July. This year, he’s set a course record at the Red Hot Moab 55k, been second at the Chuckanut 50k just behind Max King, and set the Zion Traverse FKT.

Although he’s been fifth the past two Trail World Championships, I’ve got to include Ludovic Pommeret here. Not only did he win UTMB last year, he was second at this year’s Trail du Ventoux after taking third there last year. Still, I’d say another fifth is more likely than a win.

Other Top Runners

Benoit Cori - 2015 Les Templiers Champ

Benoît Cori

If I had to bet on who’d be the first finisher to be enjoying a beer at the finish, I’d double down on Benoît Cori. I’d also be willing to bet that he’ll have more fun than anyone else in the top 10, if that’s where he finishes. Last year, Cori took fourth at the Trail World Championships after taking 13th there a year earlier. Previously, he’s doubled as champion at Les Templiers in 2014 and 2015. That said, I don’t know of any finishes by Cori in the marathon-to-50k range that are on par with his finishes at a step up in distance.

If you were thinking that we were done with the French team… not so. I’ll admit I didn’t notice Cedric Fleureton’s 2016 season from across the Atlantic, but how about… first at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc, third at Les Templiers, and sixth at Sierre-Zinal? Oh, and he was the French “Short Trail” national champion from 2014 to 2016 at distances ranging from 23.5 to 32.9 kilometers.

Andy Wacker - 2011 All-American cross country

Andy Wacker

If American Andy Wacker (pre-race interview) had any experience racing for four-plus hours, I’d move him one category up. Wacker is seriously fast. He’s been second at plenty of top races, such as the 2015 US Mountain Running Championships (later, 13th at the WMRA World Champs), the Mount Washington Road Run, Pikes Peak Ascent (twice), and, oh, the 2015 WMRA Long Distance Championships at the Zermatt Marathon. Back in 2015, he also won the USATF 50k Trail National Championships at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k. Despite some seriously fast folks running the course over the years, he has the course record… by three and a half minutes. Wacker took fourth at the U.S. Mountain Running Championships just this past weekend. For more on Andy, check out this in-depth profile from late 2015.

Based on what he’s done at The Rut 50k the past two years, namely second place in 2015 and a win in last year’s shortened race, I’d suggest keeping an eye on Spain’s Cristofer Clemente. Last year, he also won the 54k Ultra Skymarathon Madeira and was third at Ultra Pirineu, where he was fifth a year earlier.

Miguel Caballero won the Spanish Trail National Championships at the 43k Trail Fuentealta Vilaflora to make this year’s Trail World Championship squad. This year, he’s also been fourth at the 43k Reventón Trail and won the 61k Mim race at Penyagolosa. He was fourth at Ultra Pirineu in 2015 and ninth at the Skyrunning World Championships Skyrace last year.

Cody Reed - 2016 TNF EC 50

Cody Reed

The U.S.’s Cody Reed could really surprise the world this weekend. Although he’s barely a year into ultrarunning, he’s already logged wins at last year’s highly competitive Tamalpa Highlands 50k (running 3:43 on a course with 2,225 meters of climb) and this March’s Way Too Cool 50k. Cody did finish a disappointing 16th at last December’s TNF EC 50 Mile in California.

I don’t quite know where to put Spain’s Daní Garcia, as he runs really hot or cold. On the high end, he was second at Transvulcania in 2015 and third at this year’s Spanish Trail Championships. On the other end, he was 26th at the Zegama Marathon last year and 99th at the 2015 Trail World Championships.

Arguably, American David Roche’s best trail running results have come at the 50k distance, such as his win at last year’s Way Too Cool 50k and his second- and third-place finishes at the 2016 and 2015 Tamalpa Headlands 50k. While not quite as hilly at this weekend’s course, the Tamalpa course does still have 2,225 meters of climb.

Looking for another sleeper pick on the French squad? Try speedy Emmanuel David. For starters, he’s been fourth and fifth at the past two runnings of Trail du Ventoux. He’s also the 50k Grussian Phoebus Trail this year and the 47k Trail des Forts de Besançon in 2015. In 2015, David was third at the 72k La Saintélyon. All of those races have less vert than Saturday’s race, but David has wheels. Emmanuel is not one of France’s designated team runners and will not count toward their team scoring. [Added June 5: I originally had Emmanuel in our preview, but removed him prior to publication as he isn’t a scoring team member. I’ve decided to include him with an appropriate statement regarding not scoring.]

Pablo Villa is another member of the strong Spanish squad. Last year, he was fifth at the Livigno Skymarathon, sixth at Limone, seventh at Matterhorn Ultraks, 10th at Skyrun Comapedrosa, and 11th at Zegama. He finished second at this year’s Spanish Trail Championships. Villa has been 16th and 49th the past two Trail World Championships.

Yoshihito Kondo of Japan beat the likes of Marco De Gasperi, Tom Owens, and David Byrne to take second at the 2015 MSIG Sai Kung 28k. Now, that’s far better than his other international results of 18th at the 2014 80k du Mont-Blanc, 13th at Les Templiers in 2015, and 16th at the 2016 Skyrunning World Champs Skyrace, but it shows a potential for an upside surprise, especially in a shorter ultra.

While he didn’t have a great race at Zegama last month (23rd), Sweden’s André Jonsson has the potential to run in the top 10 this weekend. In 2016, he was fourth at Ultra Skymarathon Madeira, sixth at the Livigno Skymarathon, 10th at Zegama, and 15th at Trofeo Kima, among many others.

Mario Mendoza - 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile third place sq

Mario Mendoza

Mario Mendoza of the U.S. finished 124th at last year’s Trail World Championships, but that’s not indicative of his potential, which could be further improved by this year’s shorter course. Last year, he placed third at Lake Sonoma after placing second at Chuckanut. In 2015, he did also win the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile along with the Moab Trail Marathon with both events being USATF Trail National Championships for their respective distances.

The U.S.’s Tyler Sigl took it out hard at last year’s Trail World Championships before blowing up. Still, he was third and, then, first at the past two USATF Trail 50 Mile National Championships at Cayuga Trails. He also ran a 5:27 and 5:32 50 miler at TNF EC 50 Mile-Wisconsin and Door County 50 Mile in 2014. Earlier this year, Sigl was fifth at the Chuckanut 50k.

I can’t find much on Japan’s Yuya Kawasaki other than that he won last year’s always competitive Hasetsune Cup, but that’s a solid achievement in and of itself.

I’m giving a nod to Finland’s Henri Ansio. After finishing 36th at the 2015 Trail World Championships, he moved up to 15th last year. There’s also the fact that it appears he’s won a bunch of shorter ultras (43 to 55km) in Finland the previous two years.

Australia’s Andrew Tuckey is out with an injury. [Updated June 8Australia’s Andrew Tuckey has run some impressive races, including taking sixth at UTMB in 2014 and ninth at the Western States 100 in 2015. He was also second at the 75k Buffalo Stampede Skymarathon in 2015. I honestly have little idea of how strong he’d be at a race this short.

Marcin Świerc of Poland has multiple top-ten finishes and strong international event. For example, he was seventh at last year’s WMRA Long Distances World Championships, as well as eighth at the Marathon du Mont Blanc and ninth at Les Templiers, both in 2014.

Even More Top Men

While we could probably give a tip of the hat to at least half the race’s entrants, we won’t go quite that far. Still, here’s another set of fast men who could have a strong showing in Saturday’s race.

  • [Update June 7: Tiago Aires (Portugal) is injured.] Tiago Aires (Portugal) — 13th 2016 IAU Trail WC
  • Luca Carrara (Italy) — Wins a ton of approximately 50k races in Italy, including last year’s Trail Sacred Forests, where these world championships is being run
  • Helio Fumo (Portugal) — 2nd 2017 Transgrancanaria Advanced
  • Simon Grimstrup (Denmark) — 7th 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji; 28th 2016 WMRA Long Distance Championships
  • Tomi Halme (Finland) — 4th 2014 & 2015 Swiss Alpine Marathon; 24th 2015 Trail WC
  • Tom Erik Halvorsen (Norway) — 10th 2015 Vasaloppet 90k; 3rd 2016 Vasaloppet 45k; 27th 2016 IAU Trail WC
  • Vlad Ixel (Australia) — 12th 2016 Transvulcania Ultramarathon; 1st 2015 TNF 100k-Hong Kong; 25th 2016 IAU Trail WC
  • Andrejs Jesko (Latvia) — 3:00:42 50k 2016, Latvian national champion/national record; 9th 2017 Penyagolosa Mim 61k [Added June 6: Addition to revised entrants list]
  • Michael Kabicher (Austria) — 2nd 2014 Dolomiti Extreme 53k; 2nd 2016 TransAlpine Run; 3rd 2016 Glockner Trail (49k)
  • Romain Maillard (France) — 4th 2017 Trail du Ventoux; 7th 2015 Marathon du Mont-Blanc
  • Massimo Mei (Italy) — 5th 2015 Zermatt Marathon; 16th 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent
  • Gábor Muhari (Hungary) — 1st 2016 Mozart 100; 92.613km in 6 hours
  • Calum Neff (Canada) — 3:08 road 50k; 3:10 flat trail 50k
  • Sergio Pereyra (Argentina) — 3rd & 2nd at 2016 and 2017 El Cruce Columbia; 1st 2017 Argentinian Trail 50k Championships; 3rd 2017 Patagonia Run 42k
  • Georg Piazza (Italy) — 17th 2016 IAU Trail WC; 2nd 2016 Maddalene Sky Marathon
  • Fabio Ruga (Italy) — 14th 2016 WMRA Long Distance Championships; formerly highly ranked tall-building racer
  • Efren Segundo (Spain) — 4th 2016 OCC; 3rd 2016 Transgrancanaria Advanced; 4th 2017 Spanish Trail Championships
  • Ricardo Da Silva (Portugal) — 16th 2016 IAU Trail WC
  • Ernani Souza (Brazil) — 6th 2016 OCC; 1st 2015 El Cruce Columbia Solo
  • Armando Teixeira (Portugal) — 14th 2016 UTMB; 13th 2016 Transgrancanaria; 11th 2016 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail
  • Etienne Van Gasse (Belgium) — 6th 2016 Trail du Ventoux; 9th 2015 Marathon du Mont-Blanc

The Team Race

A nation can bring more than six runners to the Trail World Championships. However, if that’s the case, prior to the race they must designate the six runners that count toward the team title. The team title is determined by the combined time of a country’s top three designated runners.

Quite frankly, this is France’s race to lose. I thought they dominated in 2015, but last year they took second through fifth… and all four of those guys are returning this year. They did lose last year’s seventh-place finisher in Aurélien Collet, but Cedric Fleureton looks to be plenty quick.

No doubt, last year’s runner-up Spanish team is once again quite strong… but Luis Alberto Hernando can’t improve upon his win from last year, and they don’t return Tòfol Castanyer nor Pau Capell, who went seventh and 11th last year, respectively. That’s leaves a lot of making up to do for Cristofer Clemente, Miguel Caballero, Daní Garcia, and returning team member Pablo Villa. Keep in mind that an equally strong Spanish team went out very hard in 2015, only to have team members blow up leading to their fourth-place finish.

I don’t think I’m being biased when I say the U.S. squad has significant potential at this race. In fact, I think it has both a higher upside and higher probability of hitting the podium than last year’s team. On the other hand, it could self destruct much like last year’s team did. I think the team composition and the shorter, faster course make that less likely. Matching 2015’s second-place result would be solid.

The biggest wildcard is easily the Italian team. Aside from Marco De Gasperi, who could win the race outright, it’s hard to gauge the potential of many of the team members. Italy has such a well-established mountain-running tradition that there are plenty of top Italian runners who stay domestic with their racing, so it’s hard to know how they stack up against others internationally. Plus, the home team always has both a motivational and an informational advantage.

Both the German and Portuguese teams have plenty of strong runners to make a run at the podium if other teams falter. The Germans took third at last year’s World Championships, while I admittedly derive much of the Portuguese team’s perceived strength based on their home-country success at last year’s World Championships.

Unlike the past two years, I’m frankly unfamiliar with most of Team Great Britain and the runners’ top results are mostly domestic. I’d love for our British readers to give some context for Kyle Greig, Gareth Hughes Wyn, Tom Payn, and Matthew Roberts. Payn did race Trail Worlds last year, where he finished 47th.

I believe Norway was the fourth-place team last year, but they aren’t fielding a full team this year. Last year, there was a solid lineup of Nepali men registered, but they didn’t show. This year, they’re not even signed up.

Call for Comments

  • Which runner is going to end Saturday as a world champion? Who will join him on the podium?
  • Who do you think will surprise the world?
  • How will the team competition sort out?
  • Let us know if there’s anyone else we should be looking out for or if you know of someone we’ve listed who won’t be racing.

There are 14 comments

  1. Jeremy Palmer

    Thanks for the info! The shorter distance is going to play to Henri Ansio’s strengths as he is absolutely brilliant around 50km and shorter. I imagine top 10 is feasible. One week ago he nailed and won a 53k here in Finland (with considerable snow and elevation the last 15k): http://nutskarhunkierros.fi/en/#3_9E0613.

  2. Matyas Urban

    Great read, thanks very much! Gonna be rooting for our team – Czech Republic, let’s see how well can the boys from the lowlands do :)

  3. David Roche

    Such a great preview, thank you! Totally biased, but Hayden FTW. The course looks like it has his name all over it, and his training has been mind-blowingly strong. Andy Wacker is definitely a dark horse too. What a loaded race though, a lot might depend on who the course suits best. IRF is awesome!

  4. Ben

    I may have missed it but does the team race score the top 4 or 5 runners?

    With Hayden, Wacker, Reed, and Roche I think the US has a good shot at 2nd (and possibly even team gold if 1-2 of the French guys blow up). Sigl was also probably take it out hard since that appears to be his racing style (which is awesome btw!) and the shorter stuff seems to suit Mario’s strengths better. Point is – the US has a strong team for this course!

    In more treacherous mountain terrain I don’t think the US team would have the same chance since the typical European descents are hard to train for in the US but given the description of this course I think our fast guys have a good shot! Let’s crush it guys!

    1. Bryon Powell

      Hey Ben,
      You didn’t miss the scoring system. I’d meant to include it, but hadn’t it’s there now. Basically, combined time of a team’s top-three designated runners (of which there can be up to six).

  5. Robbie

    The British team was selected over a 50k trial mostly on fell and three of those four runners have decent fell running pedigree.

    Tom Payn is the exception and has a 2:17 marathon PB, has spent three weeks on the course this year and is adapting more and more to trail running.

    Tom will do better than last time and I think a top top is possible if he has a good day on a fast course.

    Another to consider is Andresj Jesko of Latvia who had a 3:00 flat 50k PB & is another runner adapting to trail and spending considerable time in the mountains. He also like to start fast. Strangely I can’t see him on the startlist but he did say he was running.

    Looking forward to some fast racing!

  6. Mathieu

    Smiling to see a belgian runner mentioned in a preview from irunfar ;-)
    Bucci is still young but as strong as Van Gasse. So the belgian team might not be such a ridiculous bet for a top 6 (although I do not seriously believe this myself!)

  7. Ricardo

    Tiago Aires is out because he is injuried..
    André Rodrigues also Portuguese is also very strong, top 20 probabbly!

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