2012 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Men’s Preview

TransvulcaniaUltrarunning fans are probably sick of reading statements like “This is the best [INSERT DISTANCE] field ever,” but such is the nature of our sport at the moment. The trails and the thought of spending many hours running on them continues to draw more and more talent to the sport. At the same time, general participation in trail running and ultrarunning may be growing even faster, allowing (or, perhaps, necessitating) companies, races, and even international governing bodies to support the convergence of this talent. That’s why, at the risk of Dakota Jones never speaking to me again, I’ve got to say the 2012 Transvulcania men’s race is the deepest trail 50 mile (ok, it’s 83 km, but it’s close enough) field ever. End of story. (Oh, if only.)

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To be run starting Saturday morning on La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands (off the Moroccan coast), Transvulcania kicks off the inaugural Ultra SkyMarathon Series organized by the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF). With the first of the ISF’s premier Skyrunner World Series races, the Maraton Alpina Zegama-Aizkorri (aka the Zegama Marathon) being held a week later in Spain’s Basque Country, the organization went all out in gathering top runners from around the world for these races, including a significant contingent of Americans and it’s with the Americans that I start our men’s Transvulcania preview.

[Ps. I’ll be over on La Palma covering the race, but more on that another time.]

The American Men (and Friends)

To start, I can’t imagine that either Anton Krupicka (New Balance) or Rickey Gates (Salomon) will race Transvulcania even though both will be at the event. Just last night Anton wrote, “[I] am committed to returning to primarily hiking for the next couple of weeks overseas; I want to be able to run the next time I’m back up [in Leadville, CO] in a couple of weeks.” It seems as though he’s focused on his recovery and, if possible, training for and racing the Hardrock 100 in mid-July. Rickey, on the other hand, has been battling hamstring issues for quite some time with the injury forcing him to withdraw from the Three Peaks race in the UK little more than a week ago. Both might end up running, but I’m not counting on it.

Mike Wolfe grit

Mike Wolfe at TNF EC ’11.

With no disrespect to the other American men, that leaves Geoff Roes (Montrail), Mike Wolfe (The North Face), and Dakota Jones (Montrail) as the top American contenders at Transvulcania. Geoff, the Western States 100 (WS 100) course record holder, has not “run” a race since the TNF EC 50 early last December. He did complete the masochistic 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational (great race report) over the winter, but he’s got to be hungry. Wolfe just fully committed to ultrarunning, having just quit his job as an attorney. Last June, Wolfe finished second at the WS 100, 4 minutes back of winner Kilian Jornet, before beating a stacked field to win the TNF EC 50 (post-race interview), including second place finisher Dakota Jones. I probably shouldn’t hype Mr. Jones, but he did just win the Lake Sonoma 50 (post-race interview, race reportresults) last month and is working with a coach following stepping away from school to concentrate on running. With Roes and Jones racing again at Hardrock, their races on La Palma will be a good early season measuring stick for what’s to come.

While I won’t speculate as to which nations’ passports they carry right now, both Ian Sharman (The North Face) and Joe Grant (Arc’teryx) currently live in the States, so I’ll claim them as our own. Ian may be the speediest “American” in the field, as he holds the North American trail 100 mile record (12:44!), and has plenty of experience on big stages. The question is, can he run with the big dogs up and down the mountains. We shall see. (BTW, the photo of “Ian” circulating sites and Twitter streams is of Ian’s teammate Mike Wardian.) On the other hand, Joe Grant is a mountain man: the steeper and tougher a course is, the better it is for him. He ran some impressive races last year and this year should be no different.

The Europeans (and Other) I Know

I don’t know every top runner from overseas. Heck, it’s hard enough to keep up with the who’s who here in the US, but I’ve come to know a few of the European men, and here they are.

Sebastien Chaigneau TNF UTMB 2011

Seb Chaigneau TNF UTMB ’11.

Last year, Kilian Jornet (Salomon), Iker Karrera (Salomon), and Sebastien Chaigneau (The North Face) spent many hours running through the Alps together on their way to respective, first, second, and third place finishes (all within 20 minutes) at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. (Kilian and Seb post-UTMB ’11 interviews) That’s enough to tell you that any of these three could win on Saturday. Of course, Kilian is the odds on favorite. Not only is he the defending UTMB champ, but he’s also the defending WS 100 champ… and, more or less, the defending champ of any ultra he’s run since Western States in 2010. That said, he’s just taken off his skis after a long ski-mo season. So, while he’s in great shape, running 50 mountain miles will be an adequate test. Iker has a dozen global podium finishes the past three years, including setting the Transvulcania course record alongside his Salomon teammate Miguel Heras last year. Seb Chaigneau is excited enough about this race that he switched his plans from running Ultra Trail Mount Fuji to Transvulcania. Seb’s already won Transgrancanaria this year.

Finishing one place, though considerably behind Kilian and Ko. at UTMB ’11 was Csaba Németh of Hungary in fourth, 100 minutes back of Chaigneau. That was an improvement on his 2009 UTMB finish when he was seventh in running an hour slower on a faster course. Thomas Lorblanchet (Salomon) won the 2009 IAU World Trail Challenge and finished a respectable eighth at the 2010 TNF EC in San Francisco. (pre-race interview) Americans should note his name as he’ll be racing the Speedgoat 50k and Leadville 100 this summer as well as taking on the Colorado Trail in late May. Thomas’ countryman and Salomon teammate François d’Haene also has solid finishes around the globe, including finishing second to Kilian at the TNF 100(km) Australia last year. Americans might be familiar with Andy Symonds (Salomon) from his win aside Tom Owens at the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run in 2008.

I learned of Gustavo Reyes (Salomon) of Argentina’s dominance of southern South American ultras leading up to his disappointing finish at last year’s TNF EC 50. Still, in both 2010 and 2011, he won TNF Chile, TNF Argentina, and the Patagonia Run. He was 14th at last year’s IAU World Trail Challenge at Connemara.

The Europeans I Know I Don’t Know

There’s also some top talent that I know little about aside from pure stats. I’ll list these contenders along with a nugget of data, but I’m hoping iRunFar’s international audience can put a bit of flesh on these bony facts.

  • Bastien Bravais (New Balance) – 17th at last year’s TNF UTMB.
  • Giuliano Cavallo (Salomon Carnifast) – This Italian has plenty of wins and podium finishes on the trails, but his only result I can find from a race I know was his ninth place at last year’s IAU World Trail Challenge.
  • Erik Clavery (Asics) – This former Ironman triathlete from France is the 2011 World Champ from the IAU World Trail Challenge at Connemara. He’s also finished fourth at Diagonale des Fous (’09).
  • Yann Curien (Platinum Sigvaris) – He was second at Templiers in 2010 and eighth at Connemara last year.
  • Philipp Reiter (Salomon) – This German won the Zugspitz Supertrail last year.
  • Florent Troillet (New Balance) – Ok, so I know Florent’s name, but only as Kilian’s Swiss ski mountaineering partner. A spot of research showed he beat Kilian (by four seconds) to win the solo ski-mo world championship in 2010. Apparently, he runs, too!

Additional Transvulcania Previews/Articles

Call for Comments

  • Who’d we miss as a possible contender? Let us know.
  • Have any inside info on one of the top contenders? Share away.
  • Want to expand upon someone from our “The Europeans I Know I Don’t Know” category? Please do!
  • Excited about running the race yourself? Speak up!
  • Seen a great Transvulcania preview? Leave it in a comment.

I’d ask who you think will win… but I’ll wait until Wednesday for that… ;-)