This week, Millau, France hosts the three-day, nine-race Festival des Templiers and its 8,000 trail runners. In its 20th running, the 73-kilometer Grand Trail des Templiers remains the cornerstone event. In honor of this important anniversary, the organizers have pulled together elite teams representing, specifically, the United States, France, and the rest of the world. They along with 2,500 other runners will have a chance at $20,000 (€15,200) in prize money that goes 10 runners deep. Along the way, they’ll deal with 11,000’+ in vertical gain.
We’ll be in France to bring you all the action on Sunday, October 26. The race begins at 5:15 a.m. local time, which is 10:15 p.m. MDT on Saturday, October 25 in the U.S.
For more on Templiers, check out our women’s preview.
The U.S. Squad
The U.S. team headed to France is incredibly strong and well suited to the highly runnable terrain of the Templiers course.
Sage Canaday headlines the American squad having had an excellent 2014 so far. He’s won the Pikes Peak Ascent and Speedgoat 50k (post-race interview), where he broke his own (RD-adjusted due to course change) course record in the process. Early in the season, he took third at both the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview) and Transvulcania (post-race interview). More recently, he was second to Kilian Jornet at The Rut 50k (post-race interview). You can almost count Sage as a lock for the podium, so consistent is he.
In his only two 50 milers to date, Zach Miller (pre-race interview) has racked up impressive wins against notable competition. Miller made his 50-mile debut at last November’s JFK 50 Mile, going from completely unknown to totally on the radar. He ran 5:38, the third-fastest time in the race’s 50-year history, passing Rob Krar (he would DNF) late in the race. Then this April, Miller ran a course record 6:10 to win the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview), besting Rob Krar, Sage Canaday, Alex Varner, Max King, and many other top runners. That’s a solid start to an ultrarunning career! Miller may have the highest upside in the field and could surprise many unsuspecting folks in France. (For more on Zach, here’s a 8,500-word interview with him from shortly after his JFK 50 win.)
Chris Vargo ran some solid ultras in late 2012 and 2013 before really putting himself on the ultra map with his third place at last December’s The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (post-race interview). This year, Vargo has won a bunch of strong ultras with not-quite prime-time fields, such at the Way Too Cool 50k, Whoo’s In El Moro 50k, the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile, and UROC 100k. Injury has forced him to drop from a couple races this year, including the Sean O’Brien and Lake Sonoma 50 Miles.
At this point in the year, Alex Nichols should feel right at home racing in Europe. This year, he’s been doing the Skyrunning thing, having run the Zegama Marathon (pre-race interview), Sierre-Zinal, and Limone. Back stateside, he’s also won the Red Hot Moab 55k and Greenland Trail 50k as well as taking third at Speedgoat (post-race interview) so far this year.
When I think of Matt Flaherty (profile), I think, Fast 50-mile guy. He’s run under 6 hours a handful of times, including a 5:28 en route to winning the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile last October. Earlier this year, he ran a blazing fast 5:49 on the Ice Age 50 Mile’s trails on his way to second. The biggest question is how he’ll handle all the vert.
There’s been some turnover on the French team in the lead-up to race day. Last year’s champ, Thomas Lorblanchet, has switched to the Endurance Trail, a sister event. Other runners such as Michel Lanne and Patrick Bringer have withdrawn after long seasons. Still, the French undoubtedly have a strong team, it’ll just be less well known to those outside of France.
Of the French team, I’m most familiar with Sylvain Court, having seen him race at the TNF 50 Mile Champs in San Francisco in 2012 (8th) and Matterhorn Ultraks this year (11th). He’s run Les Templiers at least three times, taking fourth last year after seventh-place finishes in 2010 and 2012. Over the past five years, he’s racked up a ton of top finishes in French ultras from 50k to 50 miles, particularly on the shorter end of that range.
Since busting into ultras two years ago, 26-year-old Sébastien Spehler has won most of the ultras he’s run. That includes a win at the 2013 Lavaredo Ultra Trail 85k distance and this year’s Trail du Ventoux, a very competitive early-season 46k race in France where he beat Lorblanchet and Lanne among others.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fabien Antolinos finish first among the French. He was second to François D’Haene in July’s Ice Trail Tarentaise, ahead of Tom Owens, Fulvio Dapit, Manuel Merillas, and others. Fabien has run Les Templiers a few times and won the race in 2012 before winning the Endurance Trail des Templiers last year. Last year, he also took sixth at the IAU Trail World Championships.
Nicolas Martin won the inaugural OCC race during the UTMB events this August. Last year, he was ninth at the IAU Trail World Championships. The year before, he took fourth at Templiers. However, those strong showings are mixed in with weaker performances.
Team Rest of the World
While there’s no good name for the ‘rest of the world’ squad, it’s got no lack of talent.
On the global ultrarunning scene, Jonas Buud (pre-race interview) might be Mr. Second Place. Three times he’s taken second (2009, 2010, and 2012) at the IAU 100k World Championships, he was second at UTMB in 2011, and he was runner-up at the Comrades Marathon last year. Of course, he’s got plenty of big wins, too. Who knows how many wins he has at the Swiss Alpine Marathon? He added another win in late August at the inaugural UltraVasan 90k race. I’d say Buud is a lock for the top five with a chance at the win.
Pao Bartolo won the CCC (UTMB sister race) in August to go along with some smaller wins this season at the Ultra Trail de Barcelona and Transgrancanaria 82k. Bartolo has Templiers experience, placing fifth at the race last year.
In case you don’t know him, Ricky Lightfoot (pre-race interview) is really fast. As evidence, his win at last year’s 75k IAU Trail World Championships after taking second at the Team G.B. qualifying race, the 53-mile Highland Fling. Rather than give you a rundown of some more obscure races, I’d encourage you to read our full profile on Ricky.
All we know about Poland’s Marcin Świerc is that he was 10th at Transvulcania in 2013 before taking 14th this year.
Norway’s Didrik Hermansen appears to be a road ultramarathoner who’s taken to the trails (I could be wrong!) with a road 100k time coming into the low 7-teens. Last year, he was 10th at the IAU Trail World Championships behind some of the runners noted above. This year, he was fifth at Trangrancanaria 82k and fourth at the UltraVasan 90k.
Other Top Runners Not on the Official Teams
[Editor’s Note: Unless noted otherwise, the following men were all added on October 25 upon reviewing an expanded entrants list.]
- Thibaut Baronian (France) — 11th at the 2013 Les Templiers
- Thierry Breuil (France) — Winner Les Templiers in 2009 as well as 2nd (2011) and 3rd (2007); 5th at IAU Trail World Championship in 2013 and 7th in 2011
- Erik Clavery (France) — IAU Trail World Champion 2011; 6th at Transvulcania and 4th at Diagonale des Fous in 2012; 5th Les Templiers 2010
- Fulvio Dapit (Italy) — 4th Ice Trail Tarentaise 2013 and 2014; 6th Trofeo Kima 2014; 9th The Rut 50k 2014; 10th Les Templiers 2012
- Manu Gault (France) — 1st CCC 2011; 3rd Les Templiers 2010; 1st La SainteLyon 2012; 1st EcoTrail de Paris 2014
- Pascal Giguet (France) — 8th Mont Blanc 80k 2013; 1st L’Annécime (now, MaxiRace) 2008 & 2009; 9th Les Templiers 2010
- Miguel Heras (Spain) — A last-minute addition who could win this race outright. He’s got two wins at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships that show he can beat a collection of the best in the world at this distance. [Added 10/22]
- Roberto Heras (Spain) — Miguel Heras’s brother and four-time Vuelta a España cycling champion
- David Le Porho (Canada) — Ran 2:20 at the Berlin Marathon this year; 5th at 2012 UROC 100k (only 16 minutes behind Canaday in 8+ hour race) (Thanks, EvHarricana!) [Added 10/22]
- Mikael Pasero (France) — 2nd CCC 2012; 12th Les Templiers 2012
- Clement Petitjean (France) — 4th Mont Blanc 80k 2014; 4th CCC 2013; 9th Les Templiers 2013
- Martin Reyt (France) — 5th Les Templiers 2011 (4 minutes ahead of François D’Haene); 11th Les Templiers 2010
Call for Comments
- Who do you think will win the race?
- Which team will come out on top?
- If you’ve run Les Templiers before, what did you think?