These days, the Grand Raid Réunion is an event composed of three races taking place over a weekend in October on Réunion Island, with the Diagonale des Fous as its headline act. The Diagonale de Fous (DdF) is also the final stop of this year’s 12-race Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT). Inaugurated in 1989, it’s one of the longest-standing mountain ultramarathons in ‘Europe.’ (Europe goes in quotes because Réunion Island is a French department in the southern Indian Ocean.) In total, the race is 167 kilometers (104 miles) long with 9,700 meters (31,800 feet) of elevation gain, and it travels some of the roughest, steepest, and most technical singletrack in mountain running. The race is a self-defined obsession by many of the approximately 850,000 islanders, who treat the event like a Super Bowl or World Series. The race seems to change its course a little bit each year, which makes keeping course records somewhat irrelevant, but expect the winning man to cross the line a little over 24 hours after starting and the winning woman around 28 hours. Below we preview the pointy end of the men’s and women’s fields.
The race kicks off on Thursday, October 20 at 10:00 p.m. local time (which is Thursday, October 20 at noon Mountain Time in the U.S.) on Réunion Island. For the first time, iRunFar is waaaaay out here in the Indian Ocean, on site, and covering the race live! Follow along.
And while you are here, be sure to check out our essay on the race’s fascinating history and modern context.
2016 Diagonale Des Fous Men’s Preview
François D’haene (France) (pre-race interview) is a three-time DdF finisher, including wins in 2013 and 2014. François has been quiet on the international racing scene in 2016 after he won the Hong Kong 100k in January (interview). He intended to race Western States this past June, but injured his ankle on a training run shortly before the race, and wasn’t able to start. He’s certainly fresh in racing, and he just came off grape-harvest season at his winery, which involves a lot of manual labor but perhaps helped him taper off his running?
France’s Antoine Guillon (pre-race interview) is the DdF’s defending champion, and he made his win last year look graceful and peaceful among what can be described as a frenetic and harried race atmosphere. He’s now a nine-time finisher, seeking his 10th completion this year. In other 2016 UTWT races, Antoine has finished 11th at Transgrancanaria and ninth at Madeira Island Ultra Trail. Antoine will have been on the island training and acclimating to the terrain, heat, and humidity for several weeks by race day, so his specific preparations are right on.
Gediminas Grinius (Lithuania) has launched into something like superstar status in trail ultrarunning over the last 1.5 years or so. His 2016 season has been incredible, and this follows a very strong 2015 as well. Gediminius has one DdF finish, a fourth place in 2014. He started last year’s edition as well, but dropped, citing mental fatigue in the race following a lot of racing. Gediminas’s standout races this year have been a third at the Hong Kong 100k, about 20 minutes behind winner François D’haene, second at Transgrancanaria (interview), and second at UTMB (interview). He is also the leader in the UTWT rankings.
France’s Sébastien Camus is sneaky with his success. He’s a quiet and calm but often dominant member of the men’s competitive field in the races he enters. He’s a two-time DdF finisher and he was second last year, about 25 minutes behind winner Antoine Guillon. Also this year, Sébastien has finished third at Madeira Island Ultra Trail and seventh at UTMB.
We generally don’t report much on the personal lives of the athletes we cover at races, but since he’s been public about it and it’s been fun watching Ryan Sandes (South Africa) evolve all these years, it’s fun to note that he and his wife, Vanessa, are brand-new parents! I hope Ryan has been getting at least a little sleep ahead of DdF. We last saw Ryan start but drop early from UTMB in August. Elsewhere in 2016, he’s taken third at the Tarawera Ultramarathon and fourth at the Ultra-Trail Australia.
What a year Javier Dominguez (Spain) has already had. In 2016, he’s been third at Lavaredo Ultra Trail, about 13 minutes behind second-place Gediminas Grinius, third at the Buff Epic Trail, and fifth at UTMB. Ranked third presently in the 2016 UTWT, I’m sure Javi would like to hang onto the men’s tour podium with a strong DdF finish.
Freddy Thevenin (La Réunion) (pre-race interview) is one of the island’s trail heroes, and his third-place DdF finish last year among a competitive international field helped seal his icon status. Freddy is a five-time DdF finisher, including a second place in 2013. He seems to race better on his home terrain than when he goes abroad, but his best off-island performances in the last few years have included fourth at the 2014 Lavaredo Ultra Trail and eighth at the 2015 Transgrancanaria.
More Fast Men to Watch
I believe Erik Clavery has two DdF finishes, his most recent being a fourth place in 2012. A dominant member of the trail-ultra European scene for seven or so years now, Erik has high-level finishes at tough races over different kinds of terrain. In the last 1.5 years, he’s been both sixth at the 2015 UTMB and fifth at the 2016 Marathon des Sables.
Francesc Solé (Spain) will be seeking his first DdF finish, but he’s not a stranger to tough, long mountain ultras. He was the 2014 and 2015 Ronda dels Cims champion and in 2015 he took seventh at UTMB. He’s also been both second and sixth respectively at the competitive 2014 and 2015 Ultra Pirineu races.
Franco Collé (Italy) is perhaps best known in the trail-ultra world for his three fast finishes of the Tor des Géants in Italy, including a win in 2014. Last year, he sampled some Skyrunner World Series events, which saw him, among other races, take second at the 2015 Mont Blanc 80k and win the 2015 The Rut 50k (interview). He took third at the 2016 TDS in August. I think Franco is seeking his first DdF finish.
Watch for Jordi Gamito (Spain) to play heavily in the men’s competitive race. He was sixth here last year, and he’s followed that up with a strong and prolific 2016 season. His best 2016 results have been 10th at the competitive Transgrancanaria, third at the Eiger Ultra Trail, and fifth at the TDS, a half hour back of third place Franco Collé. Jordi is fifth on the 2016 UTWT leaderboard.
Jérôme Lucas (France) should factor into the story of the men’s race. I believe he has two DdF finishes, a ninth last year and 13th in 2014. He took second at the tough 2015 Ronda dels Cims, but was an hour behind winner Francesc Solé. Earlier this year, he finished 13th at Madeira Island Ultra Trail.
[Update October 19: Kenichi Yamamoto is not running.]
Kenichi Yamamoto (Japan) may feature well. I think he races conservatively, which is contrary to how aggressively DdF goes out. As such, we might not see Kenichi in the men’s top 10 until later in the race. I believe he has one DdF finish, eighth place in 2014. Kenichi has twice finished second at Ronda dels Cims, this year and in 2013. He’s also a three-time UTMB finisher, including two finishes inside the top 10, in 2009 and 2011. Finally, he finished third at the 2012 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji.
[Update October 19: Zdeněk Kříž is no longer on the entrants list.]
Zdeněk Kříž (Czech Republic) is quietly creeping into the top-10 rankings at competitive mountain ultras of late. Last year, he took ninth at Ultra Pirineu and this year he was fifth at the Buff Epic Trail, finishing 20 minutes back of third place Javi Dominguez.
France’s Patrick Bohard has had plenty of strong performances over the years at the tougher, long mountain ultras of Europe, including one DdF finish in 2014, sixth place. He was the winner of the 2014 Grand Raid des Pyrénées and the 2015 Tor des Géants.
Here’s another Italian to watch, Marco Zanchi. He just finished the 2016 UTMB in 11th place as part of a prolific racing season. Of note in his 2016 performances was also an eighth place at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
Still More Men to Keep Your Eyes On
- Pascal Blanc (La Réunion) – 5-time DdF finisher including 3rd in 2013
- Stephane Brogniart (France) – 7th 2015 TDS, 10th 2014 UTMB, 13th 2013 UTMB
- Sébastien Buffard (France) – 2-time DdF finisher including 12th in 2015 and 10th in 2013
- Sylvain Camus (France) – 11th 2014 DdF
- Maxime Casajous (France) – 14th 2015 DdF
- Cédric Chavet (Guadeloupe) – 16th and 14th respectively at the 2015 and 2014 DdFs
- Francesco Cucco (La Réunion) – 8th 2016 Eiger Ultra Trail, 11th 2015 DdF
- [Update October 19: Takashi Doi is not running.]
Takashi Doi (Japan) – 11th 2015 UTMB
- Martin Gaffuri (France) – Haven’t seen him race much in the last couple years, this is his first 100 miler
- Jean-Claude Guiton (La Réunion) – 9-time DdF finisher, highest placing was 9th in 2011
- Guy-Noel Lebon (La Réunion) – 9th 2014 DdF
- Ronan Moalic (France) – 8th 2016 TDS, 16th 2015 UTMB, 11th 2013 UTMB
- Yolain Nagama (La Réunion) – 10-time DdF finisher, highest placing was 6th in 2007
- Wilfrid Ouledi (La Réunion) – 6-time DdF finisher, highest finish was 2nd in 2005
- Mikael Pasero (France) – 9th 2016 MaXi-Race Annecy, 5th 2015 Mont Blanc 80k
- Stefano Ruzza (Italy) – 7th 2014 DdF
- Sangé Sherpa (Nepal but lives in France) – 24th 2016 UTMB, 15th 2016 Madeira Island Ultra Trail, prolific racer
2016 Diagonale Des Fous Women’s Preview
Top Women to Watch
Emma Roca (Spain) (pre-race interview) excels at everything she does in trail ultrarunning–she seems to do well on all kinds of terrain and distances. Cases in point from just the last couple years: she was fifth at the 2015 Western States 100 Mile, she won the 2015 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, she took 11th at the 2015 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships, and she was second at the 2016 Hardrock 100 Mile (interview). Without a long race since July at Hardrock, she’s certainly the freshest top female entrant. She should contend for the win.
Is Switzerland’s Andrea Huser tired from her huge 2016 yet? Let’s recap her biggest 2016 performances: second at Transgrancanaria (interview), second at Madeira Island Ultra Trail, a win at Lavaredo Ultra Trail, a win of the Eiger Ultra Trail, yet another win at Swiss Irontrail, and a second at UTMB (interview). Phew, but that only covers about half her races this year. Sitting second on the UTWT leaderboard behind Caroline Chaverot, who isn’t racing DdF, I think a stunning performance this weekend would propel her to tour winner. Last year here, Andrea finished third and 30 minutes back of the lead.
[Update, October 14: Emilie Lecomte isn’t racing, and appears to be gearing up for Les Templiers next.]
France’s Emilie Lecomte just finished the tough Grand to Grand stage race in the U.S. a couple weeks ago, so does anyone know if she’s racing DdF? Emilie was *so close* to winning the 2015 edition of DdF. In a nail-biting final stretch of the race, Emilie closed hard on leader Núria Picas, reducing a decent gap to finish less than 90 seconds behind in second. Such a tight finish for a tough 100 miler. Also this year, Emilie took third at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail behind second-place Andrea Huser, but she was more than 90 minutes behind her.
France’s Juliette Blanchet is a late entrant into DdF. After a stellar fourth place at UTMB in August, Juliette launched herself into fourth place in the 2016 UTWT ranking, and my guess is that she’s here to try and work herself onto the podium. Her other strongest runs of 2016 were fourth at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail and third at the Eiger Ultra Trail.
Jocelyne Pauly (France) seems to be relatively new to the trail-ultrarunning scene, with results going back to 2014. Among those, her best finishes have been in winning the 2015 Grand Raid des Pyrénées, which gives her the tough 100-mile experience she’ll call upon at DdF, a seventh place at the competitive 2015 Les Templiers, and a win a few months ago at the 2016 Ultra Mitic, the 112k distance at the Andorra Ultra Trail events.
Gill Fowler (Australia) has been at this trail-ultrarunning thing for a while, and has had some strong results over the years. This includes a sixth at the 2013 UTMB, a fourth at the 2014 Ultra Trail Australia, and a pair of fourths last year at the Buffalo Stampede Ultra SkyMarathon and the Lavaredo Ultra Trail. I think this is her first racing visit to Réunion Island.
La Réunion’s Alexandra Clain (pre-race interview) is a good bet for first islander across the line. She’s a two-time DdF finisher, having finished fifth last year in a bit over 33 hours and sixth in 2014. After a couple years of racing on her home turf, in 2016, she went abroad several times to race in other UTWT events, with her best result being seventh at Transgrancanaria.
Melanie Rousset (France) is a two-time DdF finisher, I believe, having taken sixth in 2013 and fifth in 2014. In 2015, she finished 10th at UTMB in a little over 30 hours. She’s raced quite a bit in 2016 already, with her top results being fifth at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail and seventh at the Eiger Ultra Trail.
The USA’s Jenn Shelton is on the DdF entrants list! Does anyone know if she’s running? She’ll be into the competitive mix, if so. Her last long race, as far as we know, was The Bear 100 Mile in 2015, where she took third while nursing an injury. [Update, October 15: It looks like from social media that Jenn is on Réunion Island.]
More Fast Women to Watch
- Alexandra Assoumani (La Réunion) – 11th 2014 DdF
- Géraldine Lachapelle (La Réunion) – 6-time DdF finisher including 12th last year
- Nathalie Olasagasti (Spain) – 4-time DdF finisher with her highest finish as 3rd in 2008
- Marcelle Puy (La Réunion) – 5-time DdF winner in 1995, 2002, 2007, 2008, and 2010
- Xing Ruling (China) – Winner of both the 2016 The North Face 100k – Korea and China, has been racing ultras for years and is an icon of Asian women’s ultrarunning
- Perrine Scheiner (France) – 6th 2014 CCC
- Zoe Salt (U.K.) – Winner 2015 Iznik Ultra, 13th 2015 Transvulcania
On the Entrants List but Not Racing
- Kathleen Cusick (USA)
Call for Comments
- Who did we miss that should be in this preview? And, who is in this preview that you know isn’t racing? We’re especially keen for information on local runners who we might not know about. Let us know and we’ll update our preview. Thank you!
- Who will take the men’s and women’s races?
- And who will walk away with 2016 Ultra-Trail World Tour wins?