In the men’s race, two-time defending champion Luis quietly shadowed the front of the field for the race’s first half, stayed there when men started slowing, and attacked on the tech-y and steep terrain with a little over 20 kilometers left to run. Ragna set the pace in the women’s race for most of the day, while other women tried but ultimately failed to match her effort. She broke clear of the rest of the field after the halfway point, running with smooth strength to her first Trail World Championships victory.
In the team race, Team Spain–the home team–took home resounding, unchallenged gold in both the men’s and women’s races.
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I mean, couldn’t we all see it coming? He patiently bides his time and watches the field, waits until his competitors begin to slow, hammers some section of the course, and becomes the Trail World Champion. Spain’s Luis Alberto Hernando (pre-race and post-race interviews) did it again, pretty much the same way for a third year in a row. Not gonna’ lie, he put on a helluva’ entertaining show in doing so. This year, Luis ran within close contact of the lead through the halfway point, a little village called Atzeneta some 41 kilometers into the race. There, he passed through town in fourth position. Just 11km after that, he’d moved up to second and you could tell it was only a matter of time until he would take over the lead. By 65km in the race, Luis had a two-plus minute lead over the rest of the field and it only grew from there. Strong as ever, in winning the 2018 edition and at the age of 40, he becomes a three-time Trail World Champion.
But we should back up a little, into the early race story. Though several men pushed the early race pace, the USA’s Zach Miller (pre-race interview, post-race report) was perhaps pushing the most. Zach looked solid until suddenly he didn’t any longer. At 41km into the race, Zach sat about 30 seconds ahead of the rest of the men’s field. When we saw him 11km later, he was at the race’s helm by a full 3.5 minutes. Was he pushing the pace here? However, another 10km after that, Zach had climbed on the struggle bus, citing dehydration as his issue. He lost the lead after the 62km point, forging ahead as best as he could and ultimately finishing in eighth position. After the race, he said that his strategy was a gamble. Indeed, it was.
Spain’s Cristofer Clemente (post-race interview) is a guy who at no time would I want behind me in a race. I seriously don’t know another runner out there who can strategically pace himself as well as Cristofer does. And, just like Luis’s repeat style, Cristofer was also back this year with his extreme late-race move-up strategy. Can we look at his placing at each of the aid stations? 72nd, 54th, 42nd, 27th, 13th, fifth, second, second, and second. Good grief! When I first saw Cristofer at 16.5km, he seemed further back in the field this year than last year. And looking at the stats, indeed this was true. At 9km into the 2017 race, he was in 31st. But then each time we saw him this year, he’d moved up through the field and looked completely comfortable in doing so. In the rocky, tough, steep terrain between the 52km and 62km villages-atop-mountains of Benefigos and Vistabella, where a lot of runners fell back, Cristofer advanced from 13th to fifth position. And just another 8km later, he moved into his ultimate second-place position. What a masterful performance.
It was hard to get a read on just how good Great Britain’s Tom Evans (pre-race and post-race interviews) was without actually seeing him race. On paper, his steadily emergent performances over a short period of time looked stout, but where did his top-end potential lie? Turns out, this guy’s good in person, too. Ahead of the race, Tom said he came here to go big and that, while he hoped it would go well, he knew it might not. As such, I wasn’t surprised to see him put himself right near the lead from the get go. In fact, in the seven times we saw him during the race, we never saw him out of podium position. If Cristofer gets an award for being the best closer, then Tom gets another for his start-to-finish placing consistency. Did he ever have a bad spell where his pace lapsed? What’s left to really say about Tom’s breakout third place? There’s a boat load of talent here, and I gotta’ hope he’ll do something like a slower burn over the years to keep it sustainable, because I can see him going great places.
Great Britain’s Jon Albon had this quiet demeanor about him on the course. He just put his head down, answered to no one, and ran his own race. Another easy starter, he didn’t actually come onto our radar in the race until about the halfway point when he had moved up into the top 10. But in the next 10km, he put the pedal to the metal and popped through Benefigos at 52km in fifth place. He’d move up one more position as Zach lapsed backward later in the race to finish fourth.
With his fifth-place finish here, France’s Ludovic Pommeret (pre-race interview) has now finished fifth at the Trail World Championships three times. And the other time he was sixth place. Sheesh, take that one to Las Vegas. I’d put a bet on that.
The USA’s Mario Mendoza was right there all day. Last year, he finished as top American and just inside the top 10, and so it’s easy to imagine he was hungry for more. When things got hard in the last kilometers, Mario stayed strong, continuing to move up late to finish sixth place and, again, top American. Like Mario, France’s Romain Maillard was there all day, too. For much of the race, we saw him working and running with his fellow French teammates. In the end, he finished seventh, putting a second French runner in to the top 10. Czechia’s Jiří Čípa proved that this top-10 run at this race last year was no fluke by finishing ninth this year. Germany’s Janosch Kowalczyk rounded out the men’s top 10.
Team Spain took this win with ease. With men finishing in first (Luis Alberto Hernando), second (Cristofer Clemente), and, then, 13th position via Pablo Villa, they were basically untouchable. Going into the race, it seemed like multiple men would have to foible for Team Great Britain to not take home a medal, but I admit to a little surprise with not only their silver, but with the strength of the team’s performance. After their third- and fourth-place finishers (Tom Evans and Jon Albon), Ryan Smith, a Great Britain citizen who lives in the USA, took 16th and sealed the deal on the silver team medal. Team France goes home with the bronze. Going into the race, they were a team favorite, but they just didn’t put it together on the day. In addition to their fifth- and seventh-place finishers (Ludovic Pommeret and Romain Maillard), their third team scorer was Adrien Michaud in 19th.
I’m just going to say it. Ragna Debats (post-race interview), of The Netherlands but who lives in Spain, made winning the Trail World Championships look easy. From start to finish, she just looked so smooth. When asked about this after the race, she said that all the hard work was done ahead of time and that all was left was to enjoy the race day. She also said that the pace felt easy for her. Hmn, imagine that!? Early on in the race, Ragna made her way to the front. By the time we first saw her at 16.5 kilometers into the race, she was leading. Though a couple women would come and go before and after that, she was always right there at the lead. Between the 41km and 52km aid stations, Ragna increased her gap on the field from a mere 20 seconds to almost two minutes. Let’s cut to the chase, though, her gains were just beginning. Her 16-minute win was a huge one in this deep field. Ragna was third at the 2016 Trail World Championships and fourth last year, and this marks a big step up for her again.
Spain’s Laia Cañes (post-race interview) has been racing trail ultramarathons for several years, but her performances in the last year have been on another level. To elaborate, two years ago she was 19th at the Trail World Championships, last year she was seventh, and now this, a second-place finish. I feel like her finish at the Trail World Champs last year was her notice to the world to really watch out. Laia was cheered for vibrantly all over the course, and that’s because she lives locally, which added another benefit for her. I think she knew the course well. Laia opened the race by running the first 40km in the second half of the women’s top 10 before moving into the front half of the top 10 in the race’s second part. Her strategy would not end there, though, as she continued to move up–all the way into second position. Her jubilance at the finish made it clear that she was more than elated with a second-place finish in this field.
France’s Claire Mougel (post-race interview) is admittedly a runner who I knew almost nothing about except for researching her ahead of this race. Much like Tom Evans’s international breakout on the men’s side, this race should serve notice that Claire can compete on an international level as well. Reportedly, coming into the race, she said she had no plan or goal, that she only aimed to go out and run her own race. Claire appeared inside the women’s top 10 for the first time at Useres, a small town located 31km into the race. The light switch turned on for Claire between 52km and 62km, however, and in this short distance but across mostly difficult terrain, she moved up from eighth to fourth place. One more position she would climb from there, up onto the women’s podium, which she would hold to the finish. Now that she has had this breakout, I’m excited to see where Claire, a national-level Nordic skier, takes her trail running.
Spain’s Gemma Arenas had a strong start-to-finish performance in taking fourth. Given that her finish last year was off her capability and way back in 25th place and given that her run this year was a crucial lever in the Team Spain machine’s gold medal, Gemma has to feel good about this run.
Spain’s Maite Maiora (pre-race interview) might have summarized her performance best to us at the final aid station of Collao, 78km, when she said that she had given the race her absolute best. She started the race outside the women’s top 10, but gradually worked her self into it and up into her ultimate fifth-place position.
While it was another Polish runner in the women’s top 10 for the first half of the race (that was Edyta Lewandowska who ultimately finished 15th), Magdalena Łaczak moved up into the women’s top 10 in the second half to finish sixth, smiling each time we saw her. Women’s defending champion, France’s Adeline Roche (pre-race interview) had an injury-shortened training block prior to the race. She ended up in seventh place. The USA’s Clare Gallagher (pre-race interview) had a roller-coaster race, running inside the top 10 early, falling back mid-race, and putting things back together to surge into the top 10 in the final 15km, in the end finishing eighth. Holly Page led Team Great Britain with her ninth-place finish, while Kaytlyn Gerbin put a second member of Team USA into the top 10.
Ain’t no one touching the Spanish this year. They robbed the bank of gold with the second-, fourth-, and fifth-place finishes of Laia Cañes, Gemma Arenas, and Maite Maiora. After several years of golds, Team France took away a silver medal this year via Claire Mougel finishing third, Adeline Roche taking seventh, and Amandine Ferrato ending up in 14th position. Team USA, what a finish they had to earn their team bronze. The scoring team members were Clare Gallagher (eighth), Kaytlyn Gerbin (10th), and Sabrina Little (12th).
Thanks to Mauri Pagliacci and Kirsten Kortebein for assisting with our on-the-ground coverage!
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