2018 UTMB Men’s Preview

CamelBak Ultra Pro VestWell, summer’s coming to an end and that can only mean one thing, it’s time for UTMB, which once again promises to be the most competitive men’s field for a trail ultramarathon this year… and it’s not even close. From the headline showdown, to the podium contenders, to those 30 or 50 or 100 places back, this is the race of the year. While last year’s champion Francois D’haene isn’t returning, the rest of the men’s top five is as are nine of last year’s top-12 men.

The UTMB’s 170-kilometer/105.6-mile loop around the Mont Blanc massif will bring more than 2,000 runners from France into Italy and, then, Switzerland before returning to the start/finish in Chamonix, France. Those runners who complete the full distance will have climbed more than 10,000 meters/33,000 feet.

Altra logoA special thanks to Camelbak for making our coverage of UTMB possible!

Thanks also to Altra and Jaybird for their support of our UTMB coverage.

As you’d expect, we’ll be covering UTMB live starting at 6 p.m. CEST (10 a.m. MDT in the U.S.) on Friday, August 31.

Check out our in-depth women’s preview for a look at the other half of the race!

The Two Favorites

Kilian Jornet - 2016 Hardrock 100

Kilian Jornet

While there are plenty of guys who could win this year’s UTMB, any discussion of who will win this year’s race is likely to center around two runners: Kilian Jornet and Jim Walmsley.

It’s probably not too soon to call Kilian Jornet the trail ultrarunner of the decade. Despite passions that call him to other pursuits in the mountains—namely alpinism and skiing—Kilian is always in the mix to win the ultramarathons he runs. A broken leg this past winter delayed the start of his racing season, but he kicked it off with a win at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc, then, crushed the record for England’s ultra-distance Bob Graham Round, and, earlier this month, won Sierre-Zinal for the sixth time. Kilian already has three UTMB wins (2008, 2009, & 2011), but was beat out for last year’s win by François D’haene. It’s hard to envision Kilian getting beat twice in a row…

Jim Walmsley 2017 Tarawera Ultramarathon champion sq

Jim Walmsley

But, Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview).  Jim’s been shattering course records from 50km-100km for some years now, but until this year, his 100-mile resume didn’t match up. He had a DNF, other blowups, and, finally, a relatively strong finish with his fifth place at last year’s UTMB after setting the pace for much of the race. Then, this year’s Western States happened. Jim absolutely crushed the race, breaking the course record on a hot-enough day that this shouldn’t have been an option. While thought of as a speedster, Jim’s plenty strong enough in the mountains to give a Western States-like performance at UTMB. Hopefully, he runs his own race from the gun, rather than the run-ahead-and-wait approach that he employed to “run with” François and Kilian early in last year’s UTMB.

The Other Podium Favorites

Without Kilian and Jim, each and every one of the following men would be in the discussion to win… and, since anything can happen in ultras, they still are. They’re also the guys most likely to round out the podium.

2016 UTMB - Tim Tollefson

Tim Tollefson

With two-straight third-place finishes at UTMB (2016 & 2017 post-race interviews), it’d be foolish to look past Tim Tollefson (pre-race interview) and his methodical racing. So far this year, Tim has a pair of thirds at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and the Speedgoat 50k to go along with a DNF at Transgrancanaria. Cumulatively, these results aren’t quite as strong as his results heading into the past two UTMBs, but I see Tim as one of those runners who’ll only start if he’s 100% ready for the race.

Two-time UTMB champ (2013 & 2015 post-race interviews) Xavier Thévenard (pre-race interview) is back to run UTMB once again. In addition to UTMB, he’s won its sister races: OCC (2016), CCC (2010), and TDS (2014). Last year, in the strongest UTMB men’s field to date, Xavier took fourth. He’s obviously quite fit again this year, as shown by his impressive run at the Hardrock 100 last month before being disqualified at mile 91. Those strong 91 miles do give me a bit of pause regarding how Xavier will do at this year’s UTMB. Personally, I just can’t imagine racing Hardrock and UTMB hard in the same year, especially with the two races being a week closer than in most years.

Luis Alberto Hernando - 2015 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

Luis Alberto Hernando

The three-time defending Trail World Champion (2016, 2017, & 2018 post-race interviews), Luis Alberto Hernando (pre-race interview) has an up-and-down history at UTMB, but that up happens to be a second-place finish behind Thévenard in 2015. Hernando still seems best at and to focus on the roughly the 50-mile/80km distance, but that 2015 UTMB result is enough to show he can handle the 100-mile distance. At least from afar, it seems like he’s raced a lot less year, and if that’s intentional/purposeful rather than due to injury or fatigue, I think that’ll benefit him greatly.

During the past three UTMB festivals, Zach Miller (pre-race interview) has won CCC, taken sixth at UTMB, and, then, ninth, at UTMB… always in his aggressive, go-for-broke style. Just as with Walmsley at Western States, I firmly expect Zach to stick the landing at UTMB one of these years. After wrapping up last year with a second-place finish at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships, Zach ran aggressively at the 85km Trail World Championships in Penyagolosa, Spain this May, leading much of the way before fading to eighth. Sometimes he nails it, sometimes he doesn’t, but it’s always fun to watch Zach race.

Alex Nichols - 2015 Les Templiers

Alex Nichols

For whatever reason, I think the UTMB course really suits Alex Nichols. He’s shown he can run fast for a 100 miles in winning the Run Rabbit Run 100 in 2016 and taking second to Sandes at last year’s Western States 100. He’s also shown he can run fast at Mont Blanc, having won the Mont-Blanc 80k in 2015. While a quick look at a results website would suggest Alex has been quiet this year, he’s taken second at the Vibram Hong Kong 100km, easily won a local 50 miler this spring, and, then, crushed the supported Nolan’s 14 record in late June. If he’s recovered from that monster effort (and that’s a big if!), watch out for Alex.

Unless you count his second place at Ultra-Trail Cape Town last December, we’ve not seen much from Ryan Sandes since his win at the 2017 Western States 100. He did run CCC last year, but came in 21st, which pairs up with a couple UTMB DNFs, if I’m remembering correctly. The counterpoint to that lack of success at the UTMB races is his tremendous success at the 100-mile distance in general. He won the Leadville 100 in 2011, was second and fifth at Western States in 2012 and 2014 respectively, was second at Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji in 2014, and was fourth at Diagonale des Fous in 2016.

The Rest of the Favorites

Mark Hammond

The U.S.’s Mark Hammond has some great results at 100 miles over the past two years. Aside from fast times at smaller races, he’s been third at Western States in both 2017 and 2018 as well as being second at the Run Rabbit Run 100 in both 2016 and 2017. Earlier this year, he was eighth at Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji. I’ll admit that UTMF result had me thinking that maybe Mark had raced a bit too much over the past few years, but his Western States finish a couple months later says otherwise.

Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius has an accomplished resume, including UTMB itself. He was fifth at the race in 2014, second in 2016, and, then, eighth last year. I could be wrong, but that 2014-16 period seems to be at least a temporary high point to his ultrarunning career. During that span, he was also second (2016) and third (2014) at Lavaredo, first (2015) and second (2016) at Transgrancanaria, and fourth (2015) at Western States, just to highlight a few results. Grinius has continued to run well the past year and a half, but his wins are coming in Poland, Austria, and China and there are a few results that aren’t on par with those he ran a few years ago. That said, it’s a mere two years since he was second at UTMB and he continues to run well.

Javier Dominguez - 2013 TNF UTMB

Javi Dominguez

While he skipped last year’s UTMB to go win the Tor des Géants, Javi Dominguez is no stranger to strong runs at UTMB, where he was third in 2013 and fifth in 2016. Earlier this year, he was fifth at the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail (MIUT).

Long successful on the trails, Michel Lanne looks to be building toward success at UTMB. In 2016, he won the CCC and, last year, he won TDS. Locally, he also won the Mont-Blanc 80km in 2013 and took second at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc in 2014. It looks like he’s run the 100-mile distance at least twice, having taken seventh at the Diagonale des Fous in both 2011 and 2015. This year, he’s run a couple underwhelming (for him) races in Spain.

Sylvain Court of France is another one of the runners in this year’s UTMB with a ton of success around the 50-mile/80km distance, but with less experience in races at or approaching 100 miles. Still, Sylvain’s success at the distances he’s focused on so far is unmistakeable. He was the 2015 Trail World Champ on an 83km course in France and followed that up with a third place on the 2016 Trail World Championships 86km course in Portugal. Court has starting dipping his toes into longer ultras of late, placing fourth at Lavaredo in 2016 and winning the 146km/91-mile Échappée Belle last August. Late this June, he won the Mont-Blanc 90k.

Jordi Gamito has twice run UTMB, finishing 10th last year and 12th in 2015. He’s also twice run TDS, the 119km UTMB sister race, taking fifth in both 2014 and 2016. Since last year’s UTMB, Gamito’s highlights include a fourth at the Ultra Pirineu last September and a third at the MIUT in April.

2016 Western States 100 - Andrew MillerAndrew Miller won’t be running this year’s UTMB. [Updated 8/22] I’ll admit it’s hard to know where to put the U.S.’s Andrew Miller in this preview. Yes, he won the 2016 Western States 100, as well as the Georgia Death Race in 2015, 2016, and 2018. On the other hand, injuries or the effect they’ve had on his training have caused him to withdraw ahead of important races these past two years, including last year’s UTMB and this year’s Western States. We don’t believe Andrew’s run an international ultra since he really stepped up as an ultrarunner… although he may have run a 50k in England in 2012 as a 16 year old.

I could be wrong, but I think this will be Stephan Hugenschmidt’s debut at the 100-mile distance. However, in 2016, he won the 130km Swiss Iron Trail and was fourth at Lavaredo this year. In the past, Stephan’s had success at Transvulcania, where he was fifth in 2014 and sixth in 2016.

France’s Benoît Cori has twice won the Grand Trail des Templiers (2014 & 2015). He’s also placed as high as fourth at the Trail World Championships (2016) with two more top-15 finishes at the Trail World Championships (13th in 2015 & 14th in 2017). What he’s not done, as far as I know, is run a 100-mile race. It does look like he took a step up in longest race distance and time in winning a 123km, 15-hour race this spring, but UTMB adds another 30% onto that.

Last year, Sebastien Camus DNFed UTMB after taking seventh the year before. In the past year, he’s also DNFed Diagonale des Fous and a few other races, so I’m not sure if he’s run into some problems of late. On the upside, he was fourth at the MIUT this past April.

Scott Hawker was 11th at last year’s UTMB, but this year has DNFed MIUT and been 19th at Lavaredo, a race at which he’s previously placed fourth (2015), fifth (2016) and seventh (2014).

From 2016 to 2017, the U.K.’s Damian Hall improved his UTMB placing from 19th to 12th. Earlier this year, Damian took sixth at MIUT.

Back in 2015, Erik Clavery was sixth at UTMB and, a year later, sixth at Diagonale des Fous. The past two years, he’s placed 15th and 16th at Western States.

It was back in 2013 that Timothy Olson placed fourth at UTMB after winning the Western States 100 for the second-straight year earlier in the summer (2012 and 2013 WS 100 post-race interviews). More recently, Olson won last year’s 116km Penyagolosa CSP two months after taking 10th at Transgrancanaria.

Other Top Runners to Watch

  • Sondre Amdahl (Norway) — 2nd 2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100k; 4th 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji; 7th 2014 UTMB
  • Ion Azpiroz (Spain) — 4th 2017 TDS; 13th 2015 UTMB
  • Guillaume Beauxis (France) — 3rd 2017 Diagonale des Fous; 2nd 2018 Mont-Blanc 80km; 7th 2018 Lavaredo Ultra Trail
  • Mathieu Blanchard (France, living in Canada) — 14th 2017 TNF EC 50 Mile – San Francisco; 3rd 2017 Vermont 100 Mile
  • Bertrand Collomb-Patton (France) — 25th 2016 UTMB; 9th 2014 UTMB; 8th 2013 UTMB
  • Sacha Devillaz (France) — 4th 2015 CCC; 5th 2016 Mont Blanc 80km
  • Yeray Duran (Spain) — 2nd 2016 TDS; 14th 2016 Trail World Championships; 5th 2013 CCC
  • Ugo Ferrari (France) — 4th 2016 TDS; 8th 2017 Eiger Ultra-Trail
  • Anthony Gay (France) — 6th 2017 Diagonale ds Fous; 33rd 2017 UTMB; 3rd 2014 CCC
  • Paul Giblin (U.K.) — 9th 2017 & 2018 Western States 100 Mile; 17th 2016 UTMB; 5th 2016 Western States 100
  • Robert Hajnal (Romania) — 15th 2018 Trail World Championships; 5th 2017 Lavaredo Ultra Trail; 8th 2015 CCC
  • Michael Jones (U.K.) — 8th 2017 CCC; 1st 2016, 2017 Lakeland 100 Mile
  • Thorbergur Jonsson (Iceland) — 6th 2017 CCC; 15th 2015 CCC; 9th 2015 Trail World Championships
  • Juan Jose Larrotcha (Spain) — 22nd 2017 UTMB; 15th 2016 UTMB
  • Emanuele Ludovisi (Italy) — 8th 2018 Madeira Island Ultra Trail; 9th 2017 TDS
  • Christophe Perrillat (France) — 11th 2017 CCC; 2nd 2014 CCC; 2nd 2018 High Trail Valnoise
  • Petter Restorp (Sweden) — 6th 2016 CCC; 4th 2018 Eiger Ultra-Trail; 10th 2018 Transgrancanaria
  • René Rovera (France) — 5th 2015 Lavaredo Ultra Trail; 4th 2014 CCC
  • Sangé Sherpa (Nepal, living in France) — 6th 2018 Eiger Ultra-Trail; 11th 2018 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji; 11th 2017 Lavaredo Ultra Trail
  • Armando Teixeira (Portugal) — 14th 2016 UTMB; 18th 2015 UTMB

Call for Comments

  • Is this really the Jim and Kilian show? If so, who’ll take it? If not, who’s most likely to challenge these two for the win?
  • Who else will end up on the podium?
  • Which runner do you think my be the biggest surprise in this year’s UTMB?
  • Care to give a shout out to a possible top contender who didn’t make our preview?
  • Know of anyone in our preview who’s definitely not racing? Leave a comment to let us know.

There are 154 comments

  1. Michel

    Really interesting article. Exhaustive and thoughtfull !

    From comments I feel there is à lot of underrating for european contendet like Xavier Who is hungry and proved awesome at Hardrock.

    Luis Alberto, Lanne and many other are super fit to utmb, much more than Jim and fast blower like Zach.

    Sad to hear bad news from Tim Tollefson Who proved super Nice and great in his previous utmb.

    Personnally I don’t get with Jim, the more I listen to him and his fans the more I feel like he should stop chacing pride and run what he trully likes “runable hot trails”.
    I realy dislike his attitude that is excessive confidence by any standard just less stylish than Anton in singlet under snow fall…
    For me Tim Tollefson deserve so much more crédit on such à course, he proved stronger and brought Joy instead of the Hunt for fkt. The utmb is really steep, cold, technical and mostly at night so it is just différent from typical ultra in the Us. Still, by Alps standard utmb is not really technical, nicely runnable and climbs are not so massive. That makes quite à différent taste of trail running wich american pro runner seems to embrace mainly because of the fame but why not runing similar course elsewhere ?
    Money again or ignorance ?

    Just keeping in mind François d’Haenne, Xavier Thevenard, Tim Tollefson and many other top gun are indeed semi pro as they keep à réal job and life aside. So much closer and way more inspiring than “Split addicts” running after career and fame.
    Where are the inspirng american like Mike Foot, Anton, Jason Schlarb ?

    ” Male american win” is such à misplaced nationalism, none of the european countries is that self centered. Pride for your girl !
    Trail running in Europe differs widely from the US, and inspiration is way more fertile as a stupid conquest mentality.
    Nobody ever thought “Catalogna won both Hardrock and Western state” neither does France count wins at utmb. We follow people so leave aside empty diseptive “communities” and think deeper !
    Competition is really not the point of ultra running: Style, wisdom, nature,emotions, self chalenge, discovery, solidarity,adventure…

    Kilian is far atop, last year’s performance 10min from François was insane given everest and HR. Only big shit would prevent him to crush it.

    1. Bill

      Jim is born and raised in Phoenix AZ, so yes he undoubtedly likes “runable hot trails”. But why should that exclude him from challenging himself in a race like UTMB? Keep in mind, Kilian has run Western States. He is a big mountain athlete, so why is he doing a course which features “runable hot trails”? Because variety is the spice of life.

      Also, if competition is not the point of ultra running in your opinion, why are you reading an article about the favorites to WIN the race? I agree with you that it is about so much more, but you’re simply wrong if you think that each of these guys in this article aren’t motivated by competition.

      Finally, why do you get to decide that making a living as a professional runner is a bad thing? You reference Anton as an inspiring American (I agree, he’s awesome). He’s a professional athlete, and has been for some time. If you can find a way to make it work and want to live that life, why not?

      Finally, you reference Jim’s excessive confidence. Please keep in mind that it’s hard to project who you actually are in an interview. He doesn’t mind being candid about his goals. He wants to be the best, but that doesn’t make him a bad guy. If that’s not your style, then don’t follow him. Problem solved.

      Looking forward to the annual showdown of different styles, attitudes, and racing techniques. Get the popcorn ready!

      1. Lungstretch

        Extremely well put, Bill. All very good points. In my opinion, Jim has been a huge plus for ultra running, and I don’t understand the animosity some seem to have. He is a bit brash, but at the same time, I think it’s refreshing to see someone who has the guts to put himself out there like he does. It does nothing but boost the interest in these events, and that’s all good.

    2. AT

      Michael, I am confused on your assessment of Jim, how about we all just admire what these athletes subject themselves to and the brilliance it takes to compete at this level. Good luck to all runners from first to DFL!

  2. J H

    I believe Tim Tollefson will be first American (and he should have won uroy last year). This overfascination with Walmsley frustrates me.

  3. Jay

    I’m rooting for Thevenard. Although I agree that his disqualification at HR was justified given all the details, the truth is he doesn’t need an advantage to beat anyone imho, so lets go Xavier!!

  4. GIRIDAR GAJAPATHY

    Great article BP and what else to expect from you and Megan. Very detailed and thorough. Hats off journalism and staying so neutral. Nick Coury who placed 5th in HR2017 is in mix and absence of Rob Krar who made a remarkable come back at Leadville MTB and 100, Fracois D Haene, Mike, Anton aside.
    We have Kilian, Xavier, Jim, Tim, Zach , Alex Nichols, Luis, Mark H, Ryan Sandes to entertain us.
    You guys literally makes us feel we are at Chamonix. Thanks again for the wonderful coverage

  5. caper

    Agreed with all your points, but everyone is different in why they run and you can’t fault those who are pro. They choose a life of near poverty in order to run. Youth is fleeting so enjoy it while they can.

    I do find the American winner bit off putting though, and your right after Hardrock/Western and countless other North American based races, nobody ever saying a Spanish win, its Kilian the person. Irunfar is a US focused site with some international content, so accept it for what it is.

    Per not liking a pro’s attitude, they need attitude to continue to believe they can perform at the level they do. Ask a pro athlete in any sport, and those near the top have a confidence level nearing annoyance, but if they weren’t confident they’d quickly be displaced. I much prefer the ah-shucks attitude of Kilian, but cripes Walmsley can fly when he has the opportunity, just appreciate it for what it is. That said unless Kilian gets carried away by a dragon, its his to lose.

  6. Luis Alberto

    The story here is not the race but the amount of pressure on Killian. That’s the juice.

    As for this James Wimsley guy, I don’t think some big ditch is that great of training for the greatest mountain range on earth, the Alps. Himalayas are nice, but I prefer a Refugio and a wine after my randonee. Last time I was in Flag, I was quite disappointed by the elevation gain and loss and what the locals had as retort to my observations. Neploean was so right, that canyon is nothing but a ditch. The Alps are far superior to anything else the Earth has to offer. A ditch runner to an alps athlete is comical from my point of view here in Italy.

    1. Curt Bentley

      Haha. Sure, the Alps are amazing. As are the Rockies, Himalayas, Andes, and on and on. No need to get territorial. And you’re welcome to come over and run in our ditch any time…

  7. Shaun

    Prediction: whoever wins sets a course record…almost certainly KJ or JW. In the time I’ve been following this sport there hasn’t been a year where two guys were as on top of their game as those two seem to be right now. I think whoever wins breaks the course record by a lot, excited to see what happens!

  8. Jake Brewer

    “Unless you count his second place at Ultra-Trail Cape Town last December, we’ve not seen much from Ryan Sandes”

    Why wouldn’t you count his second place at UTCT?

    1. GIRIDAR GAJAPATHY

      Yep that was mine too. Last year Jim was with Kilian most of the time and getting his knowledge. Think Kilian is going to bring home Jim home along with him too

    1. Jake Brewer

      Yes, indeed Luke! Not sure what the “not seen much” from him comment means. If Hedgie comes out, these guys will have a run for their money ;-)

  9. Alex Jones

    No photo for Xavier? But Andrew Miller gets one? All I know is that someone from Altra has leaked me some very intriguing documents regarding this manner. The truth is out there folks. Look into it.

  10. clement de lemps

    Hello Bryon and Megan, thanks a lot for your website, your analyses, your passion about this amazing sport which is trail running.I am french but believe me, I am always reading your articles or listening your interviews and this is just a great job that you do !
    Just one thing when reading last articles before UTMB, I don’t understand why Jim was one of your two favourites for UTMB as he is strong on US formats but not in Europe for now. Anyway, you have great runners in US and i would like to have Tim, Zach or Jim on the podium for sure ! Clement.

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