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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The second article in a two-part series about the hip-hinge position for efficient running.