Summer’s coming to an end and that can only mean one thing, it’s time for UTMB. The UTMB’s 170-kilometer/105.6-mile loop around the Mont-Blanc massif will bring about 2,300 runners from France into Italy and, then, Switzerland before returning to the start/finish in Chamonix, France. Runners who complete the full distance will have climbed more than 10,000 meters/33,000 feet.
This year’s men’s race offers some stellar storylines. First, only a few of last year’s top 10 return, but among them is three-time UTMB winner and defending champion Xavier Thévenard. There’s always the question of when an American man might win UTMB and this year’s list of American men is perhaps the best we’ve yet seen. While 100 miles is a long way, these Alpine 100 miles somehow seem even further; that was especially the case in the men’s field last year when a full 64% of the men in iRunFar’s preview didn’t make it to the finish. Will the top men collectively avenge their massive 2018 DNF rate? Could an American man win this race, is Thévenard the far-and-away favorite, or is there another man who’s ready for his own big run? It’s going to be a fascinating men’s race.
A 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’re covering UTMB live starting at 6 p.m. CEST (10 a.m. MDT in the U.S.) on Friday, August 30. Join us and follow along.
Be sure to check out our in-depth women’s preview for a look at the other half of the race!
Top 2019 UTMB Men’s Entrants
Here are the men we think have the best chance to podium at this year’s UTMB:
France’s Xavier Thévenard (pre-race interview) returns again to UTMB and in doing so he should be considered a favorite for the win. He’s a three-time UTMB champ, including last year as well as in 2015 and 2013. He additionally has finished fourth at UTMB once, and has won other UTMB festival races including the CCC, TDS, and OCC. His top runs this year have been a win at the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji and the Mont-Blanc 90k. He races UTMB like a machine, easing off the start in not-too-fast fashion and running a bit behind the lead, moving into position among the leaders around halfway, and then staying there as others fade in the race’s late stages. There are three men who have won UTMB three times, but no man has won it a fourth. Could Xavier be the first?
Last year, Romania’s Robert Hajnal (pre-race interview) raced incredibly smart, and stayed strong as conditions and various issues caused so many drops at the front of the men’s field. In the race’s final third, Hajnal hauled ass and crossed the line in second place, a huge step up in performance over an already-strong racing history. Since then, he’s taken fourth at the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail and had an off day to go 74th at the 2019 Trail World Championships (44k) after finishing 15th at the same race last year (an 85k distance). I, for one, have gotta’ think Robert’s position is a tough one. He got the world’s attention last year, so now can he keep it?
People love to speculate about if an American man could ever win UTMB and, if so, who it would be. In such discussions, Tim Tollefson’s (pre-race interview) name always comes up near the top of the list. Tollefson has completed UTMB festival races three times, finishing on the podium each time. That is, he has two UTMB third places, in 2017 and 2016. And before that, he took second at the 2015 CCC. Last year, Tollefson was among the huge number of male dropouts, succumbing to injury following a fall. His top runs since last year’s UTMB have been a third place at the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail and a win of the 2019 Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Tollefson has been notorious in recent years for finishing on the podium of but not winning long mountain ultramarathons, but he broke out to the top at Lavaredo in June. What is Tollefson’s top-end UTMB potential?
Spain’s Pau Capell (pre-race interview) now has a pretty robust relationship with the UTMB festival, having finished well at a number of its races over the years. He’s finished UTMB once, taking sixth two years ago. He’s finished the CCC twice, taking third last year and sixth in 2015. And he was the 2016 TDS winner. So that means he’s had strong finishes at the festival races every year starting in 2015. Since his third place at the CCC last year, his top runs have been a win at the 2019 Transgrancanaria and a win of the 2019 Mozart 100k. He also ran the 2019 Patagonia Run 100 Mile all alone off the front, clocking a three-plus-hour win. Capell’s really come into his own as a beast in the long-mountain-ultra scene over the last couple of years, so him bettering his sixth place from two years ago would not be a surprise.
Back in 2015, the USA’s Zach Miller (pre-race interview) turned up at the UTMB festival for the first time and won the CCC in his typical style of going out hard and holding it as long as he can. This all-out, animalistic approach has certainly made him a fan favorite, but it hasn’t yielded the same success at the UTMB festival since then. Since that 2015 CCC victory, he’s returned to UTMB three times, taking sixth in 2016, ninth in 2017, and DNFing last year. I’m positive that the world has yet to see Miller’s top-end potential at UTMB, as each year he’s suffered later in races on account of problems like energetic bonks, overwhelming fatigue, and overuse injuries. The world probably remembers his incredible finish to win the 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile, and what if Miller could put himself in position to run like that in the last miles of UTMB? Is such a thing even possible at 100 miles, and if it is, wouldn’t it be a sight to see?
On paper, the USA’s Alex Nichols should do really well at UTMB. He’s had top finishes at his two 100-mile race finishes, including a win at the 2016 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile and a second at the 2017 Western States 100. He has had plenty of success at what you might call middle-distance mountain ultras, such as taking third at the 2017 Les Templiers, second at the 2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, and third at this year’s Speedgoat 50k. He also has the supported FKT on the Nolan’s 14 route in Colorado, a two-day, 100-ish-mile endeavor. Last year, he turned up at UTMB for the first time, but didn’t get a fair shake at realizing his potential, as he was injured in a fall among the crazy sprint off the starting line and had to drop some miles later. He’s back for a second chance.
Min Qi of China hit the world trail-ultra radar two Januarys ago when he won the 2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k amongst an international field. He found success at an even bigger stage last August when he took second at the 2018 CCC, finishing a couple minutes in front of third-place Pau Capell. Since then he’s had some great races back at home in China, but has had more difficult international races, including a DNF of the 2019 Transgrancanaria and a seventh place at the 2019 Mont-Blanc 90k, the latter a strong run but not at his potential. As far as I can tell, he’s not finished the 100-mile distance yet, though he did start but didn’t finish the 2018 Gaoligong by UTMB.
Look out, Poland’s Marcin Świerc is moving up to he 100-mile distance. Like a number of the men in this field, Świerc has excelled at other UTMB festival races, having won last year’s TDS and taken second at the 2017 CCC. His TDS win was especially compelling because in the last half hour or so of that 13.5-hour race, the top-three men found themselves together and racing it in. At the end of this incredible fray, Świerc had won by a minute. It appears that his 122k-run at TDS last year has been his longest race in both time and distance, so it’ll be fascinating to see what he does in adding on another 50k and 11 hours or so. His top run since TDS last year has been a win of the 2019 Ultra-Trail Australia.
Aside from the top-two UTMB finishers last year who we already mentioned, only two more men return from last year’s top 10, and one of them is Austria’s Florian Grasel, who took ninth in a definite breakout from his previous UTMB performances. Prior to last year, Grasel had three other UTMB finishes with a 26th place in 2017 as his best. Given his jump up in performance between 2017 and 2018, it makes me wonder what his UTMB potential is? Grasel has years of strong running on his resume, and his top run since UTMB last year has been a win of the 2019 Grossglockner Ultra-Trail.
Spain’s Javier Dominguez was last year’s 10th-place finisher, which follows up on his fifth and third places at UTMB in 2016 and 2013, respectively. As exemplified by his UTMB efforts over the years, Dominguez has a now-quite-long career of success in trail ultrarunning and seems to excel when conditions and terrain are challenging. A couple months ago, Dominguez took fourth at the 2019 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, finishing about 40 minutes back of winner Tim Tollefson.
I was honestly surprised to see the USA’s Hayden Hawks turn up on the UTMB entrants list in the last few months as it wasn’t that long ago that Hawks said he wanted to focus on shorter races. But let’s back up. The dude burst on the trail-ultra scene three years ago and has had some incredible results in that time, including a win at the 2017 CCC and the 2018 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, which are great examples of his potential in long mountain ultras. But in these three years he’s also had some pretty tough races, including most recently drops at the 2018 TDS and 2019 Transgrancanaria, which is what I thought led him to pull the reins in to focus on shorter, faster stuff once again. Hawks has had some great runs in 2019 at shorter races, including a win at the 2019 Chuckanut 50k.
There are so many strong American men racing UTMB this year. Now let’s talk about Jason Schlarb. When I think of Schlarb a la 2019, I can’t help but also think of Ludovic Pommeret circa 2016 when he won UTMB at 40-plus years of age and made quick work of a field filled with men 10 to 15 years younger than him. Schlarb has had years of strong performances, including a fourth here at UTMB when we go back to 2014. But for a while there it seemed like he was either hot or cold, really hitting the mark or missing the target altogether. Then, in the last year or so, Schlarb has been ‘on’ at pretty much every race he starts, which has included wins of the 2018 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile and 2018 Oman by UTMB–the latter in a tie with Diego Pazos–as well as a second place at 2019 MaXi-Race Annecy 115k.
Diego Pazos is out with a stress fracture. [Updated 8/22]
There’s no reason that Switzerland’s Diego Pazos shouldn’t go top 10 at this year’s UTMB. I believe Pazos has been at the UTMB festival three times, finishing fifth at last year’s TDS, DNFing UTMB in 2017, and taking 11th at UTMB back in 2014. Since TDS last year, Pazos shared the 2018 Oman by UTMB win with Jason Schlarb, took second at the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, and was fifth at the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. One more thing, Pazos has plenty of experience at tough 100 milers, having finished in the top five twice at the Diagonale des Fous.
Hey, it’s another American man! Like Alex Nichols, the USA’s Mark Hammond is someone who, on paper, seems a good bet for a solid run at UTMB. Among all his running, he has three top-five finishes at the Western States 100 (2018 and 2017 interviews) and three second places at the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. Last year, however, he DNFed his first go at UTMB quite late in the race, citing persistent stomach issues. If he can sort out how this race works, he definitely has top-10 talent.
More Top 2019 UTMB Men’s Runners
Look for these men to go top 10 at the 2019 UTMB:
Latvia’s Andris Ronimoiss had a heckuva’ 2018, which vaulted him into a new category of trail ultrarunner. In 2018, he won the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, finished 11th at the Trail World Championships (85k), and took sixth at the CCC. So far this year, his top runs have been second places at both the Mozart 100k and Eiger Ultra-Trail. I believe this will be Ronimoiss’s first 100 miler.
France’s Sylvain Court was another of the many top men who started but didn’t finish last year’s UTMB. Court has had a long courtship with the upper echelon of trail ultrarunning. In 2015, he was the Trail World Champion, and he followed that up with a third place the following year. Court is another of those runners who runs hot or cold–no in between. Last year, he won the Mont-Blanc 90k and a couple months ago he was 11th at the 2019 Lavaredo Ultra Trail. There’s a lot of absolute potential here.
France’s Julien Chorier also has an incredible racing resume over the last decade or so. If we go back to the peak of Julien’s racing, we find a CCC win (2007), four top 10s at UTMB (most recently in 2016), two Diagonale des Fous wins, a Hardrock 100 win (2011)… The list could go on. He might not be quite as sharp as he was five or six years ago, but he still does things like take fourth at the 2019 Transgrancanaria and 11th at the 2019 Marathon des Sables. Don’t bet against him.
Germain Grangier of France seems to be on a steady upward trajectory in trail ultrarunning, especially in the last 18 months or so. In that time, he won the 2018 MaXi-Race Annecy 85k, took fifth at the 2018 CCC, and was third at the 2019 Mont-Blanc 90k. I believe he has one 100-mile start to his name, the 2018 Diagonale des Fous, which he didn’t finish.
China’s Jing Liang is a guy with both enormous talent and potential at mountain ultras. And he sits square in that category of runner who goes out hard and either sticks it or blow ups trying. His top results this year have included a pair of second places at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k and the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji. At Fuji he finished about an hour behind winner Xavier Thévenard after racing with and near him for a good chunk of the race. Another older but meaningful result was when he ran 267k/165 miles at the 2017 Hangzhou Ultramarathon 24-Hour Race. That said, he came to the UTMB festival last year and was the 610th TDS finisher of 681 total runners. I’m not sure what happened there.
The U.K.’s Tom Owens, a guy who we’ve watched excel for years at trail races about 50 miles or less, is going to run 100 miles! But it looks like he’s been working himself up to it, having run increasingly long races at the UTMB festival for the last couple of years. In 2017, he took fifth at the CCC and last year he finished 20th at the TDS. I can’t wait to see how this goes!
Dani Garcia of Spain is another runner who I’ve come to expect to see at shorter to middle-distance trail ultras. Back in 2017, he was fifth at the Trail World Championships (50k). And if we go all the way back to 2013, he was third at the CCC. Garcia looks to have one 100-mile completion–and win–on his resume at the 2018 100 Millas del Genal in Spain.
Sylvain Camus of France could make a dent in the men’s race. He’s been second before at both the CCC and TDS. You have to go all the way back to 2010 for that second at CCC, but his second at the TDS came in 2017. He’s also no stranger to long and tough 100 milers with multiple Diagonale des Fous finishes including two eighth-place finishes in 2016 and 2018–the latter in what looks to be a tie with his brother Sébastien Camus. So far this year, he’s taken 13th at the Mont-Blanc 90k.
France’s Sébastien Camus is Sylvain’s older brother by two years, and with an ‘on’ day, he could make the same type of impact in the men’s race. In fact, Seb has finished in the top 10 at UTMB before, in 2016. Seb’s additional top finishes over the years have been fourth at the 2018 Madiera Island Ultra-Trail, what appears as a tie for eighth at the 2018 Diagonale des Fous with his brother Sylvain, and 10th at the 2019 Lavaredo Ultra Trail.
The Brit who lives in France, Andy Symonds, is back at UTMB. Here’s another guy who has coming on a decade of top-level trail-ultrarunning success. Some of his accolades over the last year have been fourth place at last year’s Les Templiers and another fourth place at this year’s Trail du Ventoux. His 2017 UTMB effort is his only 100-mile finish, I believe, and he turned up in 16th place that year.
Germany’s Janosch Kowalczyk is a guy I could see going top 10. At the 2018 (85k) and 2017 (50k) Trail World Championships he finished 10th and 11th, respectively. These are stellar outings, and so was his win at the 2018 Ultra-Trail Cape Town at the close of last year. It doesn’t look like he’s tried 100 miles before.
Harry Jones, another Brit who lives abroad–this time in Thailand–is an understated runner who seems to quietly go about racking up strong finishes each year the last couple years. Among his best results of late have been a fifth at the 2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, eighth place at last year’s CCC, and third at this year’s Tarawera Ultramarathons 100k.
Italy’s Franco Colle brought it big in 2018 when he won his home country’s Tor des Géants. But he’d done that before, back in 2014, too. In 2018, he had a decent showing at the Transvulcania, taking 16th, and an even better result at High Trail Vanoise, finishing fourth. He’s been at the UTMB festival before as well, taking third at the 2016 TDS.
Going all the way back to 2011, France’s Patrick Bringer was on the podium of that year’s Trail World Championships (72k), where he finished third. He repeated the same performance at the 2015 Trail World Champs (84k), too. He seems to be in form this year, as he took second at the 2019 Mont-Blanc 90k in June.
Benoît Cori of France is another one of those hot-cold runners. When he’s on, he’s on, and he perhaps showed that best back in 2016 when he took fourth at the Trail World Champs (85k) as well as his two wins of Les Templiers over the years. More recently, he won the 2019 EcoTrail de Paris. Benoit was here at UTMB last year, but he DNFed.
Guo-Min Deng of China has several years of successful trail ultrarunning under his belt, mostly in Asia. He’s already raced a lot of miles this year, with his top finishes a fourth place at the 2019 Vibram Hong Kong 100k and a sixth at the 2019 Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Last year he ran the TDS, finishing but way back in what looked like a difficult day for him.
For Pete’s sake, how are we all the way down here when we list a previous Western States 100 champion in the USA’s Andrew Miller, who was that race’s 2016 victor. He’s had all kinds of physical issues in the intervening years which have prevented him from starting a number of races he’s been on the entrants list of, including this one. In the last couple years, he’s won the 2018 Georgia Death Race and was fifth at the 2019 Cruel Jewel 100 Mile.
Iceland’s Thorbergur Jonsson is yet another fellow who seems to run hot or cold, and rarely too much in between. He’s been at the UTMB festival a number of years, racking up three CCC finishes–his fastest a sixth place in 2017–and a 32nd place at UTMB last year.
New Zealand’s Scott Hawker now has a long-term relationship with mountain ultras and numerous strong performances over the years. Back in 2017, he finished 11th at UTMB but last year he turned that around with a DNF. Since then, he’s been fifth at the 2019 Vibram Hong Kong 100k.
Paddy O’Leary, from Ireland but living in the USA, has been increasingly turning his attention to racing outside of his resident country. Among his top international finishes have been a sixth place at the 2018 Lavaredo Ultra Trail and a 14th at the 2017 CCC.
Who is Emir Grairi, the Tunisian who lives in France? I’m glad you asked! He’s the guy who improved his UTMB performance from 57th place in 2017 to 16th last year. What can he do next? Since UTMB a year ago, his top run has been fifth at the 2019 MaXi-Race Annecy 83k.
Spaniard Jessed Hernandez has a long history with shorter-distance trail running, going back more than a decade. In the last couple of years, he’s moved up in distances to try some longer stuff and has had good success at Spain’s famous Ultra Pirineu 110k, finishing on the podium three times including a win last year. It looks like he started but didn’t finish the 2018 TDS, and it doesn’t look like he’s either started or finished a 100 miler.
Still More 2019 UTMB Men to Watch
Well, the men’s race is just stacked. Here are even more men you’ll want to keep your eyes on.
- Ion Azpiroz (Spain) – 4th 2017 TDS; 13th 2015 UTMB
- Guillaume Beauxis (France) – 6th 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail; 7th 2018 Lavaredo Ultra Trail
- Victor Bernad (Spain) – 11th 2019 Transgrancanaria; 23rd 2017 UTMB
- Kyle Curtin (USA) – 1st 2018 Tahoe 200 Mile
- Takashi Doi (Japan) – 9th 2019 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji; 11th 2015 UTMB
- Ugo Ferrari (France) – 29th 2018 UTMB
- Gerald Fister (Austria) – 3rd 2019 Mozart 100k
- Francisco Freitas (Portugal) – 21st 2018 UTMB
- Paul Giblin (U.K.) – 22nd & 17th 2018 & 2016 UTMB; 9th 2018 Western States 100
- Ryan Ghelfi (USA) – 7th 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
- Kyle Greig (Scotland) – 5th 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathons 100k
- Sebastien Henri (France) – 24th 2018 UTMB
- Moises Jiménez (Venezuela, lives in France) – 10th 2018 TDS
- Martin Kern (France) – 7th 2018 Tarawera Ultramarathons 100k
- Jantaraboon Kiangchaipaiphana (Thailand) – 1st 2019 The North Face Thailand 100k; 5th 2018 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji
- Can-Hua Luo (China) – 2nd 2018 Gaoligong 100 Mile
- Kuo Li (China) – 7th 2019 Vibram Hong Kong 100k; 23rd 2018 UTMB
- Jose Lutzardo (Spain) – 5th 2018 Transgrancanaria
- Andrea Macchi (Italy) – 5th 2018 Lavaredo Ultra Trail; 3rd 2017 Tor des Géants
- Jerome Mirassou (France) – 6th 2018 TDS
- Masatoshi Obara (Japan) – 16th 2016 UTMB; 4th & 9th at 2019 & 2018 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji
- Timothy Olson (USA) – 28th 2018 UTMB; 4th 2013 UTMB; 1st 2012 & 2013 Western States 100
- Kazufumi Ose (Japan) – 1st 2019 100 Miles of Istria; 6th 2018 Ultra-Trail Australia
- Merile Robert (France) – 6th & 3rd at 2019 & 2018 Marathon des Sables
- Jean-Marie Thévenard (France) – 6th 2019 Mont-Blanc 90k; Xavier Thévenard’s younger brother
- Aleksi Tolstenko (Russia) – 5th 2019 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji; 3rd 2018 Oman by UTMB
- Vincent Viet (France) – 2nd & 3rd 2019 & 2018 MaXi-Race Annecy 83k & 85k, respectively
- Alberto Vinagre (Spain) – 10th 2019 Transgrancanaria; 12th 2018 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail
- Ho-Chung Wong (Hong Kong) – 10th 2019 Vibram Hong Kong 100k
- Yun-Hui Yu (China) – 11th 2018 CCC; 3rd 2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k
On the Entrants List but Not Racing
- Christopher Hammes (USA) – Injury
- Ian Sharman (U.K., lives in the USA) – Injury
Call for Comments
- Is Xavier Thévenard the clear men’s favorite? Do you think he could win for a fourth time?
- Who 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 isn’t in this preview?
- Know of anyone in our preview who’s definitely not racing? Leave a comment to let us know.