With 12 races held over five days, the 2021 Festival des Templiers is sure to be exciting. Long known as one of the largest trail events in France, the festival draws runners looking to compete at distances from a short charity racewalk, all the way up to the 108-kilometer ultramarathon, and has a little something for everyone. The most competitive race of the festival weekend is the 81k (50 mile) Grand Trail des Templiers, which annually gathers top runners from western Europe and often the rest of the world. While this year’s international competition is tempered a bit because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s sure to be a fun fall barn burner.
This race starts in Millau, France while it’s still dark – 5:15 a.m. Runners gather at the start and speed off into the pre-dawn to music and the event’s classic red flares. The course is challenging, with only three full aid stations and three additional water stops, runners have minimal crew assistance, and entrants must climb over 3,690 meters (12,000 feet), crossing plateaus and valleys, and passing historic villages en route. While there are some technical elements to the trails, they are generally runnable, leading to fast finishes and an exciting race.
It’s been a long time coming for Les Templiers and its loyal fans, as the race hasn’t taken place since its 2018 edition. The 2019 edition was canceled due to severe weather, and 2020 was of course lost to the pandemic. Given that Les Templiers is a race that runners from the front to the back of the pack return to year after year, we know there’s pent-up excitement for this edition.
iRunFar will cover the race live. Be sure to tune into our live race coverage of Les Templiers on Sunday, October 24, 2021, starting at 5:15 a.m. Central European Summer Time. That’s 9:15 p.m. U.S. Mountain Daylight Time on Saturday, October, 23.
Thanks to Vert.Run for sponsoring our coverage of Les Templiers.
Below we preview women’s and men’s fields for this year’s Les Templiers.
2021 Les Templiers Women’s Preview
Let’s take a look at the top women expected to compete at the 2021 Les Templiers.
Azara García is not racing Les Templiers. [Update: Oct 21]
Azara García of Spain is the top woman on the entrants list, and she’s the returning champion from the 2018 edition, the last time this race took place. She’s long been a fierce female competitor, and she’s really on a roll this year. Just a few weeks ago, she won Ultra Pirineu 100k, a challenging race with over 21,600 feet of elevation gain. Placing fourth at the 2021 Lavaredo Ultra Trail and topping the podium at the 2021 Transgrancanaria 129k (also winning in 2017 and taking third in 2020), she definitely has the ability to climb, and – as long as she’s recovered from that recent Ultra Pirineu effort — García is the one to beat to top the women’s podium.
Right behind García on the podium at the 2021 Ultra Pirineu was fellow Spaniard Gemma Arenas (pre-race interview). She won Ultra Pirineu in 2016. Arenas has also had a strong year, placing second at the Buff Mountain Festival 68k, which served as the 2021 Skyrunning World Championships, and fourth at the Transgrancanaria Marathon. Will we see a dual Spanish podium?
New Zealand’s Ruth Croft (pre-race interview) will be a force at this year’s Les Templiers. She’s been a this race once before, and she’s won this race once before. Her Les Templiers win was in 2017 and she’s only grown as an ultra-distance runner since then. Her top ultra-distance performances in the last couple of years have been a runner-up finish at the 2019 Trail World Championships, winning the 2021 Tarawera 100k, and taking second at the 2021 Western States 100. We should expect Ruth on this race’s podium. [Added: Oct 20]
Ida Nilsson isn’t racing Les Templiers this year. [Update: Oct 20]
Not if Ida Nilsson, from Sweden but living in Norway, has anything to say about it. Nilsson has kept her few races of this year under the ultramarathon distance, but has done well at all of them, most recently winning the Ultra Pirineu Marathon. Finishing that race with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain in a speedy 4:24, Nilsson is sure to be with the front of the pack, coming back after long-term injury. Prior to injury she has some diverse and impressive results — including winning the 2016 and 2017 Transvulcania, as well as the 2016 and 2017 The North Face 50 Mile Championships. Will she be able to pull out her ultra-chops once again to match or beat her second-place finish at the 2017 Templiers race?
Someone’s had a busy year, and that someone is Frenchwoman Maryline Nakache. Prior to her sixth-place finish at UTMB this year, Nakache won the 65k distance at Transgrancanaria, the 105k Tenerife Bluetrail, and made runner-up at the Montreux Trail Festival. Her social media hasn’t showed much after her joyful UTMB finish, so it’s hard to tell what she’s been up to, but she has also previously done well at this race, placing third in 2018.
While Spain’s Marta Molist has long been a strong runner in regionally competitive races, she had an incredible breakout race in winning this year’s CCC. Also this year, she won the Tenerife Bluetrail 71k ahead of second place Arenas. She’ll be really interesting to watch at what seems like an ascending part of her running career. [Added: Oct 20]
Yngvild Kaspersen is not racing Les Templiers. [Update: Oct 21]
Yngvild Kaspersen of Norway hasn’t raced much since 2019, but her previous results are stout, including a previous runner-up finish at the 2016 Les Templiers. More recently, she topped the podium at the Transvulcania Half Marathon, and came in second in the 31k Tromsø Skyrace, both in 2019. She definitely knows how to climb, as evidenced in her 2016 win at The Rut 28k and second place at the 2019 Pikes Peak Marathon. But there lies the catch — Kaspersen tends to stick to shorter races, with all her results under 50k – except her previous showing at Les Templiers. Will she be able to improve on her second-place finish from five years ago?
Meg Mackenzie (pre-race interview) who hails from South Africa will be fun to watch. This summer, Mackenzie took ninth at the CCC. If we look back to 2019, she was also third at the 2019 Pikes Peak Marathon behind Kaspersen. While we believe this is her first time racing Les Templiers, Mackenzie has raced both shorter and faster trail races along with some longer ultras, so it looks like this distance could be a sweet spot for her. [Added: Oct 20]
Another returnee to Les Templiers is France’s Claire Mougel — she took seventh in 2017, the only time she’s done this race. Though she hasn’t raced at all in 2021 and has had some successful years and some less so, her experience on the course will be helpful as she toes the line again. Her top international result over the years was third place at the 2018 Trail World Championships.
Mathilde Sagnes is young in the sport of trail running, but already throwing down some good races. The 26-year-old French runner place second at the 56k OCC this year, her first time racing at the UTMB festival of races. She hasn’t dipped her toes too much into ultra distances, with all her races listed being under 55k. She was also runner up at the 2021 Trail du Ventoux, another popular race in France. Let’s see what she’s capable of.
Julie Roux races almost exclusively in her native France and occasionally in neighboring Italy, so Les Templiers’s course is close to home turf for her. Her Instagram shows her on a variety of trails, from clear and runnable to snowy and technical, and she recently won the 42k Ubaye Trail. Roux was third, just behind Sagnes, at the 2021 Trail du Ventoux. She, like many others on this list, tends to stick to and succeed at shorter races, so it will be interesting to see how she does across a longer distance.
More Fast Women
While Jo Meek had a hard go at UTMB this year, placing 21st, the British runner excelled on her home turf, taking second at the Lakeland Trails Ultra 100k in July. While she like everyone else had a quiet 2020, in 2019 she had three wins, a second, and third, so she definitely has the chops to compete. She’s on the British team for the 2022 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships, so it will be fun to see what she pulls out at this year’s Les Templiers.
Carla Molinaro has had some interesting results this year. While the Brit struggled at CCC, and DNFed at the Canyons 100k, she won the 125k Ultra X Scotland. Her top international result over the years was in 2018 when she finished in the top 10 of the Comrades Marathon, taking ninth. Unlike the majority of other competitors here, she has greater experience at distances over 50k, so that will help her.
France’s Elodie Davy doesn’t race very often. By the looks of her results on ITRA, she’s only toed the line once per year since 2009, save for a busy 2018, in which she placed 10th at Les Templiers.
French masters runner Nathalie Mauclair has had some incredible race results in the past — including a win at the 2015 UTMB and a third place at that same race in 2014, a third place at the 2017 Hardrock 100, a win at the 2015 Trail World Championships, and third at the 2014 Western States 1000. While she doesn’t race as much as in years past, she also won the 176k Grand Raid Ultra Marin in 2019.
Another youngen’ in the trail running world is Esther Eustache at only 25 years old. Until this year, the Frenchwoman had only raced one or two races a year, all in France. She’s had a bit of a breakout year, placing fourth at the 48k Cortina Trail and winning the 57k distance at L’Échappée Belle. She’s had only one race over 50k, that was back in 2018, so let’s see if she can continue to improve as distances get longer.
One of the more experienced women in this race series is Sophie Gagnon. Adding to the lineup of French women, Gagnon ran Les Templiers back in 2009 (when it was 72k), and placed 15th. Racing ultras since 2007, and in a wide variety of distances, she has one of the deepest results lists of women here, but with races that aren’t quite as high profile as others.
Carine Loyer has had a good couple years, placing first or second in everything she’s entered, in distances from 18k to 50k. The Frenchwoman has experience at a variety of distances, even placing 10th at the 2019 Diagonale des Fous, her longest race to date. While we don’t think she’s run at Les Templiers before, her previous experience in a variety of distances will be helpful.
Melanie Egalon of France had a very good year in 2019, winning all but one of her races. Her race calendar has been relatively quiet since then. She has previously run two distances at the Festival des Templiers — the 62k in 2018 (which she DNFed), and the 29k in 2015 (which she won). She’s twice competed and twice finished in the top 10 in 2019 and 2021 at races designated as national championships in France, so she’s got interesting potential.
Sandy Paulet seems to stick to and do well at the sub-marathon distance. Yet another French woman in this France-stacked race, Paulet has run at Les Templiers three times before, twice in the 27k and once at the 38k, in which she made the podium each time. If she can do as well at the 80k distance as she does at these previous shorter races, she will be fun to watch.
2021 Les Templiers Men’s Preview
Let’s check out the top men expected to compete at the 2021 Les Templiers.
Sebastien Spehler (pre-race interview) has had an incredible few years and is the two-time defending Les Templiers men’s champion. Other than one DNF at EcoTrail Paris in 2021, he hasn’t finished lower than second place in any race he’s entered since 2018. He’s kept most of his races local and technical in his home country of France, but he showed his leg speed back in 2019 when he placed second at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and won The North Face 50 Mile Championships. While he’ll have some heavy competition at Les Templiers, he’s the men’s favorite with his two previous wins of this race in 2017 and 2018 as well as fourth back in 2016.
If anyone knows Les Templiers, it is France’s Nicolas Martin (pre-race interview). He’s run this race eight previous times, placing second three times as well as fourth, seventh, eighth, and 13th. Most recently, he was second in 2018 behind champ Spehler in a closely dueled race. Outside of this race, Martin has also been very successful, especially considering the high volume of races he runs. In most of his races, he tends to be in the top five or ten (like second places at the 2016 Trail World Championships and 2016 Transvulcania), but sometimes, he completely blows up. However, he doesn’t have a single DNF listed on his ITRA page, so that speaks to his endurance and desire to finish no matter what.
The lone Finn on this list, Henri Ansio (pre-race interview), is also returning to Les Templiers. He has raced it twice before and done quite well: fifth in 2017 and third in 2018. But other than this race, he tends to keep his distances under the 50k mark. While Ansio is nearly always in the top-five finishers in his home country, when faced with more competitive international races (other than at Templiers), he tends to place around 10th to 15th — for example, 14th at the 2019 Marathon du Mont Blanc. However, the races associated with those results tend to be more technical; Ansio is a 2:30 marathoner and Les Templiers’s trails are much more runnable, leaving him in a more competitive position.
Yet another returnee to Les Templiers is Andy Symonds. The British runner who lives in France has finished fourth, third, and even won the race back in 2011. His most recent Les Templiers finish was fourth in 2018. Symonds has had a pretty good few years, winning the 2021 Matterhorn Ultraks, second at the 2020 Montreux Trail Festival, and even placing fifth at the 2019 UTMB. Symonds also has a ton of experience on a wide variety of distances, from a quick 22k up to the 250k Marathon des Sables stage race.
Here’s a fun, last-minute surprise: Jonathan Albon is racing Les Templiers! A Brit who lives in Norway, Albon is the reigning Trail World Champion after having won the Trail World Championships the last time the event was able to take place in 2019 — the event was a 50k distance. This year, his top performances were wins of both the OCC and the Ultra Pirineu Marathon. While Albon typically races shorter distance trail races and ultramarathons, he’s hit the 50-mile distance at least once before in taking fourth at the 2019 Transvulcania. We believe this is his first effort at Les Templiers and he should be in the podium mix. [Added: Oct 22]
Thibaut Baronian is not racing. [Update: Oct 19]
While France’s Thibaut Baronian has long been a strong racer, he had a breakout performance in taking third at the 2021 CCC. This was also his first 100k race as far as we can tell. Baronian has been racing since 2010, so definitely has the depth of experience to make him successful in this race. In fact, he ran Les Templiers back in 2013 and 2016, where he placed 11th and sixth, respectively. With all his experience and improved performances, he’ll surely be in a race for the top.
Darren Thomas will be racing in the Azores rather than at Les Templiers. [Update: Oct 17]
Yes, Darren Thomas is representing the very few Americans in this race, this year. Thomas has a really fascinating list of successful races, as he’s done well at such a wide variety of courses and distances. From winning the short-and-steep eight-mile Hahns Peak Ascent in 2019 and the Hellgate 100k in 2018, Thomas has proven to be a versatile runner. His breakout ultra-distance race was in taking second at the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile Championships behind champ Spehler, whom he’ll race against this weekend again. He recently came in second at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 23k, and while he’s never raced at Les Templiers, he’ll be one to watch.
The Great Scot Robbie Simpson didn’t race at all in 2020, but his two races back this year have been very successful – he placed second at the 56k OCC and first at the Ultra X 50 Scotland. Outside of this year, Simpson has been a steady, dependably successful runner: he races Sierre-Zinal and the Jungfrau Marathon almost every year and places well each time. This year he finished only one minute behind champ Kilian Jornet at Sierre-Zinal. Simpson typically keeps his race distances shorter, but he has ventured up to the 80k distance once before, at the 2019 The North Face 50 Mile Championships where he took fifth. Let’s see if he can keep up his streak in the mountains of France.
Petter Engdahl is another young one, and the Swedish runner had a strong race at OCC this year, placing third to make the podium, just behind second place Simpson and ahead of fourth place Thomas Cardin. Previous racing years have been a mixed bag for him, in 2019 placing as high as third at Transvulcania and as low as 21st at the Livigno Skymarathon. Let’s see where he lands this weekend.
Benoît Cori is a funny guy. His Instagram handle has “bigben” in the title, and it’s full of him making funny faces. I think he’d be fun to hang out with, but also fun to watch race. The French runner has surprised even himself at times. For example, in 2015 and 2016 he won Les Templiers against very competitive fields. While he’s struggled at some high profile races (a DNF and 28th at UTMB in 2018 and 2019, respectively), Cori knows this course and it will be interesting to see if he could pull off the win again.
Julien Rancon seems to have no middle: he’s either really on, or really off, his results varying wildly year to year and race to race. This year, the Frenchman DNFed at the Marathon du Mont Blanc, but placed eighth at the very competitive Sierre-Zinal only five minutes behind winner Kilian Jornet. In 2019, he was really on when he finished second at the Trail World Championships. Rancon has also run Les Templiers before, placing fifth in 2012 and 12th in 2016, so it will be fun to see if he can come back and improve here.
Thomas Cardin is also pretty young. The French runner just missed the podium at OCC this year, placing fourth. Cardin has had a relatively reliable race history, usually making the podium or top 10, with a few outliers here and there, but the catch is he usually sticks to marathon or shorter distances. OCC was his longest race since the 80k EcoTrail Paris back in 2018.
More Fast Men
Sylvain Court has some really interesting race results. He has finished Les Templiers six times, placing as as high as second in 2014 and as low as tenth. At the most recent edition of Les Templiers in 2018, he was eighth. He tends to place in the top 10 or so in most races he enters, but at first glance seems to struggle at some high profile races like UTMB (DNF in 2018, 18th in 2019). However, he also won the Trail World Championships in 2015 and was third in 2016. So anything could happen here!
Johan Lantz also loves Les Templiers. Lantz has run Les Templiers thrice and improved on his finish each time. Most recently at the 2018 Les Templiers, he took sixth. The Swedish runner has had a mixed 2021, placing eighth at Lavaredo Ultra Trail, but DNFing at Transgrancanaria and CCC. However, in his Instagram post about CCC, he stated he was ready to race Les Templiers, his “favorite race ever.”
Joacim Lantz, younger brother to Johan Lantz, has also run Les Templiers a couple of times, his most recent a ninth at the 2018 edition. The Swede’s top international result over the years was a second at the 2019 Ultravasan 90k. [Added: Oct 22]
Arnaud Bonin races mostly in his native France, and also usually sticks to the around marathon-distance races with recent exception OCC this year, where he just missed the top 10 as well, placing 12th. He’s never raced at Les Templiers, so this will be another good test of a longer distance for him. He just won the 2021 French Trail Championships, ahead of his countrymen Maillard and Kevin Vermeulen.
Another in our peleton of French runners is Romain Maillard. Maillard doesn’t race often, but when he does, he usually does well. Recently at the 2021 Trail des Passerelles du Monteynard, he was third, quite a bit behind second place Nicolas Martin, but he did come in second at the French Trail Championships in September of this year, so he’s moving up. Maillard has run Les Templiers twice, placing seventh each time, including in 2018, so let’s see if he can improve on his previous races.
Thibaut Leroy is not racing. [Update: Oct 19]
Thibaut Leroy has had a really mixed bag of races. He’s usually in the top 10-20% of racers, though sometimes in the top five. He just missed the top 10 at CCC this year, placing 11th, and the last time he raced Les Templiers, he came in 16th. I’m sure he’ll be aiming to break into the top 10.
Kevin Vermeulen loves to race! The 29-year-old Frenchman has been racing since 2013, toeing the line at least three and as many as 13 times per year (and probably more). In 2020, he placed in the top five in every race he entered, including a win at the 49k Matterhorn Ultraks. While his 2021 hasn’t been quite as prolific, he made the podium at the 2021 French Trail Championships, placing third. He has also run at Les Templiers; he DNFed Les Templiers in 2018, but was the champion of the 63k course in 2017.
British fell runner George Foster has a rapidly improving race roster in the longer distances. In 2020, Foster ran 13:44 for the iconic Bob Graham Round in northern England, which is the third-fastest time for the 66-mile loop. He also won the 2021 Lakeland Trails Ultra 100k. It will be interesting to see how he runs on the trails of Les Templiers.
There aren’t too many Dutch runners at Les Templiers, but Peter van der Zon is one of them. Other than hopping briefly on the struggle bus at Sierre-Zinal, he’s had a pretty great year, including fourth at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and ninth at the Canyons 100k. The Netherlands are notoriously flat, so his leg speed will suit him on the runnable parts of Les Templiers, and his history with success in the Alps will help him here as well.
We will be interested to see how Benedikt Hoffmann, of Germany, runs on the trails of Les Templiers. It appears that Hoffmann has concentrated his efforts at road ultramarathons, namely the 50k and 100k distances, over the years. He’s run at least 2:54 for the 50k, in 2019, and 6:48 for the 100k, in 2017. [Added: Oct 22]
Danny Kendall‘s busiest race years were back in 2014 and 2015, and while he’s eased off the gas since then with no visible races since 2018, the Brit has some good experience behind him, including a previous Les Templiers finish, and four finishes of Marathon des Sables, three times in the top 10.
Call for Comments
- Let us know who you think will be at the top this year. Who is primed for the women’s and men’s podiums?
- Let us know if we’ve missed someone with top-10 potential in the women’s or men’s races. We’ve not had a chance to review the full entrants list that sits a 3,300 runners strong!
- Tell us if we’ve mentioned a runner who you think won’t be running. We’ll update this preview until race day.