Established elites and exciting new talent will clash when the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup heads to Switzerland for Sierre-Zinal on Saturday (12).
The long distance mountain race, which covers 31km with 2200m of ascent, traditionally attracts the most competitive field of all the World Cup events and this year is no exception as it celebrates its 50th edition.
Sierre-Zinal is known as ‘la course des cinq 4000’ because runners get to enjoy views of five peaks over 4000m along the way (Weisshorn, 4506m; Zinalrothorn, 4221m; Obergabelhorn, 4073m; Matterhorn, 4478m; and Dent Blanche, 4357m). Athletes start in Sierre at 570m and climb up to the highest point at 2425m at Nava over the course of 24km. Then the final 7km is downhill, culminating in a frantic sprint through Zinal to the finish line at 1680m.
Both the men’s and women’s records fell in 2019, with Kilian Jornet clocking 2:25:35 and Maude Mathys 2:49:20, and Mathys has since lowered the women’s mark again to 2:46:03. Neither Mathys or Jornet will be on the start line this year, but there is still incredible depth to both fields.
The women’s race features the athletes who finished second behind Mathys in 2021 and 2022. Nienke Brinkman had an incredible run in 2021, and combines great climbing ability with speed on the flat (her marathon PB is 2:22). The runner-up last year, Philaries Kisang, is having a great season with a second place in the uphill race at the World Championships, a second at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and a third place at Fletta Trail. The runner-up from 2019, Judith Wyder, will also be on the start line, having recently won Dolomyths.
There’s an exciting contingent of athletes from the US this year. Sophie Laukli won the Mont Blanc Marathon this year and finished second to Wyder at Dolomyths. Allie McLaughlin memorably won the snowy Broken Arrow Skyrace this year, as well as winning the uphill race at the 2022 World Championships and coming third in the up and down race. Bailey Kowalczyk was fifth here last year and could improve on that this time. Other notable US women include Tabor Hemming, Anna Gibson and Allie Ostrander.
Sarah McCormack was fourth here last year and Lucy Murigi – a three-time former winner (2015, 2017, 2018) – was sixth. While Nuria Gil finished seventh and also returns.
From the veterans to the newcomers, it will be interesting to see how Joyce Njeru gets on in her first Sierre-Zinal following her wins at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and Fletta Trail and a third place at the World Championships classic race this year. Another debut to watch will be Daniela Oemus, who won Zegama this year and finished sixth at the Mont Blanc Marathon.
Other notable athletes on the start line include Emelie Forsberg, Susanna Saapunki, Alice Gaggi, Theresa Leboeuf, Caitlin Fielder and Emma Pooley.
Last year’s men’s winner, Andreu Blanes, will not return this year, nor will the nine-time winner Jornet, but the rest of last year’s podium will be in action. Patrick Kipngeno, last year’s runner-up, is having an extremely successful year, winning La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, Piz Tri Vertical and the uphill race at the World Championships. Petro Mamu was third last year and second in 2019 in the second fastest time on this course (2:26:31).
Philemon Kiriago was fifth here last year and is having a very successful year, with a win at Fletta Trail and second places at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, Piz Tri Vertical and the classic race at the World Championships. Likewise Remi Bonnet is in form, having won the Mont Blanc Marathon this year and placed fourth at Zegama. Davide Magnini was fifth at his last attempt at Sierre-Zinal in 2021 and he’s had second places at Mont Blanc and Zegama in the meantime, so could well be one to watch. Robert Pkemoi will also be exciting to follow here, having finished sixth in 2022 and having also achieved a fifth place at Zegama this year.
Robbie Simpson has a lot of history with this race, having finished second a total of four times (2016, 2017, 2018, and 2021), as well as finishing fifth in 2019 and ninth in 2022. He will always be in contention here. Cesare Maestri has achieved a third place here in 2021 and he’s recently won Giir di Mont and a third place at Fletta Trail.
We will also see some exciting debuts in the men’s race. Elazzoui Elhousine won Dolomyths this year and was second at Zegama, while Matthias Kyburz is a highly decorated orienteering champion with great flat speed and will be interesting to watch.
Other notable athletes on the start line include Xavier Chevrier, Eli Hemming, Andrew Douglas, Francesco Puppi and Joe Steward.
Source : Worldathletics