The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, one of the toughest and most competitive running races on the planet, starts today at noon ET. The 103-mile race around the Mt. Blanc massif sends runners on a through-the-night quest from Chamonix, France, through parts of Italy and Switzerland and back to Chamonix.
While American women, Krissy Moehl, Nikki Kimball and Rory Bosio have notched total of five victories with more than 30,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, no U.S. male has ever broken the finisher’s tape in Chamonix. Many of America’s best trail runners have given it a go in their prime, including Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Mike Wolfe, Tim Olson, Geoff Roes and Zach Miller, to name a few, but none has come home victoriously.
With an all-star cast of Americans joining the 2,300 starters in the deepest field yet, this might be the year a Yankee will break through. The big guns from the U.S. in this year’s field include Jim Walmsley, Sage Canaday, Zach Miller, Dylan Bowman, Jason Schlarb, David Laney, Tim Tollefson and Jeff Browning. With the weather looking damp and cold, the dodgy course may favor mountain runners like Miller, Bowman, Schlarb, Tollefson and Browning. “I’m trained rather well for these kinds of conditions,” said Miller, who built a huge lead midway through last year’s race but was caught and eventually finished 6th.
“Bring on the bad weather,” cheered a bright-eyed Tollefson, who placed third last year, one of the highest American finishes ever. The only U.S. finish better than that came in 2002, when Topher Gaylord and Brandon Sybrowsky tied for a runner-up finish in the inaugural race.
The U.S. has a solid group of women in the race, too, including Magdalena Boulet, Kaci Lickteig, Stephanie Howe, Aliza Lapierre, Meredith Edwards and Amanda Basham. For the Americans to win either race, they are going to need to dig deep because they will be up against some stiff competition from, on the women’s side: Caroline Chaverot, Andrea Huser, Nuria Picas, and Nathalie Mauclair; and on the men’s side, Kilian Jornet, Francoise d’Haene, Xavier Thevenard, Tofol Castaner Brenat, Pau Capell, Gediminas Grinius and Miguel Heras.
Schlarb, who finished 4th in the 2014 UTMB and shared a win with Kilian Jornet at the 2016 Hardrock 100 in Colorado, said that the race course and atmosphere was kind of a combination of the Hardrock 100 and Western States. “You get the mountain running of Hardrock and the big attention and organization of Western.”