Past Winners, World Champions and Olympians: the best of the best gather for Sierre-Zinal
The Valsir Mountain Running World Cup hits the halfway point this weekend, Saturday 13th August, with its 6th Gold Label race: Sierre-Zinal.
Since the first edition in 1974, the best of the best of have been gathering in the Swiss Canton of Valais every August to race the 31km from Sierre to Zinal. From the long grind of the monstrous opening climb to the final, frantic downhill, every year The Race of the Five 4000s provides fierce racing and high drama. Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Obergabelhorn, Matterhorn and Dent Blanch; these giants of the Alps have watched on as the giants of mountain running do battle on this historic, iconic course.
Jairo Correa, Anna Pichrtova, Sally Goldsmith, Ricardo Mejía; the Sierre-Zinal honour roll reads like a Who's Who of the sport, an exclusive club where World Champion mountain runners rub shoulders with Olympians and world record holders.
And this year is no different. Take the prestige of Sierre-Zinal, layer on top the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup and the Golden Trail World Series and you have the deepest elite fields to be found anywhere outside a major championship. Here are just some of the many athletes who will be hoping to make their mark on Saturday.
Find the full elite fields here.
Maude Mathys returns, looking for her 4th win and clearly as fit as ever after double gold at the European Championships in La Palma. Mathys has been unstoppable here, running the 3 fastest winning times in the last 3 editions, culminating in last year's 2:46:03.
She will be joined on the startline by another 3 time winner, Lucy Murigi, who will be looking for her first World Cup win of the year after 2nd places at Grossglockner Berglauf and Giir di Mont. Camilla Magliano, 3rd in the World Cup standings, will also start.
There are a number of previous podium finishers looking for an upgrade. Anaïs Sabrié, 2nd in 2020 and 3rd in 2021, will be looking to move up to the top step, while Simone Troxler and Emma Pooley, 3rd in 2018 and 2020 respectively, are also back for more.
Joyce Njeru has been the standout performer on the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup this year, winning 4 Gold Label races from 4 starts. Only one woman has beaten her in Europe this season, Kisang Philiaries at Thyon-Dixence just last weekend. Both women will start among the favourites.
Sara Alonso will look to extend her lead in the Golden Trail World Series standings, after a win at Mont Blanc Marathon and 3rd at Zegama-Aizkorri. Third place in the G.T.W.S. Fabiola Conti also starts, as does Sophia Laukli, winner of last weekend's Stranda Fjord Trail Race.
Also in the race are Nuria Gil and Mathilde Sagnes, silver and bronze respectively in the trail race at the European Championships, as well as previous World Cup winners Sarah Tunstall, Sarah McCormack and Alice Gaggi.
If Kilian Jornet wins this weekend it will be an unbelievable 10th victory for the Catalan at Sierre-Zinal. For anyone else, a win at the Hardrock 100 4 weeks before the race would be enough to count them out of contention, but it's a double that Kilian has done 3 times before. His 2:25:35 from 2019 is the course record.
Petro Mamu, 2016 champion, returns, as does the great Mexican, 5 time winner Ricardo Mejia and U.S.A.'s Pablo Vigil, who won 4 times in a row between 1979 and 1982.
The other most consistent mens performer at this race in recent years is Robbie Simpson. He'll be looking to take a first win after 4 2nd places, including last year. Cesare Maestri was 3rd in 2021 and comes into the race on the back of gold and silver medals at the European Championships. Other returning podium finishers include Fred Tranchand and Remi Bonnet, 2nd and 3rd respectively in 2020.
Patrick Kipngeno hasn't put a foot wrong this year. On top of his perfect record in the Valsir World Cup, last weekend he broke the great Jairo Correa's 1990 course record at Thyon-Dixence. Also under the course record at that race was Mark Kangogo, who lines up here too. Kipngeno's teammate Philemon Kiriago has hardly been less impressive and will come into the race on a high after taking the win at Fletta Trail on Sunday following a string of second places.
The top 3 from the Golden Trail World Series will all be on the startline; Elhousine Elazzaoui, Trail World Champ Jon Albon and Davide Magnini, who has twice made the top 5 here.
European Champions Sylvain Cachard and Maximilien Drion will start, alongside silver and bronze medallists Dominik Rolli and Danial Osanz.
As ever at Sierre-Zinal, there are plenty wild cards shuffled into the pack. Olympic marathoners have had plenty of success here and a few more will look to have an impact this weekend.;Anna Hahner of Germany and Hassan Chahdi of France, who set his marathon best of 2:08 in February of this year. American cross-country legend Garrett Heath is another one to watch as he continues his journey into trail and mountain running.
The only sure thing is fantastic racing!
The Valsir World Cup standings heading into the race can be found here.
All photos by Marco Gulberti, see more on Flickr.