GOLDEN TRAIL SERIES 2018: STIAN ANGERMUND-VIK AND RUTH CROFT WIN SEASON-LONG GOLDEN TRAIL SERIES TITLES
The Grand Finale of the inaugural Golden Trail Series brought the world’s top 10 men and women marathon distance trail runners of the 2018 season to South Africa to compete for the Series crown at the Otter Trail Run on Saturday, October 20. With solid performances yet again, it was a pair of established international stars—Team Scott’s Ruth Croft of New Zealand and Team Salomon’s Stian Angermund-Vik of Norway—that became the first-ever season-long Golden Trail Series champions, but a couple of relative newcomers to the international scene won the day on the Eastern Cape. Poland’s Bartlomiej Przedwojewski (Team Salomon) and England’s Holly Page (Team Salomon) won the 42 km Otter Trail by besting world class fields and setting new course records in the process.
SALOMON GOLDEN TRAIL SERIES: FIVE RACES AND THE GREAT FINAL.
This year has seen the successful rollout of the inaugural Golden Trail Series, a collection of the five most iconic “short-distance” trail races on the planet, ending at the Otter Trail. The Golden Trail Series (GTS) was created to promote professional trail runners as the world-class athletes that they are, to acknowledge the passionate fans as an essential ingredient in the sport, and to showcase and protect the awe-inspiring nature and environments where the trail running’s most legendary races occur.
In 2018, the Golden Trail Series touched down at the Zegama Mountain Marathon in Spain’s Basque Country, the Marathon du Mont Blanc in Chamonix, Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland, Pikes Peak in Colorado and the Ring of Steall in the Scottish Highlands. Now, the final test comes on the shores of South Africa, where a €100,000 (R1 478 305) prize pool will be shared equally among the overall top 10 men and women.
In addition to the honor of being crowned Otter Trail champion, at stake in South Africa is the chance to win the title of the season-long Golden Trail Series. The men’s and women’s GTS champions will be determined by each athlete’s top three performances in the first five races of the series, plus his/her result at the Otter Trail on 20 October. The overall male and female winners will take home the newly created Golden Trail Series Champion trophy.
The competition figures to be off the charts at the Otter Trail Run, one of South Africa’s legendary trail races. It boasts a 42km undulating, coastal route challenging even the most capable athletes. Typically, a recreational five-day hike, the pristine trail is exclusively booked for Otter entrants once a year over the Otter Trail Run. This year the typical Otter route is run in reverse, from Nature’s Valley to Storm’s River, in what is referred to as the Retto.
As he has been for more than decade now, Jornet was the man to beat all season since returning from a broken leg suffered last winter. He’s won every race he’s entered in the Golden Trail Series—at Chamonix in his first race back, then at Sierre-Zinal and the Ring of Steall. At the Otter Trail, the competition figures to be stiff. Norwegian runner Stian Angermund-Vik (Team Salomon) and Swiss runner Marc Lauenstein (Team Salomon) are two of many looking to challenge the Catalan. The Swiss dentist returns to Otter, where he has won twice and is the course record holder in both directions.
OTTER TRAIL RUN: THE RACE
While both Przedwojewski and Holly Page had earned a spot in the top-10 of the Golden Trail Series—and the trip to the Final in South Africa that came with that achievement—neither had won a GTS race this season. That changed on Saturday. The Otter Trail had perhaps the greatest assemblage of talent the sport has seen for a “short-distance” trail race and there was drama from the start. Kilian Jornet (Team Salomon), who had won three Golden Trail Series races, was forced to withdraw within the first 10 km due to a hip injury he has been battling for several weeks, opening the door for an already-competitive field. He resorted to cheering on spectators as he hiked the trail to an exit point; spectators who were more than happy to jokingly tell him that this was their chance to beat him.
The Otter Trail race takes place over an undulating, coastal route on the shores of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, about a six-hour drive from Cape Town. Typically a recreational five-day hike, the pristine trail is exclusively booked for Otter entrants once a year for the Otter Trail Run. This year the typical Otter route was run in reverse, from Nature’s Valley to Storm’s River, in what is referred to as the Retto (“Otter” spelled backwards).
Przedwojewski, the 25-year-old fireman in only his second year as a trail runner, bolted from the pack just a couple of kilometers into the race, and they only saw his tail lights from there. He won by 9:33 in a course record time of 3:40:48, smashing by nearly 14 minutes the 2016 Retto record of 3:54:22 set by fellow Salomon athlete Marc Lauenstein’s in 2016. Lauenstein, the Swiss dentist, finished 2nd this year, charging home over the last five kilometers to distance himself from the rest of the field. Spain’s Oriol Cardona (Team Dynafit) was 3rd, Angermund-Vik was 4th and France’s Alexis Sevennec (Team Scott) was 5th. After a 3rd place finish at Zegama that surprised everyone but him, Przedwojewski struggled through some health issues in the middle part of the season that he said hurt his results. Now healthy, the Otter Trail was a chance to run full speed again.
“I can’t believe it because I won with such a strong field and these runners are my idols,” he said after the win. “On my watch, I had only the track of the course, so I didn’t know my pace. I just ran based on how I felt and I felt stronger as I went along. Last year, I ran only Polish races so this was the first year I tried international races and it went ok.”
On the women’s side, Page said she started the race slow, with no expectations, but suddenly found herself at the front and staring straight at a victory she never saw coming. She wound up setting a new course record and held off Croft, who didn’t know how close she was, by 34 seconds. Croft still won the season-long title. She was followed in South Africa by 3rd place finisher Toni McCann (Team Altra) from South Africa, Sweden’s Fanny Borgstrom (Team Salomon) in 4th and Spain’s Eli Gordon in 5th. Local favorite Meg Mackenzie (Team Salomon) from South Africa was 6th.
“I never expected that. It’s been a very long season and I was just trying to enjoy it and look around because it’s beautiful,” Page said. “I was running along with Ruth chatting and having fun and started gradually overtaking people and thought: ‘What’s going on? This wasn’t supposed to happen.’ This was a very deep field and normally I’m at the back of it, so it’s cool. It’s a tough course, so everyone who has done it should be proud.”
In addition to the honor of being crowned Otter Trail champion, at stake in South Africa was the season-long title for the Golden Trail Series. The top-10 who qualified for a weeklong trip for themselves and a guest to South Africa were determined by their results in the first five races of the season, with each needing to start at least three Golden Trail Series races in order to be eligible for the final. The men’s and women’s GTS champions were determined by each athlete’s top three performances in the first five races of the series, plus his/her result at the Otter Trail.
For Angermund-Vik, the win was a bit hollow with Jornet pulling out due to injury. Still, his consistent season against such top-tier talent earned him the overall prize.
“I have not raced against this much talent all season ever before, where you know every race is going to be tough,“ said Angermund-Vik. “We all know Kilian is the best runner, so winning because he is hurt is not the same. But it’s fun to see different people have their day, and today it was Przedwojewski. He just smashed us and I’m really happy for him. I loved the course and the way it changes up and down. It’s really fun. They talked a lot about the river crossing, but you are just in and then out of the water and then back to running.”
Ruth Croft was, like Angermund-Vik, a model of consistency throughout the Golden Trail Series. She won at the Marathon du Mont Blanc and was in the hunt just about everywhere else. At the Otter Trail, she had another strong finish, besting everyone but Page. To win the Golden Trail Series season-long title was, she said, an accomplishment she is quite proud of.
“It’s very satisfying and I think it’s been my best season overall. It goes to show what can happen if I live in a place where I can train properly and build a nice base for the season,” said Croft, a New Zealander who spent the year training in Europe. “Every race has been super competitive and every race is different and suits different people’s strengths and weaknesses, so it’s been about not over-racing and being ready for the races you want to be good at.”
The Golden Trail Series featured five most iconic “short-distance” trail races on the planet— Zegama Mountain Marathon in Spain’s Basque Country, the Marathon du Mont Blanc in Chamonix, Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland, Pikes Peak in Colorado and the Ring of Steall in the Scottish Highlands. The Grand Final will be held in a different country each year.
The top-10 men and top-10 women who qualified via the inaugural Golden Trail Series represent 11 different nations, including France, Great Britain, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.S.A. and the host country of South Africa.
FINAL RANKING AT GOLDEN TRAIL SERIES 2018
- Men: 1. Stian Angermund-Vik (Team Salomon) – 388 points 2. Marc Lauenstein (Team Salomon) – 307 3. Kilian Jornet (Team Salomon) – 300 4. Aritz Egea (Team Salomon) – 268 5. Oriol Cardona Coll (Team Dynafit) – 248 6. Bartlomiej Przedwojewski (Team Salomon) – 243 7. Alexis Sevennec (Team Scott) – 232 8. Stephan Wenk (Team Scott) – 230 9. Sage Canaday (Team Hoka) – 203 10. Thibaut Baronian (Team Salomon) – 194
- Women: 1. Ruth Croft (Team Scott) 338 puntos 2. Ida Nilsson (Team Salomon) – 303 3. Holly Page (Team Salomon) – 278 4. Eli Gordon (Team Salomon) – 267 5. Silvia Rampazzo- 265 6. Megan Kimmel (Team Salomon) – 233 7. Meg Mackenzie (Team Salomon) – 221 8. Fanny Borgstrom (Team Salomon) – 219 9. Sheila Aviles Castano (Team Buff) – 175 10. Francia Céline Lafaye- 141 **Laura Orgue qualified in third place, but has not been racing in the Grand Finale due to injury
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