SIERRE ZINAL 2022: RACE PREVIEW, HISTORY AND FAVOURITES
This is the WMRA next long distance mountain race with its 31km with 2200m of ascent, and also the next stage of the GTWS and it traditionally attracts the most competitive field of all the World Cup races. Of course, this year is no exception. The event will be held this Saturday August 13th.
SIERRE ZINAL 2022: KILIAN JORNET LOOKING FOR HIS 10TH VICTORY
This weekend the WMRA World Cup and the Golden Trail Series heads to Switzerland, an iconic race in the mountain running world. Most mountain races have a lot of history behind them but this is the 49th edition of Sierre-Zinal. Since its creation in 1974 men and women have raced over the same distance here, and as we’ll see the results list reads like an international who’s who of mountain running.
The route itself is iconic. It’s known as ‘la course des cinq 4000’ because the runners get to enjoy views including 5 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 then climb up, up, 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. It’s a tantalisingly runnable, fast course, which as we know results in some very exciting racing.
SIERRE-ZINAL 2022: 31KM| 2200M+
Sierre-Zinal draws top international runners back year after year, in pursuit of one of the biggest accolades in mountain running. From 1979 to 1982 Pablo Vigil (USA) won 4 in a row. In the women’s race Veronique Marot (GBR) won 3 out of 4 between 1984 and 1987, then Isabella Crettenand-Moretti (SUI) was unbeaten between 1995 and 1997. In 2001 Ricardo Mejia (MEX) won his first of 3 races, but his dominance was interrupted by Jonathan Wyatt (NZL) in 2002 and 2003, who set the record of 2.29.12 which was unbeaten for 16 years. In 2006 Anna Pichrtova (CZE) began her 4 year reign, setting the women’s record of 2.54.26 in the process. This record would also endure for 11 years.
But by far the most dominant male athlete here has of course been Kilian Jornet (ESP) who has won an incredible 8 times. He finally beat the record set by Jonathan Wyatt at an unbelievably exciting 2019 race, running 2.25.35. Lucy Wambui (KEN) has won 3 times in recent years (2015, 2017, 2018) but it was Maude Mathys (SUI) who finally smashed Anna Pichrtova’s record with a stunning run of 2.49.20, also in 2019. Will these records stand after Saturday’s race? Let’s take a look at the fields.
SIERRE ZINAL 2022: HISTORY
Mountain races were not common in the 1970’s. Jean-Claude Pont, Dr. of Mathematics, Professor of “History and Philosophy of Science” at the University of Geneva and a certified Swiss mountain guide, once imagined a running event set in the spectacular mountains of Anniviers where people could “rediscover the virtues of physical effort and regain bodily fitness by taking on a unique running challenge”. It would also considerably contribute to the development of the Anniviers Valley in the heart of the Central Valais.
As he recalls in his book, “Courir dans une Cathédrale”, dedicated to the story of the first forty years of the race, he prompted the tourist industry to focus on racing opportunities available. He aimed to showcase and celebrate the breathtaking Anniviers mountainscape that had enthralled him since childhood. The race would be named, not just Sierre-Zinal, but the “Race of the Five 4000 m Peaks”!
At the heart of the race, and an enduring draw, is the humanist philosophy. With this in mind, a new “Tourist “category” was created – unique to Sierre-Zinal as it was designed for runners “whose sole aim is to get together, push their physical limits and measure them against a challenging trail.” Runners in the “Tourist” category receive a certificate with their final running time but with no ranking. Personal excellence and goals of camaraderie, fun, appreciation of nature and physical challenges are most valued. In brief, the philosophy of “the heart before the watch” wins!
The most successful runners in the history of the race are: Kilian Jornet (9 Golds); Ricardo Mejía (5 Golds); Pablo Vigil (4 Golds) and Maude Mathys, Marco de Gasperi, Jairo Correa, Veronique Marot and Isabella Crettenand (3 Golds)
SIERRE ZINAL 2022 : THE FAVOURITES, KILIAN AND MAUDE.
Sierre Zinal is a race especially open to all types of runners due to its characteristics. Not too technical, not too rolling. Neither very long, nor short… Total, that in the end here converge and win often, athletes trained in other disciplines. It was not causality that first victory in 1974 of the cross-country skier against the Olympic champion of the 3,000m hurdles.
She holds the course record, and even if she seemed less on form at Zegama due to a niggling injury at the start of the season, Maude Mathys (Team Salomon, Switzerland) is still the great favourite at Sierre-Zinal, on a route that she knows like the back of her hand and suits her skills down to the ground. But she’s not out of the woods because this year she’ll be up against Sara Alonso (Team Salomon, Spain).
It remains to be seen how the current leader of the Golden Trail World Series will have recovered after her race at Stranda last weekend, where she suffered several falls in the technical section.
Anaïs Sabrié (Team Sidas X Matryx, France) also knows Sierre-Zinal really well, she finished third place last year behind Maude Mathys and Nienke Brinkman (Team Nike Trail, The Netherlands), and clocked a stunning fourth place this year at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc. The Europeans must nevertheless keep an eye on Joyce Njeru (Team Run2gether, Kenya) this year’s winner of the Nid d’Aigle (with a record time to cap it off), in front of Blandine L’Hirondel (Team Evadict, France) and winner of the Gir Di Mont Uphill 2022.
We also can’t wait to see how Sophia Laukli (Team Salomon, USA) performs on this course after her victory at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race last week. All these girls still need to watch out for runners like Marcela Vasinova (Team Salomon, Czech Republic), Simone Troxler (Team Brooks, Switzerland), Lucy Murigi (Team Run2gether, Kenya), Varvara Shikanova (Team Salomon, Russia), and Nuria Gil (Spain).
Impossible to ignore: Kilian Jornet (Team Nnormal, Spain). Fitter than ever, every time Kilian has stood on a start line this year, it’s for a win, as it was at Zegama, and the Hardrock 100. Will he be able to hold the fort, one more time, up against his constant Pitbull at Sierre-Zinal: Robbie Simpson (Team Adidas Terrex, UK); 4 times in second place on this race, the Brit has already been beaten by Kilian Jornet five times in all.
The uphill specialist, Rémi Bonnet (Team Salomon/Red Bull, Switzerland), is also a serious contender, even if he hasn’t yet managed to win at Sierre-ZInal, the Best Climber of the Golden Trail Championship 2020 will need to go all out if he wants to win on Saturday.
Another runner who proved he has expert uphill skills this year is Patrick Kipngeno (Team Run2gether, Kenya). The Kenyan just won the Nid d’Aigle obliterating the record by more than 5 minutes. All these mountain experts should look out for the surprise guest! Hassan Chadhi (Team Adidas, France) is one of the best French marathon runners with a record established in Seville this year of 2h08’19’’. Let’s see what the Haute-Savoyard is capable of up against the best trailer runners in the world on the fast-rolling Sierre-Zinal course. We will also keep our eyes on Juan Carlos Carera(Team Buff, Mexico), Petro Mamu (Team Scarpa, Eritrea), Cesare Maestri (Team Nike Trail, Italy), Lengen Lolkurraru (Team Run2gether, Kenya), Frédéric Tranchand (Team Scott Running, France).
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