Petro Mamu of Eritrea and Austria's Andrea Mayr will start as the favourites at the Smarna Gora Mountain Running Race, one of the annual highlights of the mountain running season, whose rich tradition as a WMRA World Cup event will continue with its 37th edition on Saturday (1).
The weekend gathering at this popular mountain just north of Slovenia's capital Ljubljana will once again feature some of the world's best mountain runners who'll be testing their strength, skill and speed for the final time on the 2016 WMRA World Cup circuit.
Both Mayr, the winner of the world title in Sapareva Banya, Bulgaria, earlier this month, and Mamu, who raced to the 2012 world championship and the 2014 World Cup crown, lead the World Cup standings after last weekend's penultimate race in Bergen, Germany.
Mamu arrives after recent victories at World Cup stops in Kamnik, Slovenia, Telfes im Stubai, Austria, and Bergen, Germany. Last weekend in Bergen Mamu won by ten seconds over compatriot Yossief Tekle.
In Ljubljana he'll take on Italy's Alex Baldaccini, who set the still-standing Smarna Gora course record with his victory in 2012. He followed up with back-to-back third place finishes in 2013 and 2014, and was runner-up one year ago.
Also in the field is Andrew Douglas of Great Britain, one of the strongest runners on the circuit this season, who produced consistent finishes on or near the podium whenever he has raced.
Ugandan teenagers Joel Ayeko and Victor Kiplangat, who finished 1-2 in this year's junior race at the world championships, will run the course for the first time.
Among Mayr's chief opposition will be Italy's Alice Gaggi, the 2013 world champion and a specialist in technical descents.
A rich tradition
Over the last 36 years many world and European championships medallists have been tested on the demanding Smarna Gora course that takes runners 360 metres uphill to the first summit, followed by 300 metres of technical descent before a 300-metre climb to the finish. The top men will race just over 40 minutes for this 10-kilometre course.
The race dates back to 1979 when running enthusiasts from Ljubljana decided to organise a race to the top of Smarna Gora, one of the country's most popular mountains. None imaged then that it would grow to achieve worldwide fame and popularity among the international mountain running community.
In the early 1990s the event served as the first national championships in the newly independent Slovenia and later that decade world champion Lucio Fregona of Italy helped make the Smarna Gora race an internationally recognised event. After the millennium, the Smarna Gora race was one of the founding members of the WMRA World Cup and has since staged the final World Cup event on 14 occasions.
Competing against strong international fields, Slovenian runners will try to use home course advantage to their benefit. The weather forecast promises excellent running conditions suitable to course record assaults.
Tomo Sarf and Bob Ramsak for the IAAF