The World Mountain Running Association World Cup is approaching its peak point of the season with the iconic Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland, the fifth race in the 2019 series, on Sunday (9).
The picturesque 31-kilometre race with 2200m of ascent and 1100m of descent features a course offering views of five of the area’s 4000-metre peaks, lending it the nickname, the "Five 4000s Race”. It starts in the Valais town of Sierre and climbs to the village of Zinal.
This year the Swiss race has assembled perhaps the best-ever elite field in mountain running. With such a strong field, organisers are hoping that Jonathan Wyatt’s men’s race record of 2:29:12, set in 2003, could be in danger.
Six-time Sierre-Zinal winner Kilian Jornet of Spain will be the favourite but he is up against ultra-runner Jim Walmsley of the US who last May clocked a world best over 50 miles (80.46km). Walmsley has a strong history racing over shorter distances so expect him to push Jornet hard even though this will be the US runner's debut in this race.
Petro Mamu of Eritrea, the race’s 2016 winner in who also won the Thyon-Dixence race last Sunday, could be a leading contender. Robbie Simpson of Great Britain and Kenya's Robert Surum, second and third in 2018 respectively, are back and will be pushing for higher places in 2019. Bear in mind that Surum has already set the best ever intermediate split on this course between the Hotel Weisshorn and the finish line.
By winning the Mont Blanc Marathon in Chamonix in June and Dolomyths Run in Canazei in July, Italy's Davide Magnini will aim for a podium in Zinal, but given his expertise over more technical terrain, the course won't quite suit his style. Andrew Douglas of Great Britain, the current leader in the WMRA World Cup standings, will search for points in Zinal to try to maintain his lead. He'll again face the Dematteis twins from Italy, Bernard and Martin, and Eritrea's Filmon Abraham.
European champion Jacob Adkin of Great Britain and Stian Aarvik of Norway, who finished 1-2 at the recent European Championships, will be among the other stars in the deep field. Both are capable of winning races but here they will be shooting for a top-five place given the strength of the competition.
In the women's race, Maude Mathys of Switzerland arrives to try finally to add a victory here to her resume after winning the European Championships in Zermatt last June. On her way she will meet reigning world champion and three-time Sierre-Zinal winner Lucy Murigi of Kenya who is targeting the 2:54:26 course record set by Czech Anna Pichrtova in 2008.
Germany's Michelle Maier, the winner in 2016, 2011 winner Elisa Desco of Italy and Swiss Simone Troxler are also podium contenders. Sarah McCormack of Ireland will be defending her leadership in the World Cup standings from a possible attack from Murigi. Sarah Tunstall of Great Britain, who recently won in Austria, has experience on this course and is in great form. Another UK-based runner to watch is Holly Page who is on the comeback from injury. Others to watch include Italy's Silvia Rampazzo and Swede Ida Nilsson.
The race joins two of the world’s major mountain running competitions, the World Cup for Mountain Running and the Golden Trail Series; looking at previous Golden Trail winners we have to mention that Swiss Judith Wyder, winner of Dolomyths Run and New Zealand's Ruth Croft, winner of Mont Blanc Marathon, will be strong. Norway's Elianne Dvergsdal, ultra-trail specialist Amandine Ferrato of France and Dutchwoman Ragna Debats complete the strong women's start list.
The event also features a mass race whose participants will compete on the same course as the elites.
Organisers for the IAAF