Jonathan Albon of Great Britain and France’s Blandine L’Hirondel upset the favourites to win the individual titles at the IAU Trail World Championships in Miranda do Corvo, Portugal, on Saturday (8).
Albon took over the lead going up to the highest point of the course early in the second half, stepping up from fourth last year to cross the finish line in 3:35:35. He finished two minutes 13 seconds in front of French runner-up Julien Rancon as Switzerland’s Christan Mathys was third.
L’Hirondel led from early on and came home in 4:06:18, 8:12 clear of New Zealand’s Ruth Croft with Spain’s Sheila Aviles third.
As the week’s prevailing rainy weather subsided to leave pleasant conditions on the morning of the race, more than 400 athletes from 52 countries set off from the town in the Coimbra region. They headed off into the trails for the relatively short distance of 44km on a loop course which included 2200m of ascent.
Switzerland’s Christian Mathys was the early leader, going through the first checkpoint, Vila Nova at 7.1km, with a lead of 21 seconds.
Over the first big climb and down into the second checkpoint at Senhora da Piedade (15.4km), Mathys extended his lead slightly. Albon was 37 seconds back, with Luis Hernando, the winner each of the last three years, another 17 seconds behind in third.
However, Albon ate into the lead on the tough climb up to 22km and over the peak. By the Barragem checkpoint at 26km, the gap was just five seconds and Rancon had moved into third around a minute adrift of Albon, while Hernando drifted back.
It was just after that, on the start of the final climb to the highest point at over 900m, that Albon caught the leader. He ran with him for around 400 metres before moving ahead without needing to increase the pace. By the Gondramaz checkpoint at 34.2km, he was exactly two minutes ahead of Rancon, who had also passed Mathys.
It was nearly all downhill from here and Albon stretched his legs to open up another 29 seconds over the next 5km. The gap was comfortable as he headed to the finish line back in Miranda do Corvo for the biggest win of his trail running career.
Behind Rancon, Mathys was another 2:37 seconds behind. Italy’s Francesco Puppi was fourth and, with Nicolas Martin and Emmanuel Meyssat next home, France comfortably secured the team title. Great Britain were runners-up for the second consecutive year, ahead of bronze medallists and defending champions Spain.
Hernando’s run as champion came to a disappointing end as he finished 10th.
The versatile Albon, who is based in Norway, is now a current world champion in trail, ultra skyrunning and obstacle course racing.
“It was a great race and the course really suited me,” Albon said. “I knew, [the race] being short, I would have to push hard from the start and keep in the mix. That’s just what I did and it paid off.”
L’Hirondel strong from the early stages
L’Hirondel was something of a surprise early leader and by the 7.1km checkpoint she was 1:18 in front of compatriot Adeline Roche, the winner two years ago. By 16km the gap had grown to 2:33 but it was Romania’s Dragomir Denisa chasing, while Spain’s Sheila Aviles was another half a minute behind in third.
Up into the higher elevations of the course L’Hirondel went even further ahead. By the Barragem checkpoint at 26km, she was six minutes in front of Denisa with Aviles still close behind in third. While Denisa dropped back at around the highest point of the course, Aviles maintained the chase but by 34km she was nearly nine minutes behind.
Croft, who was 12th at 7km and five minutes behind the leader at 16km, moved into second on the start of the long descent between 34km and 39km but L’Hirondel was too far in front. The winner came home in 4:06:18.
The New Zealand runner-up, who recently ran a 2:34 marathon, was eventually 36 seconds in front of bronze medallist Aviles, with Spain’s Azara Salmones fourth. Denisa was fifth and Italy’s Silvia Rampazzo was sixth.
L’Hirondel’s big winning margin was crucial in the team stakes. Despite Spain having their three scorers in the first seven, France edged it as it was decided on cumulative times. Romania were third.
The victory of the Frenchwoman was more of a surprise than that of Albon, although the relative unknown had been just a minute behind 2017 winner Roche at her national selection race.
The event was staged in conjunction with the International Trail Running Association and the organisers of the annual Tilhos dos Abutres race.
Paul Halford for the IAAF