2023 UTMB Preview

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Liam Tryon

By: Liam Tryon

Liam Tryon is a runner and avid consumer of trail running media, who can often be found daydreaming about the mountains, while located in Toronto, Canada.

Who will take home the victory in the 20th edition of the race that has captivated the trail world? If you’re anything like us you’ll be glued to the livestream for nearly an entire day to find out! Created in 2003, the Ultra-trail du Mont-Blanc circumnavigates the Mont-Blanc massif on a trail that nearly 20,000 people hike each year (over 7-10 days). For the race, runners have 46 hours and 30 minutes to cover the 170 kilometers (106.2 miles) and 10,000 meters (32,687 feet) of climbing – but the front of this pack will likely make the journey in as little as 20 to 23 hours. On the men’s side last year’s champion and record holder, Kilian Jornet, is notably absent due to injury leaving a wide open path to the top step for the men that remain. The women’s field is headlined by the current course record holder and two-time race champion Courtney Dauwalter. Who do you think will bring home the win? Make sure you head over to Freetrail Fantasy to cast your ballots – you have until the gun goes off.

Athletes to Watch: Men’s Race

Mathieu Blanchard (Salomon) battled to the end last year, running the second fastest time ever (behind eventual winner Kilian Jornet) on the current UTMB course. Mathieu will be racing UTMB for his fourth time, with two podium finishes to his name now, among a long list of other accolades, including top-five finishes at Madeira Island Ultra Trail, Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB, Ultra-Trail Cape Town, multiple podiums at Marathon des Sables, and most recently a sixth place finish at the Western States Endurance Run (WSER).

Tom Evans (Adidas Terrex) is back at UTMB for his second crack at the race, finishing in third place last year (where he received a golden ticket into WSER). Tom has had a stellar year since, taking a second-place finish and Golden Ticket at Black Canyon Ultras 100-kilometer, a win at the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia by UTMB 55-kilometer, and ultimately a win (and the fourth fastest time ever) at WSER in late June. Having spent the last few weeks in Tignes, France, Tom looks to improve on his previous success here.

Tom Evans on his way to a second-place finish at Black Canyon 100km earlier this year.
Tom Evans on his way to a second-place finish at Black Canyon 100km earlier this year.

Jim Walmsley (Hoka) returns to UTMB for his fifth time, again in pursuit of the ever-elusive podium, after having finished in fourth place last year despite leading until late in the race. The three-time WSER champion and record holder started his year with a win at the Istria 100 by UTMB 100-mile race but was sidelined shortly thereafter with an ankle injury. Now fully recovered, Jim recently won the Trail la Frison Roche 42-kilometer in Arêches Beaufort where he currently resides. 

Zach Miller (The North Face) returns to UTMB for his sixth attempt at the loop around Mont-Blanc, having finished in a top-ten spot three times, including a fifth-place finish last year. Punching his ticket to UTMB, Zach opened the 2023 season with a convincing win at the Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB 100-miler. He also recently represented the United States at the Short Trail and Long Trail World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (WMTRC) races in Thailand and Austria respectively, finishing just outside the top five in Austria.

Benat Marmissole (La Sportiva) finished in sixth place last year in his first attempt at this course. A relative newcomer to ultra distance trail running, Benat has had some fantastic results in the past two years, including wins at the Restonica Trail by UTMB 108-kilometer and Le Grand Raid De La Réunion Diagonale des Fous 168-kilometer, and a second-place finish at this year’s Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. Benat is in the midst of what he has dubbed the “XXL Program ” for 2023 in which he will attempt to complete the trio of Hardrock 100, UTMB, and Diagonale des Fous all in one calendar year.

Thibaut Garrivier (Hoka) returns for his second straight year at UTMB, battling in the top 10 all day despite gastrointestinal issues, and still managed to finish in tenth place. Thibaut has won and placed second at CCC, and more recently has nothced wins at the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) 85-kilometer and the Trail Verbier St. Bernard by UTMB 76-kilometer. He has also represented France twice at the Long Trail WMTRC races in Thailand and Austria over the last year, with top-10 finishes at both.

Thibault G fights to keep France in the medals during the 2023 WMTRC in June.
Thibault Garrivier fights to keep France in the medals during the 2023 WMTRC in June.

Germain Grangier (The North Face) will pursue his third completion of the loop at UTMB (in his four attempts), with two top 10 finishes to his name already. Germain has had exceptional results in a variety of ultra distances in recent years, including a win earlier this summer at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc 90-kilometer, and top-five finishes at Transvulcania by UTMB 73-kilometer and Le Grand Raid De La Réunion Diagonale des Fous 168-kilometer.

Petter Engdahl (Adidas Terrex) set the CCC course on fire last year, becoming the first runner to ever complete the race in under ten hours. This year, Petter has stepped up in distance to take his first crack at the full loop. His training looks to have paid off in some of his races earlier this season, with a podium finish at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc 42-kilometer and a win at the Eiger Ultra-Trail by UTMB 51-kilometer. We’ll wait and see if Petter will make history again this year in his first go at the 100-mile distance.

Jean-Philippe Tschumi (Hoka) will tackle UTMB for the first time in his career, having placed a disappointing seventh at CCC last year. Bouncing back, Jean-Philippe has been on a tear since then, with a second-place finish at Le Grand Raid De La Réunion Diagonale des Fous 168-kilometer, and wins at the grueling and mountainous Ultra-Trail Snowdonia by UTMB 107-kilometer and Andorra 100 by UTMB 105-kilometer. With experience at these races, a strong finish at UTMB should be right within Jean-Philippe’s wheelhouse.

Ludo Pommeret (Hoka) continues to transcend age, as he chases another finish at UTMB – with a win and a top 5 finish to his name we’d be foolish to not count him in for a top-ten here. The 48-year-old Frenchman won les Traces du Duc de Savoie (TDS) at UTMB last year by a notable margin and has finished the WSER in two consecutive years in 6th and 12th place, showing that he still has tremendous legs under him.  

Honorable Mentions: Ben Dhiman, Hannes Namberger, Jonas Russi, Pau Capell, Robert Hajnal, Jeff Mogavero, Tyler Green.

Athletes to Watch: Women’s Race

Eszter Csillag (Hoka) is the only returning athlete from the top 5 of last year’s race, having had a fantastic string of results since last year’s UTMB. Last fall she represented her home country of Hungary at the Long Trail WMTRC race in Thailand, finishing fourth place in a highly competitive field. This past spring, she ran a personal best at the NN Amsterdam Marathon in 2:45:29 and rode that success into WSER, where she took third place against historic competition.

Fuzhao Xiang (Hoka) returns to the UTMB as a three-time finisher who has progressively improved her results year over year, finishing 20th in 2018, 11th in 2019, and 7th in 2022. She has raced extensively this calendar year, with notable results including fifth at the Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB 102-kilometer, second place at the Ultra-Trail Ninghai by UTMB 105-kilometer, a win at the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji 164-kilometer, and a top-five finish at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 46k. Let’s see if Fuzhao can continue her upward trend.

Courtney Dauwalter (Salomon) has repeatedly stunned the ultra- and trail-running community over the past few years with an otherworldly streak of victories. In 2023 alone, Courtney has won and set course records at Bandera 100-kilometer, Transgrancanaria (the first woman to traverse Las Palmas in under 15 hours), WSER, and Hardrock 100. She arrives at the starting line in Chamonix looking to become a 3-time winner, challebge another course record which she already holds, and to also become the second person to ever complete WSER, Hardrock 100 and UTMB in one calendar year. Magic surely awaits.

Claudia Tremps (ON Running) finished just inside the top ten at UTMB in 2021 and followed that up with a second place at the TDS race at UTMB last year. The Spaniard has raced extensively at the ultra distance in recent years, highlighted by five consecutive top ten finishes at Transgrancanaria 128-kilometer (three of which were on the podium), second place at Ultra Pirineu 100-kilometer and most recently a win at the KAT100 by UTMB 92-kilometer.

Manon Bohard helps the French team secure a team gold at the 2023 WMTRC.
Manon Bohard helps the French team secure a team gold at the 2023 WMTRC.

Manon Bohard (Hoka) will return to this race following a disappointing drop from last year’s event but recharged on the back of some excellent results this year. The former 2021 TDS champion opened her year with a second-place finish at the Long Trail French National Championships at the Trail de la Cité de Pierres, earning her a place on the French National Team. Representing them at the Long Trail WMTRC in Austria, she placed third there. Manon also won the MIUT 115-kilometer race at the end of April in an impressive time.

Blandine L’hirondel (Evadict) is back at UTMB for her third consecutive year, having previously won the OCC in 2021 and won (and set the course record) at CCC last year in a wire-to-wire win. Blandine represented France at the Long Trail WMTRC in Thailand last November taking the win, but unfortunately suffered a foot injury at this year’s race in Austria, leading her to withdraw. Looking to return to the form she’s had throughout her career, Blandine appears healthy and ready to give the 100-mile distance a first attempt.

Taylor Nowlin (Adidas Terrex) will also be returning to UTMB week for a third consecutive season, having finished in ninth place at OCC in 2021 and at CCC last year. On the heels of a successful 2022 in which Taylor took a Golden Ticket at Black Canyon Ultras 100-kilometer (giving her automatic entry into WSER) and an ultimate seventh place at WSER, Taylor returned to WSER this year to secure a sixth place finish against world-class competition. Like a number of other runners in this year’s elite UTMB field, she will look to complete the WSER-UTMB double (WSER and UTMB in one calendar year).

Martina Valmassoi (Salomon) will be hoping to use the momentum from her successful race calendar this year to propel her to a top finish at UTMB. Martina won the TDS race at UTMB last year and has since in 2023 won Transvulcania by UTMB 73-kilometer and took fourth while representing Italy at the Long Trail WMTRC in Austria. She will be attempting the full loop around Mont Blanc for the first time.

Martina Valmassoi charges to a fourth-place finish at the 2023 WMTRC.
Martina Valmassoi charges to a fourth-place finish at the 2023 WMTRC.

Ailsa Macdonald (Saucony) will seek redemption at UTMB following a DNF result in 2021 in her only other attempt at this race. The former two-time Ironman World Championship finalist has had an impressive streak of results over the past few years, including a second-place finish at WSER in 2022. Ailsa also holds the honor of having been the last person to have beaten Courtney Dauwalter head-to-head in a trail ultramarathon, a streak that has gone on since 2018.

Luzia Buehler (inov-8) looks to upgrade her fifth-place finish at UTMB in 2021, in her now fourth attempt at this race. The Swiss athlete has had exceptional success at the 100-kilometer and 100-mile distances in recent years, with results including podium finishes at the Istria 100 by UTMB 168-kilometer in 2022 and the MIUT 115-kilometer earlier this year, and a fourth-place finish at the WSER last year. 

Honorable Mentions: Lucy Bartholomew, Katarina Hartmuth, Aroa Sio Recknold, Leah Yingling, Maite Maiora, Sabrina Stanley.

The race starts at 6:00pm local time in Chamonix, France on Friday September 1 (12:00pm Eastern Daylight Time/9:00am Pacific Daylight Time) and will be streamed live on the UTMB YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/@UTMBMontBlanc 

Make sure you get your Freetrail Fantasy picks in for all three of the UTMB World Series Finals (OCC, CCC, & UTMB). We will be picking 10-deep for the men’s and women’s competitions in each race. Thanks to HOKA, CamelBak, and HVMN for providing generous prize packages to the top-3 predictors in each event. 


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