Golden Trail World Series Finals: Race 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.

After a summer of racing in the Golden Trail World Series (GTWS), the top thirty cumulatively ranked male and female athletes have been invited to participate in the series Finals, held this year on main island of the archipelago of Madeira. The stunning and historically rich North Atlantic Island of Madeira is situated to the west of the Moroccan coast.

The format of the GTWS Finals is a five-day stage race, where the winners of the series will be crowned based on their overall placement in the stage race, combined with their top three results from the races within the summer long series. To add a little extra excitement, cash prizes will also be distributed to the winners of each individual stage, as well as a cash bonus to the men and women who record the fastest times on pre-determined “Downhill”, “Uphill” and “Sprint” segments for each stage and cumulatively over the course of the week. Interestingly, not all stages of the race are mandatory, and might afford runners the ability to strategically include a rest day to capitalize on specific stages.

The five stages of the race explore various parts of Madeira Island, with each race day originating in a different city. The northeastern seaside village of Sexial serves as the start and finish of the Stage 1 (24.5k, 1540m ascent) of the race, running in a clockwise loop towards the centre of the island. Stage 2 of the race starts in Machico (26.6k, 1425m ascent) on the eastern side of the island, and travels through rolling hills, featuring a high point at Pico da Coroa. Stage 3 (6.6k, 350m ascent) provides some reprieve in terms of elevation gain, in the form of a relatively flat “time trial” on the easternmost arm of the island, near the village of Caniçal. The time trial format will send off two runners every minute, and is only worth half the points compared to the other stages. The “Valley of the Nuns” (Curral das Freiras) in the geographically isolated centre of the island provides the setting for Stage 4 (26.2k, 1940m ascent). The week of racing culminates in the Stage 5 (30.5k, 1555m ascent) in the island capital of Funchal, an out-and-back course, which climbs towards the third highest peak on the island at Pico do Ariero (1818m above sea level) and then returns down to the oceanside finish line.

While the field is only made up of the top 30 men and women, it is still quite deep with several runners making their series debuts this year and some serious competition from the returning veterans of the event. Here are some of the top contenders in both the men’s and women’s field this year:

Men’s Field

Eli Hemming ascends the stairway to heaven during Broken Arrow
Rising trail star, Eli Hemming, looks to make a splash at the 2022 GTWS Finals.

Swiss ski mountaineer Rémi Bonnet (Salomon) perhaps sits in the most advantageous position heading into the finals, as his top three race finishes in the GTWS include overall wins at the Pikes Ascent in Colorado Springs, CO and at the Flagstaff Peaks 26k in Arizona, as well as a 7th place finish at the storied Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon in the Basque Country of northern Spain. Having finished 5th place overall in the series last year, Rémi will be looking to improve on that this year.

With an impressive second place showing at the Pikes Peak Ascent race, and a 7th place at Sierre-Zinal in Valais, Switzerland just a few weeks prior, Spanish youngster Dani Osanz (Adidas Terrex) finished the series on a strong note. Of note, Dani just took second place in the Marathon at Transvulcania by UTMB over the weekend in order to secure his spot for OCC in the UTMB Series Finale for 2023. With that prioritization he now goes into the GTWS Finals hoping to maintain his top ten position.

Manuel Merillas (Scarpa) had an outstanding season, winning in stunning fashion at this year’s Orsières-Champex-Chamonix (OCC) at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) 55k race, moving into first on the last downhill to the finish line. The 31-year-old athlete tallied impressive podiums at the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon and Stranda Fjord Trail Races this summer. He sits in prime position to use his solid points tally to podium at the series final.

Despite a tough result at Sierre-Zinal, Moroccan Elhousine Elazzoui (Pini Mountain Racing Team) has made every other race count; finishing 4th at the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon, 4th at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc and 8th at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race in Norway. He comes into the final poised to compete.

Japanese mountain/skyrunning veteran Ruy Ueda (Red Bull) started off the year with some likely below-expectations races, but rebounded quickly with a 3rd place at the Marathon du Mont Blanc and 2nd place at the Matterhorn Ultraks Extreme 21k, and with top 10 finishes at the Pikes Peak Ascent and Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k the year has shaped up well for Ruy, who should be poised for a top 5 finish in Madeira should his week go well.

Thibaut Baronian (Salomon) has finished just off the podium in all three of his GTWS races this year, but has placed consistently enough to earn him a place at the finals. The 33-year-old Frenchman, who finished 4th overall in the 2021 version of the race series, took 6th at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, 5th at the Marathon du Mont Blanc and 6th at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race. Look for Thibaut to try to make a step up to the podium this year.

The Sky Runners Kenya trail team has taken the European sub-ultra-trail race scene by storm this year, fielding a collection of elite distance runners in both the men’s and women’s fields. Twenty-eight-year-old Robert Pkemboi Matayango has been the most successful male runner of the Kenyan contingent, who kicked off his year with a 6th place finish the Transgrancanaria Marathon, a 5th place at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, and 6th place at both the Marathon du Mont Blanc and Sierre-Zinal.

Having only missed the Stranda Fjord Trail race this year, French athlete Anthony Felber (Team Sidas X Matryx) is perhaps the only athlete to have competed in at least 5 GTWS races this season. Racking up an 18th place at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, 8th at Marathon du Mont Blanc, 12th at Sierre-Zinal, 7th at the Pikes Peak Ascent and 5th at Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. Outside of the GTWS, Felber grabbed his only overall win of the year at the Eiger Ultra-Trail E51 Panorama Trail. With a strong finish to his season in Madeira, he could definitely place in the top 5 if things go his way.

2022 has been the “year of second place” for Eli Hemming (Unsponsored), the former ITU triathlete-turned-trail runner, who has been unable to secure a victory this year, but has placed second repeatedly at high level US sub-ultra-trail races add to that a 2nd at Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k and a 4th place finish at the Pikes Peak Ascent, Eli has the talent and racing experience to push for a top 5 spot at the Finals, and compete for an overall with if he has a couple strong days in Madeira. His partner Tabor Hemming (featured in the women’s preview) will also be competing in the finals.

The only Canadian elite runner to finish in the top 30 of the GTWS rankings, Sam Hendry (Salomon) is a 23-year-old Canmore, Alberta native and current cross-country skier for the University of Utah. He’s had some fantastic race results during his skiing off-season, including a 10th at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race, and a fantastic 3rd at the Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. Hendry’s stock is most certainly on the rise.

Sam Hendry running in 4th at Broken Arrow
Repping the cross-country skiing crew, Canadian Sam Hendry is an athlete to watch.

Other men to watch for during the finals:

Morgan Elliot (Unsponsored) – 11th at Pikes Peak Ascent, 13th at Flagstaff Sky Peaks. Bartlomiej (Bart) Przedwojewski (Salomon) – 3rd at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race, 12th Flagstaff Sky Peaks; Petro Mamu (Scarpa) – 3rd at the Trofeo Nasego, 4th Sierre-Zinal; Adrien Michaud (Scott Running) – 6th Skyrace des Matheysins, 10th at the Marathon du Mont Blanc.

Notable exclusions from the men’s field:

Finishing second in the overall standings in the GTWS, with 2nd place finishes at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon and Marathon du Mont Blanc, as well as a 5th Stranda Fjord Trail Race, Italian ski mountaineer Davide Magnini (Salomon) will not participate in the finals in Madeira. Additionally, sky runner and obstacle course racer Jonathan Albon (The North Face) will be opting to participate at the WMTRC instead. The Norway-based British expat has had an outstanding race season, with overall wins at MaXi-Race Marathon, Marathon du Mont Blanc and Stranda Fjord Trail Race, as well as a 2nd place at CCC at UTMB, in his first crack at the 100k distance.

Women’s Field

Bailey K runs through the finish line tape at the Rut 2022
After missing the early season Bailey Kowalcyk is back in action and ready to compete at the GTWS Finals.

This has been a career year for the Nienke Brinkman (Nike Trail / NN Running Team), the Dutch road-trail crossover athlete. Before knocking 18 minutes of the course record at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, Nienke set the Dutch national record at the Rotterdam Marathon in 2:22:51. Not yet satisfied, Nienke then took 1st at both the Pikes Peak Ascent (recording the second fastest time on the course, behind Kim Dobson’s 2:24 mark in 2012) and Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. After finishing second overall in the GTWS in 2021, she is poised to take home the gold at this week’s race finals.

A newcomer to the trail scene, 22-year-old American and 2022 Winter Olympian Sophia Laukli (Salomon) has made good work of her cross-country skiing off-season. After making a splash with a win at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 26k, she won at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race, took 3rd at the Pikes Peak Ascent, and 2nd at Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. While she initially did not intend to participate in the finals in Madeira, due to the proximity to her ski season, Sophia has since decided to race at least 2-3 of the stages, with hopes that successful finishes there will keep her on the podium of the GTWS finals.

While only 23, Spaniard Sara Alonso (Salomon) already feels like a veteran of the European sub-ultra-trail circuit. So far this year, Sara has taken the win at the Marathon du Mont Blanc, podiumed at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, and had top 10 finishes at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race, Sierre-Zinal and the Pikes Peak Ascent. After finishing 9th in the 2021 edition of the GTWS, Sara is certainly after a podium spot in 2022.

French ski-mountaineer Elise Poncet (Team Sidas X Matryx) started off her 2022 by partnering with now-UTMB champion Katie Schide at the Pierra Menta ski mountaineering race, finishing 4th as a duo. Elise has been consistent throughout her trail season, with a 2nd at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race, a 10th at the Pikes Peak Ascent, and a 7th at Flagstaff Sky Peaks. Elise will look to continue to push into a top 5 spot at the finals this week.

Kiwi trail-runner Caitlin Fielder (Salomon) started her season finishing just off the top 10 at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, but moved up grabbing a podium spot with a 2nd place finish at the Marathon du Mont Blanc, and a 6th at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race. We expect her to defend her position in the top 10 during the finals.

Boulder-based Bailey Kowalczyk (Salomon) has been on the rise over the past couple of years, but not without setbacks. This year she started her season late but strong finishing 9th at the Stranda Fjord Trail Race, 6th at Sierre-Zinal, 7th at the Pikes Peak Ascent and 9th at the Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. The 27-year-old will certainly grab a top 10 spot at the finals, and will compete for a top 5 finish undoubtedly.

Similar to many of her competitors, Marcela Vasinova (Salomon) has been the mark of consistency this season. She finished 9th at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, 5th at the Marathon du Mont Blanc, 11th place finish at the Pikes Peak Ascent, and 10th at the Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. Should that consistency streak continue, her points total coming into the finals nearly guarantees a finish in the money.

Dani Moreno (Hoka One One / Rabbit) of Mammoth Lakes, California has to balance a full time job with her running pursuits making it difficult to spend a summer in Europe on the GTWS. Instead Dani started her season with a win at the competitive stateside Vail Mountain Games Spring Runoff 10k before taking 3rd at the Marathon du Mont Blanc, and 3rd at the OCC at UTMB. With her eyes set on the prize at Madeira, Dani is surely gunning to improve on her 5th place position from last year.

Allie McLaughlin (ON Running) has shown exceptional prowess at the short- and middle-distance trail race this year. The Colorado Springs-based athlete showcased her extraordinary climbing and descending by setting a new record at the mega-steep Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska, and then flexed her ultra-chops at OCC during UTMB ultimately finishing 6th. She then returned stateside to grab 4th at the Pikes Peak Ascent and 3rd at Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. Allie may be coming in with a slight points disadvantage having only completed two GTWS races this season, but has the talent to make up the difference with a strong week of racing.

Tabor Hemming (née Scholl) (Unsponsored) kicked off the year with a 3rd place at Way Too Cool 50k, and top 5 finishes at the Broken Arrow Skyrace VK and. In the GTWS Tabor grabbed 10th at Sierre-Zinal, 12th at Pikes Peak Ascent, and 11th at Flagstaff Sky Peaks 26k. She may not have enough points to crack a top 5 spot in the finals, but will certainly contend for a top 10 final placement.

Dani Moreno comes home in third during the 2022 OCC 55km
After two big international podiums this year Hoka’s Dani Moreno will be eyeing up another podium finish in Madeira.

Other women to watch for during the finals:

Julie Roux (Salomon) – 10th Marathon du Mont Blanc, 7th Stranda Fjord Trail Race, 15th Sierre-Zinal; Oihana Kortazar (Salomon) – 8th Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, 18th Sierre-Zinal; Theres Lebouef (Unsponsored) – 7th Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, 8th Marathon du Mont Blanc.

Notable exclusions from the women’s field:

Swiss trail runner, as well as defending GTWS champion from 2021, Maude Mathys (Salomon) will opt to compete at the WMTRC in Chiang Mai instead, despite second place finishes at the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon, Sierre-Zinal and Pikes Peak Ascent. Another prioritizing the World Championships in Thailand is Kimber Mattox (Brooks), who had a 2nd place finish at Chuckanut 50k, a 4th place at OCC at UTMB, and three top 25 finishes at GTWS races this season. French athlete and 4th place finisher from the 2021 GTWS, Blandine L’Hirondel (Evadict) looks to unfortunately be sidelined with an ankle injury. Blandine also stepped up to win the CCC in course record fashion at UTMB this year. American Emkay Sullivan (Craft) will also be sitting the finals out, as she begins to prep for a Houston Marathon build for early 2023. Emkay has had a stellar year on the trails, with wins at Way Too Cool 50k, , as well as a strong 9th place finishes at Sierre-Zinal and the Pikes Peak Ascent race.

Follow Along

Be sure catch daily race highlights during race week at 8:00pm (GMT+1) here: http://www.goldentrailseries.com/gttv/ and enter your picks for the individual day race winners on the Freetrail Fantasy Trail Running site here: https://fantasy.freetrail.com/events.

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