The Stars Align at Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon

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Founded in 2002 and incorporated into the GTWS in its very first year in 2018, Zegama has long been the kickoff of the mountain-running season. While Zegama might not be the opening race of the Golden Trail World Series (GTWS) this year, after the venture took to Asia for the first time last month, it is still one of the crown jewels of the mountain-running world. After all, “Zegama is Zegama” is basically the race’s motto.

Set in the Basque Country’s highest peaks the runners lucky enough to get a bib are in for an experience unlike almost anything else in trail-running. “Zegama is renowned for its thousands of enthusiastic fans, with an estimated 30,000 attending each year and 10,000 alone on the race’s biggest climb. Friends have told me they can’t hear for days after the race due to the screaming fans on the course. Picture a fervor seen at the Tour de France!” Dani Moreno told us as she heads over for her first attempt at the historic race.

So how significant is a race like Zegama on the global calendar? Well, this will be Killian Jornet’s 12th appearance at the event, a race he has won ten times and still holds the course record at. We asked one of the women’s favorites and Spanish runner Sara Alonso what it would mean to win, “Winning Zegama is the biggest win I can imagine! I suppose winning here would feel very similar to an American runner winning Western States, or a French runner winning UTMB.” If the current weather holds for race day it might just take a course-record performance to bring home the win this year as well. You better believe we’ll be playing Freetrail Fantasy on this one!

Showing up to the GTWS where you need three races throughout the season to score and have a chance to make the season finale means that there is a math game to be played. With two races already tucked away with stops in Japan and China, who shows up to the next two “solo” stops on the tour, Zegama and the Marathon du Mont Blanc can tell us a lot about which cards the athletes might be holding in their hands.

Women’s Top Contenders

American Dani Moreno will be lining up looking to put her best foot forward.
American Dani Moreno will be lining up looking to put her best foot forward.

Leading the charge on the women’s side are the two young Spanish stars, and friends, Sara Alonso (Asics) and Malen Osa (Salomon) – ranked third and fourth currently in the series respectively. Both athletes come into Zegama positioned well and if the cheering on the course can elevate any athlete, it has to lift the Spanish runners a little bit higher. Sara had a slow start to her 2023 season missing the early part of the calendar year due to a stress fracture, but she’s been on the podium here before… factor in her 2nd place at Kobe Trail and a 7th place at the Four Sisters Mountain Trail race we are looking at a strong Sara Alonso. While Malen may be newer to the trail-running scene she managed to finish fourth in the GTWS ranking last year, combine that with her pair of 5th-place finishes at the first two stops of the series and we have a podium contender on our hands.

Other women looking to make runs to the podium are Daniela Omeus (Nike), Dani Moreno (adidas TERREX), and Caitlin Fielder (Salomon). Daniela is currently ranked 16th in the series with just one race under her belt thus far on the GTWS with a 6th place finish at the Kobe Trail race in Japan BUT as the 2023 Zegama women’s race champion we know she is looking to repeat that performance. Dani Moreno looks to make her Zegama debut this year and after a pair of speed road half marathon performances and an incredible win at the Canyons Endurance Run by UTMB 50 km, she has both the speed and endurance to be a threat on race day. Finally, Caitlin Fielder looks to move one step up the podium after finishing 2nd behind Daniela in 2023. While Zegama will be Caitlin’s first race of the GTWS in 2024 she already has a speedy win at the Tarawera 50 km under her belt – when it comes to fast finishes we wouldn’t want Caitlin chasing us.

More women to watch: Theres Leboeuf, Slyvia Nordskar, Baily Kowalczyk, Naiara Irigoyen, and Sunmaya Budha.

Men’s Top Contenders

Notably absent from the start list is current GTWS leader Patrick Kipngeno.
Notably absent from the start list is current GTWS leader Patrick Kipngeno.

Akin to the women’s field two Spanish stars are looking to make the men’s race an absolute battle to the finish line – leave it to Kilian Jornet (Nnormal) and Manuel Merillas (New Balance) to keep it interesting. You might think we are crazy putting anyone in the same category as Kilian but hear us out. While Kilian is the course record holder and multi-time Zegama Champion, Manuel Merillas came within three minutes of Kilian’s course record last year to take the win – no easy feat! The weather is a big deciding factor when it comes to times and podiums at Zegama, come warm sun or mud and rain Sunday’s race could see some podium shakeups.

Other men looking to move up the podium steps this year are Elhousine Elazzaoui (Nnormal), Bart Przedwojewski (Salomon), and Davide Magnini (Salomon). Leading the chase is last year’s 2nd-place finisher, Elhousine, who also comes in ranked 2nd in the GTWS behind the notably absent Patrick Kipngeno. The next two men might feel like wild cards for some but hear us out – Bart is one of the best downhillers in the GTWS and is really good on technical terrain, if the day turns muddy Bart could very well find himself on the podium. You know we are always game for a good underdog story, and we are excited to see Davide return to running after missing much of 2023 due to injury. Davide is a talented skimo athlete and while this might be his first trail running race of the season his performance in 2022 where he finished 2nd to Kilian makes him one of only a handful of men to ever go under the 3:40 mark on this course.

More men to watch: Robbie Simpson, Robert Pkemoi, Marcin Kubica, Kevin Kibet, and Aritz Egea Caceres.

Need more Zegama insider scoop? Before you cast your Freetrail Fantasy ballot (the race kicks off at 9 am local time on Sunday) give the SubHub Podcast’s race preview a listen – Emkay Sullivan and special co-host Francesco Puppi have you covered!

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