Announcement from the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA). The American Trail Running Association is a WMRA media partner and will be providing coverage of all sixteen events in the 2021 Mountain Running World Cup. ATRA founder Nancy Hobbs is a member of the WMRA Council. Photos: Marco Gulberti.
In the sport of mountain running, Sierre-Zinal is among the most revered races in the world. In terms of the competition it attracts each year, there’s no doubt about the quality and depth of the field. This year was no different for the 19 mile race with 7,200 feet of ascent; the 5th event in the 2021 WMRA Mountain Running World Cup.
The 2021 field featured an 8-time winner (Kilian Jornet), a 3-time winner (Lucy Murigi), both course record holders (Maude Mathys and Kilian), and both leaders of the WMRA World Mountain Running Rankings (Murigi and Henri Aymonod). Throw in a huge number of men and women who regularly appear on podiums for mountain and trail races all over the world every week and the race was definitely on.
Race day conditions on Saturday, August 7th were somewhat cooler than in recent years, so expectations were high for fast finish times and perhaps even new course records. Sierre-Zinal was organized to send the women’s race off 15 minutes ahead of the men and this meant the audience got to see the women on the start line, the coverage throughout the race was equal, and crucially the first few women and men arrived at the finish line at roughly the same time, again leading to equal coverage.
How The Race Unfolded
It wasn’t until the first timing point at the Ponchette check-point, at around 4.5 miles, that fans following the race live found out who was leading. It was no surprise to see defending champion Maude Mathys (SUI) emerge first, but it was something of a surprise to see Nienke Brinkman (NED) in second place. But her recent win at the Zermatt Marathon showed her class, even if she wasn’t among the known pre-race favorites here. Anais Sabrie (FRA) was next to reach Ponchette, completing the women’s top three.
In the early stages of the men’s race Kilian Jorent (ESP) was biding his time, sitting in behind Remi Bonnet (SUI) and Petro Mamu (ERI) on the first climb. By the time they reached Ponchette, Mamu, Kilian and Bonnet had struck out and were all together and this continued to the Chandolin check-point at 7.5 miles. At this point Kilian decided that he was going to have to put some distance between himself and Mamu, so he dropped the hammer. In true Kilian style, even while hammering the downhills he was still smiling and chatting with the ebike riders manning the video cameras. He succeeded in striking out alone, opening a small gap, and Mamu was left in his wake, falling back a few places.
Meanwhile, in the women’s race Mathys maintained a small lead of just over a minute at Chandolin, while Brinkman continued to chase and maintain a good gap of 4 minutes on third-placed Sabrie. Behind Sabrie, Blandine L’Hirondel (FRA) was about a minute behind.
Behind Kilian the men’s race was definitely a race of two halves. Bonnet had fallen off the pace a little and Grossglockner Berglauf winner, Lengen Lolkurraru (KEN), was now chasing Kilian hard in second. Thibault Baronian (FRA) and Cesare Maestri (ITA) were lurking in fourth and fifth place, within striking distance of the podium places and Robbie Simpson (GBR), who has three second place finishes to his name here, had moved up to seventh.
Mathys continued to push hard and was absolutely dominating the women’s race. She laid down an unbelievably fast 1 hour 55 minute split at Hotel Weisshorn, giving her a four minute lead over Nienke Brinkman. Sabrie was now five minutes behind Brinkman, but as the commentators kept saying on the live coverage, both Brinkman and Sabrie may be faster on the descent than Mathys, so that last 4 miles of downhill into Zinal could still make all the difference!
By the next timing point in Barneuza, which is at 16 miles and well into the start of the descent it was all happening in the men’s race. Kilian was still in the lead and he now had about 90 seconds on second-placed Lolkurraru, but now Simpson was just behind in third and Maestri was on his heels. The men’s race was all coming down to who was the best descender and who had the legs when they hit the paved road into Zinal.
The same was true in the women’s race. Mathys was taking the steep switchbacks carefully and Brinkman was gaining a little, but the gap was just too big and Mathys hit the finishing straight over three minutes ahead, with so much buffer that she decided to walk some of the final metres on her hands! It was a third victory in a row for Mathys, who looked elated.
Shortly afterwards Kilian rounded the corner to take his ninth victory! It was a great touch that he was greeted by Mathys and they could celebrate together. Just 42 seconds after Kilian, Simpson claimed second place in the men’s race, his fourth runner-up spot here, but he proclaimed it his “best second” in his post-race interview. Brinkman claimed a huge second place in the women’s race too. A fantastic result and we’re excited about seeing her in more mountain races in the future. Sabrie and Maestri completed the men’s and women’s podiums.
While Sierre-Zinal had fewer elite American mountain runners than in past years, a few did make the journey to Switzerland to fight for top finishes. In the women’s race former Pikes Peak Marathon winner Brittany Charboneau was running in the top 15 before falling back to 20th place at the finish. Top American honors went to Katie Schide who ran a consistent race before crossing the finish line in 19th place.
In the Sierre-Zinal men’s race, Hayden Hawks was running in the top 15 at the early checkpoints before moving up to finish in 10th place. Navajo Nation member Dustin Martin is an accomplished trail runner and executive director of Wings of America, a Santa Fe–based youth running nonprofit. Dustin finished his first Sierre-Zinal in a impressive 36th place. Vermont born Noah Brautigam started his athletic career as a nordic skier but has recently established his trail running credentials by winning the 2020 Speedgoat 50K. Noah ran a solid Sierre-Zinal finishing in 44th place.
Top 5 Women + Americans
1. Maude Mathys (SUI) 2.46.03
2. Nienke Brinkman (NED) 2.48.58
3. Anais Sabrie (FRA) 2.55.23
4. Blandine L’Hirondel (FRA) 2.59.08
5. Kwamboka Omosa Teresiah (KEN) 2.59.28
19. Katie Schide (USA) 3.17.18
20. Brittany Charboneau (USA) 3.18.46
48. Phoebe Tengdin (USA) 3.57.33
Full Women’s Results
Top 5 Men + Americans
1. Kilian Jornet (SPA) 2.31.44
2. Robbie Simpson (GBR) 2.32.26
3. Cesare Maestri (ITA) 2.33.51
4. Lengen Lolkurraru (KEN) 2.34.28
5. Davide Magnini (ITA) 2.34.38
10. Hayden Hawks (USA) 2.37.48
36. Dustin Martin (USA) 2.48.09
44. Noah Brautigam (USA) 2.50.24
Full Men’s Results
Next stop for the WMRA Mountain Running World Cup is the Krkonossky Half Marathon on August 15th in the Czech Republic.
About the WMRA Mountain Running World Cup:
Races take place between June 2021 and October 2021 in 8 countries. There are 12 event locations and 16 races in 3 categories: short uphill; classic mountain race; long mountain race. Runners can take part in as many races as they want, and they get points for their finishing positions. Their best 7 results in the World Cup races count towards their final ranking. The points scoring format is cumulative. Finishing positions in a WMRA World Cup race range from 100 points for first to 1 point for 30th. There are separate competitions for men and women and athletes must compete in at least two races in order to be considered in the final rankings. See full calendar for World Cup races at: https://www.wmra.info/calendar/2021-major-events
The current, reigning World Cup champions are Sarah McCormack and Andrew Douglas.
About the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA):
Formed in 1984, we are the global governing body for mountain running and we have the goal of promoting mountain running for all ages and abilities. As well as the World Cup we organize Masters, U18 and regional championships and this year we will work in partnership with the World Athletics, International Trail Running Association (ITRA) and the International Association of Ultrarunners IAU to deliver the first World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand. More information at: www.wmra.info