Sierre Zinal celebrates 50th year in 2023

The following race preview of Sierre Zinal, to be held on August 12, 2023, was written by Kirsty Reade for the World Mountain Running Association. Cover photo credit to Patrick Zufferey.

After a break of a few weeks this weekend the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup heads to Switzerland for perhaps the most famous mountain race of them all, Sierre-Zinal! This is the next long distance mountain race in the World Cup, at 31km with 2200m of ascent, and it traditionally attracts the most competitive field of all the World Cup races. This year is no exception. Enjoy a review of the history of this event, which is celebrating its 50th edition this year, and a preview of this year’s elite fields.

Sierre Zinal has a festive finish line. Photo: Marco Gulberti

Celebrating history

Sierre Zinal is an iconic race in so many ways. It was first run in 1974, and men and women have always raced over the same distance here. Over the years it has seen some epics duels between the greats of the sport, with the list of winners reading like an international who’s who of mountain running. But perhaps the most iconic aspect of all is the route.

Sierre Zinal is known as ‘la course des cinq 4000’ because the runners get to enjoy views of 5 peaks over 4000m along the way (Weisshorn (4506m), Zinalrothorn (4221m), Obergabelhorn (4073m) Matterhorn (4478m) and Dent Blanche (4357m)). Athletes start in Sierre at 570m and then climb up to the highest point at 2425m at Nava over the course of 24km. Then the final 7km is downhill, culminating in a frantic sprint through Zinal to the finish line at 1680m. It’s a tantalizingly runnable, fast course, which will provide some very exciting racing.

Famously in 2019 both the men’s and women’s records fell, with Kilian Jornet setting a new mark of 2.25.35 and Maude Mathys 2.49.20. Mathys has subsequently lowered this again to 2.46.03. Unfortunately neither Mathys nor Jornet will be on the start line this year, but there’s an incredible amount of depth to both fields, including some very exciting athletes that haven’t raced at Sierre Zinal before.

On the course at Sierre Zinal. Photo: Marco Gulberti

Women’s field at Sierre Zinal

Although Mathys is not running, the athletes who finished in second place to her in 2021 and 2022 will be on the start line. Nienke Brinkman (NED) had an incredible run here in 2021, and combines great climbing ability (she won Zegama in 2022) with speed on the flat (her marathon PB is 2.22). Runner-up from last year, Philaries Kisang (KEN) is having a great season with a second place in the uphill race at the World Championships, a second at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and a third place at Fletta Trail. The runner-up from 2019, Judith Wyder (SUI), will also be on the start line, having recently won Dolomyths.

Sarah McCormack (IRL) was 4th here last year and Lucy Murigi (KEN) was 6th. Murigi is a three-time former winner (2015, 2017, 2018). Nuria Gil (ESP) finished 7th last year and 8th in 2021. Could she improve on that again this year?

From the veterans to the newcomers, it will be exciting to see how Joyce Njeru (KEN) gets on in her first Sierre Zinal. With wins at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and Fletta Trail and a 3rd place at the World Championships classic race this year, her debut should be interesting. Another debut to watch will be Daniela Oemus (GER), who won Zegama this year and finished 6th at the Mont Blanc Marathon.

Other notable athletes on the start line include Emelie Forsberg (SWE), Susanna Saapunki (FIN), Alice Gaggi (ITA), Theresa Leboeuf (SUI), Caitlin Fielder (NZ) and Emma Pooley (SUI).

USA women racing Sierre Zinal

There’s an exciting contingent of athletes from the USA this year. Sophie Laukli won the Mont Blanc Marathon this year and finished second to Wyder at Dolomyths. Allie McLaughlin memorably won the Broken Arrow Skyrace this year in a race complete with snow-covered trails on the upper portions of the course, as well as winning the uphill race at the 2022 World Championships and coming third at the up and down race.

Other notable USA women include Tabor Hemming (3rd at Broken Arrow Skyrace, 10th at Mont Blanc Marathon this year), and Allie Ostrander.

Although Kilian Jornet is not competing this year, the men’s field is stacked. Photo: Marco Gulberti

Men’s field at Sierre Zinal

Last year’s men’s winner, Andreu Blanes, will not return this year, nor will the nine-time winner Kilian Jornet, but the rest of last year’s podium will be there. Patrick Kipngeno (KEN), last year’s runner-up, is having an extremely successful year, winning La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, Piz Tri Vertical and the uphill race at the World Championships. Petro Mamu (ERI) was third last year and second in 2019 in the second fastest time on this course, ever (2.26.31).

Philemon Kiriago (KEN) was 5th here last year and is having a very successful year, with a win at Fletta Trail and 2nd places at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, Piz Tri Vertical and the classic race at the World Championships. Likewise Remi Bonnet (SUI) is in form, having won the Mont Blanc Marathon this year and placed 4th at Zegama. He was 8th here in 2022.

Davide Magnini (ITA) was 5th at his last attempt at Sierre Zinal in 2021 and he’s had 2nd places at Mont Blanc and Zegama in the meantime, so he could well be one to watch. Robert Pkemoi (KEN) will also be exciting to follow here, having finished 6th in 2022 and having also achieved a 5th place at Zegama this year.

Robbie Simpson (GBR) has a lot of history with this race, having finished 2nd an incredible 4 times (2016, 2017, 2018, and 2021), as well as finishing 5th in 2019 and 9th in 2022. He will always be in contention here. Cesare Maestri (ITA) has achieved a 3rd place here in 2021 and he’s recently won Giir di Mont and a 3rd place at Fletta Trail.

There will also be some exciting debuts in the men’s race. Elazzoui Elhousine (MAR) won Dolomyths this year and was 2nd at Zegama. What can he do here? Matthias Kyburz (SUI) is a highly decorated orienteering champion with great flat speed and will be interesting to watch.

Other notable athletes on the start line include Xavier Chevrier (ITA), Eli Hemming (USA), Andrew Douglas (GBR), Francesco Puppi (ITA) and Joe Steward (GBR).

Enjoy the celebration that is Sierre Zinal. Photo: Marco Gulberti

Valsir Mountain Running World Cup standings

With so many athletes riding high in the 2023 World Cup taking part this weekend, there could be some big changes in the rankings. Six out of the current top 10 for both the women (Njeru, Kisang, Gibson, Murigi, McLaughlin, Saapunki) and the men (Kiriago, Kipngeno, Aymonod, Steward, Hemming, Cachard) will be taking part, so this could really shake up this year’s competition. See the latest classification here.

Follow the race

Sierre Zinal offers live tracking via their website and the WMRA will provide the latest news via its social media channels @WMRAmountainrun. The race starts at 10.55am CET on Saturday, August 12, 2023.