Written by Paul Halford for World Mountain Running Association (WMRA). ATRA founder Nancy Hobbs is a member of the World Mountain Running Association Council. Above photo: Marco Gulberti.
It was appropriate that a race which began way back in 1986 and which became the first officially recognised vertical kilometre would seal the final podium positions after 17 races.
An event which has witnessed world records in the past again produced some of the quickest times on the VK circuit, thanks to a short 3.2km distance accommodating the 1000m climb.
In contrast to the cold of last year, athletes were greeted with warm, sunny conditions, although they were mainly shaded by the trees on the steep hillside which leads out of the town.
Although the absent Kenyan Joyce Njeru had already cemented the overall win in the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup, Andrea Mayr’s Chiavenna defence snatched the second place as well as the Short category honours.
With a time of 36:34, Mayr was within a minute of her course record 35:40, set in 2018, which is the fastest ever in a race disallowing poles.
With her fourth win here, the Austrian confirmed her title as queen of the vertical. Starting the last of the elite women, she made up more than two minutes on everyone else. Britain’s Scout Adkin (38:55) and Italy’s Elisa Sortini (39:00) were next quickest to cover the countless steep steps that are a characteristic of the course.
Although the runners started at one-minute intervals, the time trial scenario added to the drama as the elapsed times were revealed as soon as they crossed the line. It was no surprise for the enthusiastic crowd of supporters in the small commune of Lagunc to hear the winner’s name.
However, for the six-time world champion, winning feels far from routine and is no less enjoyable. “Every time is definitely a special feeling,” said the 42-year-old. “It’s a challenge every year and maybe it’s getting even more challenging because I’m getting older.
“I always make myself a lot of pressure before a race, but it was a good race and the weather’s beautiful, the atmosphere’s beautiful.”
Ominously for her rivals, she feels she may have been able to have gone even quicker had she been fresher. “I think this time I lost the record the week before,” said the winner. “I did some hard sessions the day before and that is definitely the reason I didn’t have enough.”
Adkin, bronze medallist at July’s European Championships and sister of men’s winner Jacob, excelled on her first appearance here, although admitting she was unsure how to pace a time trial.
The Brit, who will compete in the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand next month, said: “It was really good. I was a bit worried about pacing it because I’ve not done a time-trial style for a long time and haven’t done a VK this short and steep before, so I think it worked well in the end. I managed to start picking off people from about half way up, which was good.”
She will return home for a few weeks before heading to the Worlds, where she will compete in both uphill and up-and-down. However, she hopes to contest more World Cup events next year. “I was a bit gutted I only managed to do two this year, so my plan will definitely be to do at least three of the uphill ones and ideally a couple of the others.”
Twice world champion Lucy Murigi claimed third overall for the season, although she finished just 12th today in what is not her speciality.
Njeru and Romania’s Monica Madalina Florea ranked second third overall in the short category, with the classic and long races all completed before today.
Even though he won uphill-only gold at the European Championships in 2019, GB’s Jacob Adkin was able to enjoy victory as something of an underdog as northern Italy’s Henri Aymonod, winner each of the last three years, had been centre of most attention.
His victory in 32:11 – 1:56 outside the course record – represented a great comeback to the top of the sport after breaking an ankle this year and then COVID-19 affecting his build-up to the Europeans this summer.
He was just 12 seconds in front of ski-mountaineer Matteo Eydallin of Italy, who improved from fifth last year.
However, there was gasps of disappointment as the fast-finishing Aymonod was confirmed to be just third with 32:29.
Adkin said: “I knew training had been going well up til last week for Smarna Gora last weekend in Slovenia. Unfortunately, I obtained an injury during that race. I had a bit of a down period this week, so I wasn’t sure going in what to expect from my body.
“It’s such a good field today, really top-class athletes from different sports as well as vertical specialists. Really happy to have taken the win here. It’s a classic race I’ve always wanted to do and a real honour to have placed first.
“I was able to keep a good rhythm running most of the way even with all the steps, which sometimes are quite big, so I was able to keep the rhythm running instead of having to stop and walk, which keeps the momentum going.”
Like his sister, he is soon off to Thailand, although he will race just the uphill-only event.
Eydallin said afterwards: “I knew I was in good condition in general but I’m not a mountain runner. Being a time trial and not with the other runners, the important thing is to stay concentrated til the end. I’m happy with my race because it was hard and the time is better than I did last year.
“The beautiful thing here in Chiavenna is it’s a neutral race because everybody can do a good performance, whether you’re a cyclist, mountain runner, ski-mountaineer. It’s a bit of a meeting between people of different sports. It’s a good atmosphere, a good party for the people of the village.”
In fifth, Ireland’s Zak Hanna did enough for third place overall behind Kenyans Kipngeno and Kiriago. However, all three scored equal points in the short category rankings and Hanna found himself sandwiched between Kipngeno and Kiriago on the tiebreak rules.
1 Jacob Adkin (GBR) 32:11
2 Matteo Eydallin (ITA) 32:23
3 Henri Aymonod (ITA) 32:29
1 Andrea Mayr (AUT) 36:34
2 Scout Adkin (GBR) 38:55
3 Elisa Sortini (ITA) 39:00
Final Valsir Mountain Running World Cup standings
1 Patrick Kipngeno (KEN) 300 pts.
2 Philemon Kiriago (KEN) 230
3 Zak Hanna (IRL) 173
1 Joyce Njeru (KEN) 300
2 Andrea Mayr (AUT) 215
3 Lucy Murigi (KEN) 186
1 Kipngeno 100
2 Hanna 100
3 Kiriago 100
1 Mayr 140
2 Njeru 125
3 Monica Madalina Florea (ROU) 70
About the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup:
With 12 Gold Label races across 6 countries and 9 locations, and a further 5 Silver Label races in 5 different countries, the 2022 World Mountain Running Association’s Valsir Mountain Running World Cup promises 5 months of quality racing in the mountains. All World Cup events are World Athletics (WA) Permit Mountain Races. Races fall into one of 3 categories; Short Uphill, Classic Mountain and Long Mountain. As well as the overall World Cup standings, calculated from an athlete’s best 6 results, there will also be a classification for each category, calculated from an athlete’s best 3 results in that category.
About the WMRA:
Formed in 1984, the World Mountain Running Association is the global governing body for mountain running and has the goal of promoting mountain running for all ages and abilities. As well as the Valsir World Cup, the WMRA organizes Masters, U18 and area championships and this year will work in partnership with the World Athletics, ITRA and IAU to deliver the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The WMRA also maintains the Mountain Running World Ranking, a system of points allocated to athletes based on the results in designated races. More information on the WMRA website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.