Ultra-Trail Cape Town | Race preview: Strongest field in history

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The ​RMB Ultra-trail Cape Town (UTCT) kicks off in Cape Town this week, with five different formats of racing taking place over the weekend, including the inaugural flagship UTCT, the 100 miler starting at 17:00 on Friday, 25 November.

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Now a major international event with 35% of participants coming from 55 countries, this year’s UT100, the 100km event, has the most competitive field in the race’s history. 

Race director Stuart McConnachie says that their vision was to create a world class event attracting the top elite runners from all over the world, while serving and developing the local trail community: “RMB UTCT is now established as a key event on the world Ultra-trail calendar and we are looking forward to a weekend of exciting racing showcasing the incredible trails of Cape Town. 

“Many of the athletes here this week saw the live broadcast of last year’s UT100 and decided to enter. With cameras covering all the front runners and showing real-time views of the trails on the UTCT, UT100 and PT55 courses, we look forward to sharing this event and our Cape Town trails with even more people all over the world who can watch on our YouTube channel.” 

UT100

Sebastien Spehler (FRA), who placed second at the UT100 last year, returns to Cape Town with the experience of the very technical trails of Table Mountain. Last month he came second at the Festival Des Templiers 2022 – Grand Trail Des Templiers 100km, and in May he won the Trail de Haute Provence 2022 – Cap à Lure 100 km. 

Hannes Namberger (GER) has had an incredible 2022 season, winning Lavaredo for the second year in a row, as well as the Penyagolosa Trail 109km in April.

He says: “RMB UTCT is one of the most famous events in the trail running circuit and many German runners have already been successful here. Now is the time for me to do this wonderful run too.”

Jared Hazen, Michelino Sunseri and Drew Holmen are among the many US elites at UTCT this year. Hazen has finished second and third at Western States, and in April he came third at the Canyons Endurance Run 100km. Sunseri came third in the Speedgoat by UTMB 50 km in July. Holmen will make his international debut in Cape Town, having podiumed and won races across the US, including finishing third and fifth at Western States. He says: “I’m incredibly excited for UTCT to be my first international race! For years, I’ve heard nothing but incredible things about the trail community in Cape Town and what a class act UTCT is as a race.”

Dmitry Mityaev (Neutral) has stood on podiums at some of the biggest races across Europe, including second at Madeira Island Ultra Trail 100 miler in 2021 and second at the Ultra Pirineu 100km last month. Spaniard Pere Aurell placed third at Transgrancanaria 126km in March and 10th at UTMB CCC in 2021. 

Johan Lantz (SWE) came third at UT100 in 2018. This year, he came third at Val d’Aran by UTMB CDH in July and first at UKA Pain 50km in May. Ionel-Christian Manole (ROM) was fourth at Ultra Pirineu 100km in January and third at Trail 100 Andorra by UTMB 105km. Antoine Thirat (FRA) finished seventh in the UTMB OCC.

The South Africans to watch are Daniël Claassen, Matt Healy, and Brendan Lombard. All three are Cape Town-based runners who know the trails intimately. Claassen was the fourth runner to cross the line at the 2021 UT100, and although he has had a year with some injuries, he has mixed up his training to work around these issues and goes into the race confident of a good performance. 

Daniel Claassen. Photo: Farwaaz Cornelius

Healy has had an impressive 2022 season in Europe taking 10th place at the Mozart 100 in June and a fifth place at the Nice Côte d’Azur 111km in September. Brendan Lombard was the second runner in at UTCT 65km last year, and is now looking to make his mark on the UT100. 

A strong women’s field includes Mimmi Kotka (SWE) who finished third at the 2018 edition of UT100. Amongst her achievements since then is a third place at UTMB in 2021, and a win at Lavaredo Ultra Trail this year. 

Maryline Nakache (FRA) was third at last year’s UT100. She took first place at Ultra-Trail Harrican du Canada 80km in September and was eighth overall, and was also the first woman at Ultra Trail Atlas Toubkal 2022 – UTAT – Le challenge de l’atlas in Morroco last month (68km).

Kelly Wolf (USA) finished fourth in 2018, and having won both Madeira Island Ultra Trail 83km and Lavaredo 80km this year, she is going to be a tough athlete to beat. She says: “I have always wanted to come back, knowing that I could have a better go at the race, and also because the experience was so unique and such a blast. I am most excited to run up and around Table Mountain. The cheering and crowds up Platteklip Gorge is very memorable in my head and it will be fun to get there in the race.”

Kelly Wolf. Photo: Andrew King

Camille Bruyas (FRA) returns to Cape Town after winning the UTCT 65km in 2018. More recently she was first at Festival Des Templiers in October. Some of Camille’s career highlights include finishing second at UTMB, third at CCC of UTMB and winning Lavaredo.

The experienced Nicole Bitter, and Olivia Amber (both USA), join this impressive line-up with Varvara Shikanova (RUS), who came third at the Pirineu Ultra 100km in early October and was second in the 2021 Europe Skyrunning Championship. Russian Ekaterina Mityaeva won La Montagn’hard 50km and was second at High Trail Vanoise HTV. She took third place at Madeira Ultra Trail 115 in 2021.  

UTCT

The much-anticipated flagship 100 miler distance with 7 516m of elevation will see runners move from the northern mountain range of the Mother City to the more remote southern mountains, taking in additional trails from Silvermine to Kalk Bay, Simon’s Town, Kommetjie and beyond.

On the start line will be an exceptional group of athletes including Elov Ohlsson (SWE) who is familiar with the trails of Table Mountain after his 2018 UT100 second place, but the extra 67km down to Simonstown and back will be new territory. 

Greek athlete Fotis Zisimopoulos’s recent results include a first place at the Tenerife Bluetrail Ultra 100km and a first at the European Skyrunning Festival – Krynicka Setka 100km, both in June. Aleksie Tolstenko (Neutral) was fourth at the 2021 Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115km and first at Penygolosa Trails CSP 100km in October 2021.

South African Lucky Miya will be tackling his first 100 miler. He is best known for his exceptional performances at K-Way SkyRun 100km, with a win in 2017 and 2019, and a second place in 2020. Zimbabwean born Prodigal Khumalo will also be doing the longer distance for the first time. He is a former record holder of the UT100 distance, winning it in 2016 and 2017, and is also a two-times Comrades gold medallist.

Other South Africans lining up for the big one are Doug Pickard, (Ultra-Trail Drakensberg 100 miler winner and record holder.) Gabriel Kriel (two time Addo 100 miler winner) and Anele Bans (second at Addo 100 miler).

Dutch athlete Ragna Debats has won and podiumed at some of the biggest trail running races across the globe. Her results aren’t limited to any particular range of distance, she’s seen great success in everything from short and technical SkyRaces, to longer 100 mile efforts. Some results include winning CCC of UTMB, finishing third at Western States and winning World Championships. In September she won the Nice 100 miler and is looking forward to racing in Cape Town, having visited in 2020: “When I saw I’d have the opportunity to run a 100 mile race in Cape Town, I became enthusiastic immediately! The balance between the distance and the vertical gain/loss seems iconic. I can’t wait to be running on Table Mountain again and enjoy the incredible views of the mountains and the sea.”

Hillary Allen (USA) is another runner with a recent 100 miler on the legs, having completed UTMB in late August in 14th position. Some of her achievements are wins at Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115km and Lavaredo Cortina Trail, podiums at Broken Arrow Skyrace and a second at UTMB’s TDS are just a handful of her long list of impressive achievements.

There will be three South African women on the UTCT start line. Naomi Brand, now resident in New Zealand, knows her way around Table Mountain and has placed third at UT100 in 2015 and 2016. She won the Ultra-trail Drakensberg (UTD) 100km in April, placing fourth overall and breaking the women’s course record, and in October was third at Ultra Trail Australia 100km. She is familiar with the 100 mile distance, having won the UTD 100 miler in 2019. 

Cape Town-based South African runner Kerry-Ann Marshall was fifth at UT100 in 2021, and won the race in 2015 as well placing second in 2018. She has had a solid year of running, with a second place at Cape Town Trail Marathon 46km in October and a second place at Whale of Trail 53km in July.  

“I am feeling really honoured to be a part of this inaugural 100 miler. It’s an unknown distance to me so the emotions are overwhelming at times however I keep reminding myself that this is a real privilege to be able to do something I love so much in these beautiful mountains at home. This event has drawn so many people to Cape Town and what a spectacular way for them to experience the mountains and the city.”

Nicolette Griffioen came fourth at UT100 in 2019 and won the event in 2014. She won Ultra-Trail Drakensberg 100km in 2019 and was the first athlete overall.  

UTCT across the distances

All formats of the race are attracting high-calibre athletes, not least of which is the new PT55, the 55km Peninsula Traverse which has been received very well. Anton Krupicka (USA) is a mountain adventure legend, on foot, by bike, mountain climbing or skiing, and as a trail athlete he has a lot of impressive ultra-trail podiums in his past such as Lavaredo Ultra Trail and Leadville. While he has not raced a lot in the past few years, he took third place at Leadville last year, and he won the 50km race he took part in last month in preparation for Ultra-Trail Cape Town. 

Other internationals in the PT55 include Robbie Simpson (UK), Jeshurun Small (USA), Marcel Höche (GER) and Mehmet Soytürk (TUR), joined by Josh Chigome (RSA).

South African Landie Greyling will be a strong local favourite for the women’s race in the PT55 – this year she has won the George Mountain Ultra Trail 42km, was second at Ultra-trail Drakensberg 62km and won the Cape Town Trail Marathon (46km) in October. 

Kim Schreiber (GER), Tessa Chesser (USA), Ekaterina Ryazanova (UZB) and Kim Strohmann (GER) will also be on the start line. 

The TM35 sees Janosch Kowalczyk, 2018 UT100 winner, lead the field that includes Cape Town local Christiaan Greyling (UT100 winner in 2015) as well as Bernard Dematteis, Martin Dematteis from Italy and Collin Kanyimo (ZIM).

Swiss athletes Jasmin Nunige and Claudia Knecht, German Dioni Gorla and South Africans Bianca Tarboton and Rebecca Khone are the top women to watch in this race. 

Follow the Ultra-Trail Cape Town PT55, UT100 and UTCT live on YouTube 

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