Legendary Basque Country Marathon will once again host the sport’s best
The second season of the Golden Trail World Series will get underway on June 2 at the Zegama-Aizkorri Mountain Marathon in the hills of the Spanish Basque Country. When the field of 500 trail runners assemble on the starting line in this small village on Sunday morning, many of the world’s best will be standing on it. Zegama, now in its 18th year, is known for the wild atmosphere provided by the raucous, passionate fans that flock to the course regardless of the weather. It’s also known for stiff competition, and this year’s edition will undoubtedly deliver that again.
An international field of top runners will do battle over 42 km (26 miles) of technical terrain that can often be muddy and messy, but is always loud. In the men’s race, local fan favorite Kilian Jornet of Team Salomon makes his return to Zegama after missing last year’s race due to injury and the 2017 edition because he had just summited Mount Everest. The Catalan is the clear favorite to win his eighth Zegama title.
“Zegama is the race. Since I first raced there in 2007 it has always been in my plans,” Jornet said recently. “In the last two years, with the expedition and injuries, I wasn’t able to come and I was so sad. I feel home there and I’m really excited to meet all the people there and of course race and feel the incredible ambiance of Aizkorri.”
Jornet will be challenged by a host of top athletes. Last year’s winner, Switzerland’s Remi Bonnet (Team Salomon), will attempt to defend his title, but he’ll have to fend off more than just Jornet. The list of elites includes 2017 Norwegian winner Stian Angermund-Vik (Team Salomon), Spain’s Oriol Cardona (Team Dynafit), France’s Alexis Sevennec (Team Scott), Poland’s Bart Przedwojewski (Team Salomon) and local Basque runner Aritz Egea (Team Salomon), who is always a podium threat regardless of where he’s running. Switzerland’s Marc Lauenstein of Team Salomon will miss the race due to a recent injury, but should be back later this season to challenge for another trip to the Grand Final of the Golden Trail World Series.
“Zegama always has a great field of runners, and this year isn’t an exception,” Jornet said of the stacked field. “There are so many athletes who can fight for the win that it will be incredible for sure. I think the pack will be fast and compact, with surprises and lead changes until the last turn.”
The women’s race looks wide open, with a host of talented runners trying to add a coveted Zegama crown to their career résumé. American Megan Kimmel (Team Salomon) is always in contention and has finished on the podium at Zegama previously. She’ll be joined at the front the pack by Spanish women Maite Maiora (Team Raidlight), Eli Gordon (Team Salomon) and Oihana Azkorbebeitia, as well as Great Britain’s Vic Wilkinson (Team INOV-8), past winner Yngvild Kaspersen (Team Adidas) from Norway, France’s Amandine Ferrato (Team Hoka One One), Italy’s Elisa Desco (Team Berg Outdoor – Scarpa), South Africans Meg Mackenzie (Team Salomon) and Toni McCann (Team Altra) and American Sandi Nypaver (Team Rabbit).
Unfortunately, defending women’s champion Ida Nilsson from Team Salomon will miss the race due to injury.
The elite runners will be trying to earn points in the season-long chase for a spot in the Golden Trail World Series Grand Final, which will take place in Nepal in October. The first season of the Golden Trail World Series in 2018 produced a lengthy list of memorable moments at the sport’s most iconic trail races from the Alps to the coast of South Africa. This year, with six races plus the final, should be no different.
A young generation of up-and-coming stars should make their presence felt at the three shorter races—the 22km Dolomites Skyrace in Italy, the 32km Sierre-Zinal race in Switzerland and the 29km Ring of Steall in Scotland. Expect more experienced runners to rule the three marathon-distance races at Zegama, Marathon du Mont Blanc in the French Alps and Pikes Peak in Colorado. When the dust settles and the top 10 men and women meet in the Grand Final in Nepal, it should make for an exciting conclusion.
The elites will need to participate in three of the six races during the series in order to be eligible for the final. The top-10 men and women with the most points in their three best races will earn a trip for themselves and a person of their choice to the Grand Final. The overall final standings (and the men’s and women’s champions) of the Golden Trail Series will be determined again by the runners’ three best finishes during the season, plus their result at the Grand Final.