After an incredible season for the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup, it’s time for the grand finale at Sky Gran Canaria.
The final event has three gold label races spread across three days (13-15) and will decide the 2023 World Cup champions.
The Sky Gran Canaria is based in the picturesque town of Agaete on the north-west coast of the island of Gran Canaria, a perfect destination for mountain running. With the highest point on the island – Pico de las Nieves – standing at 1948m, and a number of other big rugged peaks such as the iconic Roque Nublo, the races make great use of the landscape.
The event, which started in 2018, was originally devised to link up the southwest and northwest part of the island, passing through the highest point along the way. As the event has grown, more races have been added, including the new course which provides the long distance race for the World Cup.
The vertical uphill race will start at Agaete and the classic race will finish there, right on the coast, an area boasting beautiful beaches and huge cliffs. The vertical uphill race climbs from the coast at 42m up to Fuente del Cuervo at 860m over the course of 6.6km. It takes place on Friday (13) at 4:30pm.
The long distance race will start and finish in Tunte, in the middle of the island, and it will take in a loop including Pico de Las Nieves and Roque Nublo. With a total of 2736m of ascent over 35km and including some steep, technical ground, this will be a tough race. It starts on Saturday (14) at 10am.
The classic race starts up at Artenara at 1240m and then takes in several minor climbs over the first 8k before reaching Tamadaba at the 9k point, then beginning a long descent down towards the finish at Puerto de Las Nieves. It starts at 9:30am on Sunday (15).
With so many points on offer over the three races and several of the contenders in attendance, there will likely be thrilling races and a potential shake-up in the standings.
Kenyan duo Joyce Muthoni Njeru and Philemon Kiriago lead the women’s and men’s standings with 280 and 250 points respectively.
Muthoni Njeru will contest the classic race and the vertical uphill race in Gran Canaria. With wins under her belt from classic races at Fletta Trail, La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and Canfranc, as well as a win at Canfranc vertical race, she will be a favourite to win here.
Kenya’s Philaries Kisang sits in second spot in the women’s World Cup competition with 195 points and she will be taking part in the classic and vertical uphill races. She’s put in some gritty performances this year, finishing on the podium at Piz Tri Vertical, Fletta Trail, La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, Sierre Zinal and Vertical Nasego, but a win has eluded her.
Austria’s Andrea Mayr currently sits in third in the overall standings but she isn’t racing this weekend, which could open the way for the likes of Kenya’s Lucy Murigi or Britain’s Scout Adkin. They will both run in the classic race, while Adkin will also run in the vertical uphill.
Murigi has consistently finished in the top 10 at many events this year, including two podium finishes at Canfranc, while Adkin won at Montemuro, was second at Piz Tri Vertical and third at Vertical Nasego. Adkin hasn’t raced as much in the World Cup as some of the other runners and, as only the athletes‘ six best results count, she has more potential to add to her tally than Murigi.
Finland’s Susanna Saapunki, who has enjoyed a consistent season with two recent wins at Dolomiti Trail and Smarna Gora and currently sits in sixth place in the World Cup, will double up on the classic and vertical races.
Italy’s Camilla Magliano, who has also had consistent top-10 results this year, including a podium finish at Canfranc, will take on the long distance race and the vertical uphill. Britain’s Sara Willhoit, who started her World Cup campaign with a third and fifth place at Broken Arrow and currently sits in 10th place, will run the long distance and vertical uphill races. And Belgium’s Charlotte Cotton, currently in 12th, may well improve on that position as she takes on the classic and vertical uphill races.
Current men’s World Cup leader Kiriago will also race the classic and vertical uphill races this weekend. His track record this year has been similarly strong, with wins at Fletta Trail, Sierre Zinal and Trofeo Nasego. But on the few occasions when he hasn’t won, it’s generally been his compatriot Patrick Kipngeno who has prevailed, beating him this year at Piz Tri Vertical, La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and Vertical Nasego.
Kipngeno will also run the classic and vertical uphill races, setting up an interesting duel for the men’s World Cup title as there are currently just 20 points between them.
Both Remi Leroux of Canada and Joe Steward of Great Britain have had breakthrough years in the World Cup and the battle for third should be a good one, with Leroux currently on 152 points from six races and Steward with 140 from five. Leroux will take on the long distance race, Steward the classic, and they will both run in the vertical uphill. Steward pipped Leroux at the Canfranc vertical race, where they were first and second, and at Vertical Nasego, but it’s been close.
Many of the men ranked in the top 12 are racing here. Italy’s Andrea Rostan sits just behind Steward in fifth with 106 points. After a win in the vertical uphill race at Broken Arrow, another highlight was his fourth place at Piz Tri Vertical. Fellow Italian Henri Aymonod also had a strong start to his season at Broken Arrow and will race the classic and vertical uphill races here, alongside Rostan.
Italy’s Alex Baldaccini is in eighth place in the World Cup and could improve on that as he runs in the classic and uphill races, while USA’s Christian Allen, who sits in 11th after his second and third places at Vertical and Trofeo Nasego, should be exciting to watch here in the long distance race.
Ondrej Fejfar of Czechia and Alric Petit of France could also nudge into the top 10 with strong performances here. Both are doubling up, Fejfar in the long and vertical and Petit in the classic and vertical.
Aside from the athletes who are in contention for a top-10 placing in the World Cup standings, there are other athletes who could compete for a podium finish in this weekend’s individual races, including Spain’s Manuel Anguita, who is down to take on all three races, Ireland’s Zak Hanna, and Italy’s Maddalena Soma.
At the end of the weekend, the overall World Cup podiums will be decided as well as the category podiums for vertical uphill, classic and long distance. Temperatures are expected to reach 32C, which may have an impact on some of the runners, but the racing will still be thrilling.