South Africa's Prodigal Kumalo is a favourite for tomorrow's Ultra Trail race. Photo: supplied

CAPE TOWN – The fifth edition of Ultra-trail Cape Town gets underway from Oranjezicht tomorrow morning with expectations high for a local victory against a powerful international line-up.

Two hundred athletes took part in the inaugural event in 2014. This year 1 750 runners will take part in races over 100km, 65km and 35km (and a half marathon trail run on Sunday) over some of the finest trails in the world in a celebration of the very best of outdoor adventure. 

The dramatic news that Nicolas Martin, one of the race favourites for tomorrow’s 100km race has been ruled out through a freak injury during training, has delivered a major shock to the event even before the “off” at 4am tomorrow morning.

French national champion in 2017 and the highest-ranked ITRA runner in the field, Martin, has enjoyed an impressive year to date, with Ryan Sandes judging him as the man to beat. But the French athlete suffered injury when he rolled his ankle while on a training run on Table Mountain. 

In his absence, two South African kingpins, twice winner and defending champion, Prodigal Kumalo and global star and last year’s runner-up, Sandes, will be up against the remarkable ultra-distance running talent of Canadian Rob Krar, Germany’s Janosch Kowalczyk, Italian Andreas Reiterer, Sweden’s ultra-distance road and trail star Elov Olsson, Nepalese athlete Shange Sherpa and American Chris Mocko.

Ryan Sandes congratulates Prodigal Kumalo after the finish of last year’s Ultra-Trail Cape Town. Photo: Stephen Granger
Ryan Sandes congratulates Prodigal Kumalo after the finish of last year’s Ultra-Trail Cape Town. Photo: Stephen Granger

It is hard to see the enigmatic Krar being beaten, unless he, too, falls victim to the testing UTCT course. If the men’s race promises fireworks, the women’s competition is shaping to provide the real excitement. The strongest ultra-distance field ever assembled in SA is set to do battle over Table Mountain, with athletes contesting top positions in the Ultra-trail World Tour and the annual ITRA rankings.

Mimmi Kotka from Sweden leads the pack on the ITRA rankings table, her 792 points just 31 clear of American Kelly Wolf, who has enjoyed her best-ever year on the circuit. Past winner of the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara, French athlete Nathalie Mauclair, can never be written off, while another American, Stephanie Howe Violett, is another likely to contend strongly for the podium places.

Two South Africans have the ability to compete up-front and given Kerry-Ann Marshall and Robyn Owen’s knowledge of the course, a local win cannot be ruled out.