Francois D'Haene in training for his upcoming adventure run along the famous Pacific Crest Trail. Photo: Supplied

CAPE TOWN – The world’s leading ultra-distance trail athlete, Francois D’Haene has arrived in Cape Town to take on some of the best trail athletes in Africa and beyond in this weekend’s Ultra-trail Cape Town 100 km race.

One of the few athletes to have beaten Spanish star Kilian Jornet in serious trail competing – D’Haene’s hard-fought record-breaking victory over Jornet in the 2017 Ultra-trail Mont Blanc 100 miler is rated one of the best-ever ultra-trail races – the French star will be the main attraction in this Saturday’s tough challenge over Table Mountain.

Extreme snow conditions in Southern Colorado earlier this year led to a bonsella for Ultra-Trail Cape Town. Thirty-three-year old D’Haene had planned to run the notoriously challenging Hardrock 100 mile ultra-trail race in Colorado, USA, in July as his second ultra-trail race of the year, after winning the Madeira Island 100 in April, but dangerous conditions, including avalanches, led to the cancellation of the race.

“I had been talking about running in Cape Town for some time,” said D’Haene this week. “And then when Hardrock was cancelled and I found myself feeling fresh and energised instead of depleted in late July, I felt that it was a sign I should race in Africa this year.

“I have only once been to Cape Town and ran some of the mountain trails with Ryan Sandes about five years ago,” D’Haene added. “We joked about my coming back to run the UTCT and I have always thought I would do so some time. This year it all seems to have fallen into place.”

D’Haene’s powerful engine over long distances have made him a legend of the sport. He has won the Ultra-trail Mont Blanc 100 miler on three occasions and holds the race record of 19 hrs 01 min 32 sec, which he achieved when he beat Jornet into second place.  No one thought the twenty-hour mark would ever be broken for the testing circuit around Mont Blanc.

The French athlete has shown an equal affinity with the challenging “Grand Raid” on the island of Reunion, winning the 165 km race on no fewer than four occasions, also holding the race record of 22 hrs 58 min. And D’Haene made light work of the “GR20” trail across the spine of Corsica, said to be Europe’s toughest, taking just 31 hrs to run the 180 km route, which most travellers complete in 15 days.

But the GR20 pales into insignificance next to the John Muir Trail, a 340 km trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, which passes through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.  D’Haene set that record too, completing the three-week trail in 2 days 19 hrs 26 min. “That’s the longest I’ve ever run, and it’s my limit. I want to conserve my body to run for many years, so I won’t go more than 70 hours.”

D’Haene recognises that the UTCT 100 km is shorter than his ideal distance. “Admittedly it is not my normal race length, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless. I love the adventure of trail running in beautiful places, and prefer a longer adventure where possible – more than ten hours of running.”

Formerly a trained physiotherapist, D’Haene is now a wine-maker in the Beaujolais winemaking region, where he lives with his family, when he is not running some of the world’s toughest and most beautiful trails.

“My hope for my visit to Cape Town,” D’Haene reflected, “is to have a nice run for my last race of the year, for it to be sunny and hot, to visit some nice places and to enjoy some good wines from your famous wine route.

@StephenGranger3

IOL Sport