CAPE TOWN – Kane Reilly starts his European trail-running season at the legendary French Alpine mountain town of Chamonix on Sunday.
South Africa’s leading trail athlete will be looking to bring his domestic form to international competition at the Marathon du Mont Blanc, the second stop on the Golden Trail World Series, following the season opener at Zegama four weeks ago.
Spanish superstar Kilian Jornet took line honours at Zegama, while Norway’s Eli Anne Dvergsdal won the women’s race in her trail marathon debut.
With Jornet, who also won last year’s Marathon du Mont Blanc, choosing to sit out this year’s race, last year’s Golden Trail Series winner Stian Angermund-Vik of Norway will be a strong contender.
The winner of last year’s Otter African Trail, Poland’s Bartlomiej Przedwojewski (second at Zegama), France’s Thibaut Baronian and Italian Francesco Puppi are likely to be in close pursuit.
New Zealand’s Ruth Croft returns to defend her title and faces strong competition from Dvergsdal, American Megan Kimmel, Dutch runner Ragna Debats (Team Merrell) and Spain’s Eli Gordon (third last year).
But South African Meg Mackenzie will also be pushing hard for a top-five finish, following her impressive eighth in last year’s race.
Fellow Capetonian Toni McCann will be looking to consolidate her strong start to the series following her 16th place in Zegama.
A brutal heatwave currently sweeping France will likely impact the outcome, favouring athletes better adapted to running in warm climes, potentially acting in Reilly’s favour.
The Cape Town-based athlete placed an impressive fifth behind Spanish star Kilian Jornet in the 2017 race, but fell short of his best form during last year’s European summer.
A bout of sinusitis played a major part in Reilly’s withdrawal 36km into last year’s Mont Blanc race, after running with the leaders in the early stages.
But Reilly feels more confident, healthy and relaxed heading into Sunday’s race.
“My preparation has been great! I’ve had some good weeks at home in recent weeks and have had a couple solid runs in and around Chamonix,” Reilly said yesterday.
“My run – work balance has been good – running in the mornings, and working in afternoons/evenings.
“I will try and not be too crazy at the beginning because of the heat,” admitted Reilly. “But I think the start will be quick given the first 10km being pretty relatively flat. My new goal is just to run as I do back home.
“I think if I can do this, I’ll be in with a shot of mixing it up with the top guys.
“As always, I’m looking to have a great run – I don’t have any crazy expectations to be honest, but am feeling very excited.”@StephenGranger3