Winner of 2018 Ultra-Trail Cape Town Emily Hawgood of Zimbabwe. Photo Stephen Granger

CAPE TOWN – As the last race on the Ultra-trail World Tour, UTCT provides a chance for long-distance trail aficionados to sign off the year on a high note, and many athletes have flown to Cape Town from all corners of the planet in an attempt to do just that.

Athletes of the calibre of Francois D’Haene, Cody Reed, Nicholas Martin and Johan Lantz among the men, and Amanda Bashham, Beth Pascall, Lucy Bartholomew and Emily Hawgood in the women’s line-up are some of the biggest names in the sport and have chosen to add Cape Town’s breathtakingly scenic route to their running CVs, most for the first time.

And don’t discount local talent, with 2014 winner Eric Ngubane, Albert Phungula, and ultra-trail newbies Kane Reilly and Johardt van Heerden flying the flag for the men, and 2016 winner, Landie Greyling, Nicolette Griffioen, Anouk Baars and Naomi Brand looking for podium places in the women’s competition.

The promised appearance of the world’s two top ultra-distance athletes, D’Haene and Courtney Dauwalter, in the same race has not materialised, with Dauwalter having to withdraw due to a hip injury flare-up. The charismatic American will be on the route in full vocal support, however. D’Haene is reportedly raring to go, and he will be the favourite to top the podium.

In the absence of Dauwalter, England’s “running doctor” Beth Pascall, could be the one to beat, following her fourth and fifth positions this year in the world’s two top ultra-distance races, the Western States and the UTMB. But last year’s winner, Zimbabwean Hawgood, has enjoyed a strong year of racing and will not easily surrender her title, while American Basham and 2017 winner, Bartholomew of Australia, could challenge for podium positions.

@stephengranger3