CAPE TOWN - South African ultra trail running ace, Ryan Sandes, will race some of the world’s best trail athletes over a highly technical 100km race in two weeks’ time. But instead of travelling over many time zones to compete, Sandes will be racing at home over his favourite training grounds.
The Ultra Trail Cape Town has achieved World Ultra Tour status this year and is now linked with many of the ultra-trail classics such as the Western States 100 miler in the US and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in France. And the trail running world has responded, with competitors from all over the world ensuring “house full” notices have been posted for the UTCT races over 35km, 65km and 100km.
Sandes has enjoyed a stellar year in 2017, with his emphatic victory in the Western States in June undoubtedly one of the highlights of his impressively long career. But the Hout Bay athlete wanted the chance of competing again before Christmas and when the opportunity arose to race a World Tour event at home, he grabbed it with both hands.
“I always felt that if someone put together a high-quality event on Table Mountain, the whole world would come to run.
“And that’s what Nic (Bornman) and Stu (McConnachie) have done and just look at the field! Cape Town really has everything - it’s one of the greatest places to visit, and with our fantastic trails, why would you not want to race here,” Sandes said.
“I’m really glad to be a part of if - very excited. It’s really cool to have a world-class event to race right here in my back yard! I know some of the international athletes have been training over terrain not at all like Table Mountain, so they may struggle a bit to adapt. It’s definitely an advantage being at home and training regularly over the route itself.”
Sandes may have home-ground advantage, but that will certainly not guarantee him top podium position against a field with depth in quality such has never been seen in a trail event in Africa.
The USA’s Dylan Bowman, 7th in this year’s UTMB (where a top 30 position is rated world class) is a tough ultra-trail competitor, as is New Zealander, Scotty Hawker, while Spain’s Pau Bartolo Roca, who won the UTMB CCC in 2014 and Italian Daniel Jung, second at the Hong Kong 100 this year will also challenge strongly.
Adding to the intrigue of the race is the entry of this year’s Comrades Marathon winner, Bongmusa Mthembu, together with fellow Comrades gold-medallist and last year’s champion, Prodigal Khumalo. But Sandes is sceptical about the ability of Comrades participants to succeed in both disciplines in the same year.
“I find it strange and intriguing that elite athletes come and run 100km here in December and then five to six months later are racing (the) Comrades! They’re very different races. How serious are they at UTCT? If they’re serious they would have been running technical trails a lot, but that could detract from their Comrades preparation,” Sandes said.
“If they are focussed on Comrades and treating UTCT as some fun mid-season preparation, then they are not likely to be very fast over the technical parts. But Prodigal (Khumalo - last year’s UTCT winner) could be the exception - he seems strong over the technical trails, so could do well again.
“Comrades runners like Eric (Ngubane) are another matter. Eric has been running trails for years now and knows the course well, having won previously. He will certainly be a strong challenger this year, although it’s going to be a lot harder, given the quality of the field. A place in the top 10 will be an excellent result for a South African athlete.”
But on home terrain Sandes, already a world trail racing icon and respected wherever he races, will surely be the athlete the internationals will fear most over a course he knows intimately.
“My preparation has gone pretty well. I’ve had a solid six weeks of consistent training, with about 80 percent of it on the route. So I can have no excuses if I get lost on the trail,” he said. “There are not many races left in the world that really excite me, but UTCT is definitely one of them.
“I’m looking forward to race day. There’s an amazing vibe in Cape Town around the event - and the fact that you can run 35km, 65km or 100km gives many runners the chance of competing. It feels a bit like UItra Trail Mont Blanc, which is the biggest in the world. There’s definitely something special here.