CAPE TOWN - Ultra-trail Cape Town lived up to expectations as Africa’s first Ultra-Trail World Tour destination, with Saturday’s set of 35 kilometre, 65km and 100km races delivering world-class performances and top grade organisation. And the eagerly-anticipated clash between road and trail also did not disappoint.
Ryan Sandes’ victory in the iconic Western States 100 miler in California in June underlined his status as one of the best ultra-trail athletes in the world. The Comrades and Two Oceans Marathons have ensured South Africa’s world leader status in road ultra-marathons, giving rise to a crop of talented ultra-distance runners as good as any on the planet.
With several top-class international trail athletes added to the mix, the stage was set for a massive athletics’ encounter, with the eyes of the world focused on whether the Comrades runners could hold their own against trail experts on a technically challenging course.
The answer was emphatic. They could. 2017 Comrades champion, Bongmusa Mthembu, found his introduction to ultra-trail racing a severe baptism, although he proved competitive for the first half, staying with the leaders until Hout Bay.
But it was KwaZulu-Natal athlete Prodigal Khumalo who triumphed, setting the early pace and then holding off a fast finishing Sandes to set up a record-breaking victory in 9hr 51min.
The win could set double Comrades gold medallist, Khumalo, on a second career as an international trail athlete and he admitted that while the road is his bread and butter, trails are his passion.
“If I could find a sponsor to enable me to participate internationally as a trail athlete, I would love to focus on that in the future,” Khumalo admitted. “I have been invited to the Tarawera 100km in New Zealand in February, also part of the world tour, but I would need to raise some of the costs to get there. Hopefully something will work out.”
And that’s a wrap from the #UTCT2017. Congratulations to all the runners who achieved their goals today. Feet up, rest and recover and make your way to prize giving tomorrow at midday. pic.twitter.com/HUKLqyXTWO
Meanwhile Cape Town’s stakes continue to rise in world trail-racing, as international stars heaped praises on the Mother City event, vowing to return. And according to Ultra-Trail World Tour director, Jean Charles Perrin, who attended the race to chart the success of the venture, Cape Town has all the ingredients to become a global mecca for trail racing.
Ultra-Trail Cape Town was accepted as part of the tour last year, and with the Marathon des Sables in the Saharan Desert are the only two of the world tour’s 22 events in mainland Africa. Being new to the circuit, UTCT was awarded “challenger” status for this year’s race, the bottom rung. But that is set to change.
“We are looking for a new high-level race for the world tour at the end of the year, and Cape Town could be that race,” explained Perrin.
“That will further cement Cape Town as a major trail-running destination. It is already one of the destinations elite runners are seeking out. You have some of the most scenic panoramas in the world and your facilities are strong.
“Running on Table Mountain would also yield perfect footage for television. I imagine that television networks might be in competition to get the rights to film the event.
“It would add significant marketing value to the City and Table Mountain National Park.”