The emotion of victory in last year’s UTCT 100 km is etched on the face of Emily Hawgood. The Zimbabwean defends her title on Saturday against a strong international field Photo: Stephen Granger
The emotion of victory in last year’s UTCT 100 km is etched on the face of Emily Hawgood. The Zimbabwean defends her title on Saturday against a strong international field Photo: Stephen Granger
Francois D’Haene of France - favourite to win tomorrow’s Ultra Trail Cape Town 100 km. Photo: Francois D’Haene
Francois D’Haene of France - favourite to win tomorrow’s Ultra Trail Cape Town 100 km. Photo: Francois D’Haene
Francois D’Haene of France - favourite to win tomorrow’s Ultra Trail Cape Town 100 km. Photo: Francois D’Haene
Francois D’Haene of France - favourite to win tomorrow’s Ultra Trail Cape Town 100 km. Photo: Francois D’Haene

CAPE TOWN – Several of the world’s top ultra-distance trail athletes will line up at the Gardens Tech Rugby Club in Oranjezicht well before dawn tomorrow to tackle South Africa’s premier ultra-distance trail challenge – the Ultra-trail Cape Town 100km.

 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 into Cape Town from the 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 amongst 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 100km course takes the runners out across the city and on a pre-dawn circuit around Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, before a taxing climb up Kloof Corner leads to the contour path and the lung-searing ascent up Platteklip Gorge to Maclear’s Beacon. A descent across the Back Table and down to Constantia Nek is a prelude to a relatively flat section to Suikerbossie and Llandudno.

Winner of 2018 Ultra-Trail Cape Town Janosch Kowalczyk of Germany Photo: Stephen Granger

A coastal run around to Sandy Bay leads to another steep ascent of Suther Peak before a fast descent of Karbonkelberg to Hout Bay Harbour, just beyond half way.  A climb up the Hout Bay River Valley and over Constantia Nek leads runners down into the Constantia Green Belt on the Alphen Trail before the trail tracks up through Cecilia Forest to Newlands Forest and the last feeding station at the University of Cape Town campus. 

The final 11km includes an unwelcome climb to King’s Blockhouse and an ascent of Oppleskop before the final descent back to the start to complete the grueling circuit.

The promised appearance of the world’s two top ultra-distance athletes, Francois D’Haene and Courtney Dauwalter, in the same race has not materialized, 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 strong favourite to top the podium likely less than ten hours after the start of the race. 

Italian, Andrea Reiterer, led the race for 80km last year, before stomach problems ended his challenge for line honours shortly after Constantia Nek.  The Italian returns, determined to learn from his mistakes and challenge for line honours this time around.

Reed, from Flagstaff Arizona is one of a group of leading trail athletes styled as the “Coconino Cowboys” and will likely be one of the fastest over the first half, while Lantz was one of the strongest finishers last year, bagging third, and will be looking for another podium finish.

Other internationals such as the French pair of Nicholas Martin and Ugo Ferreira will also likely contend strongly, but it is the unknown factor of South Africans Reilly and Van Heerden which provides much interest in the race. 

Kings over the marathon distance, the pair will be way out of their comfort zone, but both have the talent and determination to take the race to the internationals.  It will be no surprise should one of them make it onto the podium at the finish.

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

In the absence of Dauwalter, England’s “running doctor” Beth Pascall, could be the one to beat, following her 4th and 5th positions this year in the world’s two top ultra-distance races, the Western States and the UTMB, both over 100 mile distance.  But last year’s winner, Zimbabwean Emily Hawgood, has enjoyed a strong year of racing and will not easily surrender her title, while American Amanda Basham and 2017 winner, Lucy Bartholomew of Australia, could challenge for podium positions.

The South Africans could be led home by Johannesburg athlete, Nicolette Griffioen, who will feel at home on a course she knows well, with Landie Greyling also looking for a top result among a powerful field.

Francois D’Haene of France - favourite to win tomorrow’s Ultra Trail Cape Town 100 km. Photo: Francois D’Haene

The 100 km race starts at 04h00 with the 65km event off an hour later. The 35km race starts at 08h00 with the half marathon taking place on Sunday at 08h00.

@StephenGranger3