Andrew Douglas and Purity Gitonga will start as the favourites at the Grossglockner Berglauf, the third stop of the WMRA Mountain Running World Cup, in Heilingeblut, Austria, on Sunday (12).
The mostly uphill track is known to be fast but incredibly tough climbing up to its finish at 2369m above sea level at the Franz Josef Hohe lookout that sits opposite Grossglockne, Austria’s highest mountain. The final 800m of the race has a section aptly named ‘the wall’, where runners zigzag up the final ascent with the cheers of the crowd echoing out over the glacier valley. The 13.5km course climbs uphill and features 1494m of positive elevation.
Many of the world’s best mountain runners are coming to the Grossglockner directly from last weekend’s European Championships in Zermatt where Great Britain and Italy were strong protagonists of the races there.
Gold team medal winner in Zermatt was Andrew Douglas, who is also leading the World Cup by virtue of winning both stage one and two at Maxi Race and Broken Arrow. He will lead the elite field, taking on Kenyan Geoffray Gikuni Ndungu, the 2018 Mountain Running World Cup champion, making this race an interesting match-up of the two strongest performers on the World Cup circuit.
Italy’s Francesco Puppi, the 2017 WMRA World Long Distance Mountain Running champion, teammate Martin Dematteis, the 2016 European Mountain Running champion and fifth at stage one at this year’s Maxi Race in Annecy, and another Italian, Luca Cagnati, 15th at the recent Trail World Championships in Portugal, are traveling across the border to make up part of what is a very deep men’s field, comprised of athletes from 12 different nations.
Others to watch in the men’s contest include Kenyan Robert Surum who took third in last year’s Sierre Zinal World Cup race and Sam Sahli of the US who was second in the last World Cup fixture that took place at the Broken Arrow Skyrace in Lake Tahoe. Austrian-based runners Isaac Toroitich Kosgei, who now lives permanently nearby, and Manuel Innerhofer, who had a very strong eighth place showing in Zermatt last Sunday will push hard to make the podium.
There will be a huge battle in the women’s race. If the men’s race is hard to predict, the women’s competition is even harder.
Kenya’s Purity Gitonga and Czech Pavla Schorna stand out with their recent history on the high alpine Austrian course. They finished second and third here last year, respectively, but this time will go up against Irishwoman Sarah McCormack who took second in the Maxi Race and finished third in the 2018 World Cup ranking. Others in the mix include Charlotte Morgan of Great Britain, the reigning WMRA World Long Distance Mountain Running champion.
But if strong international mountain running experience counts, then Sarah Tunstall of Great Britain will be the standout name to watch. Tunstall was fourth at the European Mountain Running Championships and will surely confirm her great form with a goal of scoring an important World Cup success in Austria. This will be her first World Cup race in 2019 and could be a sign that she wants to make a bid for the overall title.
The athlete with the longest travel to reach Austria must be Sabrina Grogan from New Zealand while Italy’s Gloria Giudici has experience on the course and rounds out the female elite runners to watch.
Organisers for the IAAF