Montreal’s Mathieu Blanchard has confirmed he will toe the start line at Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc in two weeks, joining an elite lineup that organizers of the 171-km race are billing the strongest elite field since the race began 20 years ago.
Blanchard will be vying for his third consecutive podium finish in Chamonix on Sept. 1. He ran last year’s race in 19 hours, 54 minutes and 50 seconds to finish a close second behind Spain’s Kilian Jornet, who ran 19:49:30 for a new course record. In 2021, Blanchard finished third behind French runners François D’haene (20:45:59) and Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz (20:58:31).
In June, Blanchard ran 15:37:02 to finish sixth in his Western States Endurance Run debut. He told Canadian Running after the race that Western States presented a uniquely difficult challenge: “I pushed through, I fought hard, my body was super painful like never before,” he said, adding he was proud to earn the “mythic buckle” awarded to Western States winners.
Among the giants of trail running Blanchard will be up against at UTMB is British runner Tom Evans, who ran the fourth-fastest time in Western States history (14:40:22) to win this year’s men’s race, and who finished behind Blanchard at last year’s UTMB to place third (20:34:35).
“I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the idea of taking part in the UTMB this year,” Evans recently told UTMB. “I’m coming into the event in a much better position than last year when I was fresh from a knee operation. The race is so full of history and for the 20th anniversary, I want to be part of the story by doing a Western States 100 Endurance Run and UTMB double. It’s a big challenge and with the strength of the peloton, it won’t be easy, but it’s a contest I’m looking forward to and believe I can achieve.”
In addition to Jornet, this year’s men’s field will see the return of American Jim Walmsley, who finished fourth in last year’s race (21:12:12) and who has held the Western States course record (14:09:28) since 2019.
Other notable entries in the men’s field include Swiss runner Jonas Russi (winner of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail by UTMB 2023), fellow Swiss runner Jean-Philippe Tschumi (who shared victory at the 100K Trail 100 Andorra by UTMB with the American Ben Dhiman) and Sweden’s Petter Engdahl.
Arguably the most compelling storyline from this year’s UTMB will be American trail running phenom Courtney Dauwalter‘s quest for the triple crown following her resounding victories at Western States (where she ran 15:29:33 to smash the 16:47:19 course record set by Canadian Ellie Greenwood in 2012) and Hardrock 100 (where she set a new course record in 26:14:08). The Golden, Colo.-based runner won UTMB in 2019 (24:34:26) and again in 2021, when she set the current women’s course record (22:30:54).
She stands to face fierce competition from an elite field that includes New Zealand’s Ruth Croft (who finished second at Western States last year), Germany’s Katharina Hartmuth (winner of this year’s Eiger Ultra Trail by UTMB), Italy’s Martina Valmassoi (winner of the 2022 TDS in Chamonix) and Hungary’s Eszter Csillag, who finished fifth at last year’s UTMB.