The 2021 edition of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is still months away, but the fields for the August race are officially set. After UTMB organizers cancelled their event in 2020 due to COVID-19, any race would have been exciting to watch this year, but fans will be treated to a pair of stacked lineups in the men’s and women’s fields. With six former UTMB champions and many other world-class runners set to race in Chamonix, France, later this year, the storied 170K ultramarathon looks like it will be can’t-miss action.
The women’s race
Former UTMB champs Courtney Dauwalter of the U.S. and Francesca Canepa of Italy headline the women’s race. Dauwalter is the reigning UTMB champion after her win in 2019, which was her first time running the race. She is widely recognized as one of the best ultrarunners on the planet, and she will be extremely tough to beat in Chamonix.
Canepa won the women’s UTMB crown in 2018, and she also placed second in 2012. Other former top UTMB finishers on the start list for 2021 include Japan’s Kaori Niwa (fourth in 2017 and the winner of the 2019 Oman by UTMB 170K ultramarathon), Uxue Fraile Azpeitia of Spain (three-time UTMB podium finisher) and Beth Pascall of the U.K. (fourth- and fifth-place finishes in 2018 and 2019).
Multiple world record holder Camille Herron is also set to race in Chamonix. She has won ultramarathons around the world, including the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 2017 and the Tarawera 100-miler in New Zealand in 2019, and she certainly has what it takes to win or place high in the overall UTMB standings.
Ailsa Macdonald is the lone Canadian in the elite UTMB women’s field. With big results like her wins at the Golden Ultra in B.C. in 2018 and the Tarawera 100 in 2020, Macdonald is another podium threat. She also has experience in Chamonix, having placed sixth in the UTMB’s CCC 101K ultra in 2019.
The men’s race
On the men’s side, there are four former UTMB winners: Pau Capell of Spain (winner in 2019) and French athletes François D’Haene (won in 2012, 2014 and 2017), Ludovic Pommeret (won in 2016) and Xavier Thévenard (won in 2013, 2015 and 2018). The past eight UTMB crowns belong to these four men, and they’re all capable of extending that streak to nine straight this year.
Jim Walmsley and Tim Tollefson are the top two American hopes on the men’s side. Tollefson made the UTMB podium in 2016 and 2017 with a pair of third-place finishes, while Walmsley has only raced in Chamonix once, running to fifth place. As Walmsley showed recently in a 100K world record attempt (he ran 6:09:26, missing the record by 12 seconds), he is in incredible shape this year, and while August is still months away, he has to be considered a favourite.
Also on the start list is the U.K.’s Damian Hall, who finished in fifth at the 2018 edition of UTMB. Hall is coming off a fantastic year of running that featured several prominent FKTs, and although he hasn’t raced in a while, he shouldn’t be counted out come August.
Finally, Canada will be represented by Mathieu Blanchard. Born in France, Blanchard now lives and trains in Montreal. He has raced in Chamonix before, running to a 13th-place finish in 2018, and in 2020 he ran onto the podium at the 102K Tarawera Ultra race.
UTMB is set to run from August 23 to 29, 2021. To see the full elite fields, click here.