The iconic race brings together established elites and exciting new talent, for one of the most competitive mountain races in the world.
After a break of a few weeks this weekend the World Cup heads to Switzerland for perhaps the most famous mountain race of them all, Sierre-Zinal!
This is our next long distance mountain race, at 31km with 2200m of ascent, and it traditionally attracts the most competitive field of all the World Cup races. This year is no exception. We take a look at the history of this event, which is celebrating its 50th edition this year, and preview the elite fields this year.
Sierre Zinal is an iconic race in so many ways. It was first run in 1974 and men and women have always raced over the same distance here. Over the years it has seen some epics duels between the greats of the sport, with the list of winners reading like an international who’s who of mountain running. But perhaps the most iconic aspect of all is the route.
Sierre Zinal is known as ‘la course des cinq 4000’ because the runners get to enjoy views of 5 peaks over 4000m along the way (Weisshorn (4506m), Zinalrothorn (4221m), Obergabelhorn (4073m) Matterhorn (4478m) and Dent Blanche (4357m)).
Athletes start in Sierre at 570m and then climb up to the highest point at 2425m at Nava over the course of 24km. Then the final 7km is downhill, culminating in a frantic sprint through Zinal to the finish line at 1680m. It’s a tantalisingly runnable, fast course, which as we know results in some very exciting racing.
Famously in 2019 both the men’s and women’s records fell, with Kilian Jornet setting a new mark of 2.25.35 and Maude Mathys 2.49.20. Mathys has subsequently lowered this again to 2.46.03. Unfortunately neither Mathys nor Jornet will be on the start line this year, but there’s an incredible amount of depth to both fields, including some very exciting athletes we haven’t seen at Sierre Zinal before.
We may not have Mathys but we will have the athletes who finished in second place to her in 2021 and 2022.
Nienke Brinkman (NED) had an incredible run here in 2021, and combines great climbing ability (she won Zegama in 2022) with speed on the flat (her marathon PB is 2.22).
Our runner-up from last year, Philaries Kisang (KEN) is having a great season with a second place in the uphill race at the World Championships, a second at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and a third place at Fletta Trail. The runner-up from 2019, Judith Wyder (SUI), will also be on the start line, having recently won Dolomyths.
There’s an exciting contingent of athletes from the US this year. Sophie Laukli won the Mont Blanc Marathon this year and finished second to Wyder at Dolomyths. Allie McLaughlin memorably won the snowy Broken Arrow Skyrace this year, as well as winning the uphill race at the 2022 World Championships and coming third at the up and down race.
Bailey Kowalczyk was 5th here last year and could improve on that this year. Other notable US women include Tabor Hemming (3rd at Broken Arrow Skyrace, 10th at Mont Blanc Marathon this year), Anna Gibson (winner of the Broken Arrow VK, second at the Skyrace) and Allie Ostrander.
Sarah McCormack (IRL) was 4th here last year and Lucy Murigi (KEN) was 6th. Murigi is a three-time former winner (2015, 2017, 2018). Nuria Gil (ESP) finished 7th last year and 8th in 2021. Could she improve on that again this year?
From the veterans to the newcomers, it will be exciting to see how Joyce Njeru (KEN) gets on in her first Sierre Zinal. With wins at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle and Fletta Trail and a 3rd place at the World Championships classic race this year, her debut should be interesting.
Another debut to watch will be Daniela Oemus (GER), who won Zegama this year and finished 6th at the Mont Blanc Marathon.
Other notable athletes on the start line include Emelie Forsberg (SWE), Susanna Saapunki (FIN), Alice Gaggi (ITA), Theresa Leboeuf (SUI), Caitlin Fielder (NZ) and Emma Pooley (SUI).
Last year’s men’s winner, Andreu Blanes, will not return this year, nor will the nine-time winner Kilian Jornet, but the rest of last year’s podium will be there.
Patrick Kipngeno (KEN), last year’s runner-up, is having an extremely successful year, winning La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, Piz Tri Vertical and the uphill race at the World Championships. Petro Mamu (ERI) was third last year and second in 2019 in the second fastest time on this course, ever (2.26.31).
Philemon Kiriago (KEN) was 5th here last year and is having a very successful year, with a win at Fletta Trail and 2nd places at La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, Piz Tri Vertical and the classic race at the World Championships. Likewise Remi Bonnet (SUI) is in form, having won the Mont Blanc Marathon this year and placed 4th at Zegama. He was 8th here in 2022.
Davide Magnini (ITA) was 5th at his last attempt at Sierre Zinal in 2021 and he’s had 2nd places at Mont Blanc and Zegama in the meantime, so could well be one to watch. Robert Pkemoi (KEN) will also be exciting to follow here, having finished 6th in 2022 and having also achieved a 5th place at Zegama this year.
Robbie Simpson (GBR) has a lot of history with this race, having finished 2nd an incredible 4 times (2016, 2017, 2018, and 2021), as well as finishing 5th in 2019 and 9th in 2022. He will always be in contention here. Cesare Maestri (ITA) has achieved a 3rd place here in 2021 and he’s recently won Giir di Mont and a 3rd place at Fletta Trail.
We will also see some exciting debuts in the men’s race. Elazzoui Elhousine (MAR) won Dolomyths this year and was 2nd at Zegama. What can he do here? Matthias Kyburz (SUI) is a highly decorated orienteering champion with great flat speed and will be interesting to watch.
Other notable athletes on the start line include Xavier Chevrier (ITA), Eli Hemming (USA), Andrew Douglas (GBR), Francesco Puppi (ITA) and Joe Steward (GBR).
World Cup standings
With so many athletes riding high in the 2023 World Cup taking part this weekend, we could easily see some big changes in the rankings.
Six out of the current top 10 for both the women (Njeru, Kisang, Gibson, Murigi, McLaughlin, Saapunki) and the men (Kiriago, Kipngeno, Aymonod, Steward, Hemming, Cachard) will be taking part, so this could really shake up this year’s competition. See the latest classification here: World_Cup_Current_Classification.pdf (wmra.info)
How to follow the race
Sierre Zinal will be providing live tracking via their website and we will bring you the latest news via our social media channels. The race starts at 10.55am CET.