Rui Muga at the Montemuro Vertical Run (© Montemuro Vertical Run)
Last year's World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) World Cup champions Joyce Muthoni Njeru and Henri Aymonod are among the favourites for the Montemuro Vertical Run – the first Gold Label World Cup race of the year – in Castro Daire, Portugal, on Sunday (19).
The 2022 Valsir Mountain Running World Cup kicked off at the Silver Label Seven Sisters Skyline on 22 May and now the Montemuro Vertical Run welcomes athletes for the first classic mountain race of the series and the World Cup’s first ever visit to Portugal.
The race starts at 434m in Parada de Ester, just above the Paiva River. The opening kilometre takes runners through the streets before they turn left, heading north toward the summit of Montemuro. This where the climbing really begins in earnest and athletes get little or no respite as it goes on more or less continuously to the finish at 1317m.
All in all, it is 9.6km – 980m+ and 106m-, putting the race in the classic mountain category. The times to beat from last year are Rui Muga's 50:55 for the men and Joana Soares' 56:13 for the women.
With a stellar World Cup field lining up alongside Portugal's finest, it's sure to be a fast and exciting race.
In the women’s race all eyes will be on Kenya's Njeru. With wins at Grossglockner Berglauf, Krkonossky, Trofeo Ciolo and Zumaia Flysch Marathon, she has proven herself to be adaptable over a wide range of courses and terrain. She is currently leading the women’s World Mountain Running rankings.
Italy's Lorenza Beccaria is expected to be a strong contender, having had some impressive results in last year’s World Cup, achieving a fifth place in last year’s Grossglockner Berglauf and a fourth at Tatra Race Run.
Her compatriot Camilla Magliano will also be one to watch. She is very strong in uphill-only races, with top 10 finishes last year in Grossglockner Berglauf, Vertical Nasego and Chiavenna Lagunc, as well as finishing fifth in the Italian uphill-only mountain running championships.
Finland's Susanna Saapunki burst on to the mountain running scene in 2021, having switched to the sport after a successful career in cross-country skiing. She immediately enjoyed success with a fourth place at Grossglockner Berglauf and fifth spot at Vertical Nasego. She could well feature on the podium at Montemuro.
Other women to watch include Spain's Maria Ordonez Marina, Italy's Vivien Bonzi and Charlotte Cotton of Belgium.
In the men’s race, Italy's Aymonod, the current leader in the men’s World Mountain Running ranking, will surely be the runner to beat. Last year he won Chiavenna Lagunc and Vertical Nasego and finished third at La Montee Du Nid d’Aigle and Tatra Race Run.
Kenya's Geoffrey Gikuni Ndungu, who finished third in the 2021 World Cup standings, will be toeing the start line. Last year he won the Zumaia Flysch Marathon and Krkonossky and was second at Trofeo Ciolo, but a 58th place at Zegama this year suggests he isn’t firing on all cylinders yet.
Italy's Andrea Rostan could also feature, having had some impressive results in uphill-only races, including a second in last year’s Vertical Nasego and a third place at Piz Tri Vertical.
Ireland's Zak Hanna has been steadily and impressively building his mountain running CV over the past few years and he could well challenge for the podium here. With a win at the Mont Blanc Vertical Kilometre and a fourth place at Vertical Nasego last year, as well as an eighth place in a stacked field at Grossglockner, he will be hoping for some good results in the World Cup this year.
Marek Chrascina of Czech Republic was the bronze medallist at the 2019 World Championships in Patagonia and also finished third in Krkonossky last year. He is always a strong competitor.
Other men to watch include Spain's Alex Garcia Carrillo and Kenya's Patrick Kipngeno.
There will be some strong local runners on the start line, including the reigning senior and U20 national mountain running champions of Portugal: Soares, Muga, Eduardo Pestana and Mariana Pedreira.
Kirsty Reade (WMRA) for World Athletics