UTCT Preview: Strong International Field Set To Take On SA’s Best
A strong field of local and international runners line up for the various distances at the RMB Ultra-trail Cape Town (RMB UTCT) festival of trail running this weekend (24-26 November). The RMB UTCT has established itself as a firm fixture on the international racing calendar, and forms part of the World Trail Majors, a recently-formed association of nine iconic ultra-trail races around the world.
With a live broadcast on YouTube, the event showcases Cape Town’s beautiful trails to the world and is dubbed ‘the last dance’ of the year by the local trail community. An incredibly strong field of local and international elite runners has gathered in Cape Town, with the full field made up of 400 international visitors and over 2000 runners across the events.
UT100 – 100km
Dmitry Mityaev returns after a memorable win last year in the UT100 with Hannes Namberger, where they crossed the finish line together. Among his many accomplishments in 2023 is a first place at Cappadocia Ultra-trail 100km, and fourth at Marathon Du Mont-Blanc 90 km. He says that despite winning last year: “I think I can run this race faster, so I have to go back and try again. The final 30 km of the race will be decisive, it is important to keep your strength in the first half and try to work out this section of the race.”
Ryan Sandes, South Africa’s most decorated ultra-trail runner, returns to RMB UTCT having not competed here since 2018.
The US contingent of Anthony Costales, Caleb Olson and Darren Thomas will add depth to the field. Costales will be coming to race in Cape Town for the first time, a few months after his first Western States podium.
2023 RMB UTCT will be Mads Louring’s (DK) third visit to Cape Town. He finished third at PT55 last year and is switching to the 100km distance. A number of European runners will be taking on RMB UTCT for the first time. Amongst them are Matthieu Simon, Thibaut Baronian and Matis Leray from France, and Johannes Low from Germany. Also starting are Konstantinos Paradeisopoulus (GR) and Ricardo Cherta (ES).
Ryan Sandes, South Africa’s most decorated ultra-trail runner, returns to RMB UTCT having not competed here since 2018, where he withdrew from the race. In 2017 he was second to Prodigal Khumalo who broke the record, a record Jim Walmsley claimed in 2021.
Sandes says: “I feel that the 100 km race has changed since I last raced it, it has become a lot more technical. I’m excited to have so many competitive runners in Cape Town making up this strong field.”
Grobler Basson is another local runner who could perform well at UT100. He is a UTMB CCC 2022 finisher, he won the Addo 76 km in May, and in September he broke the record for the Puffer 65 km, one of Cape Town’s oldest trail running races. Kyle Bucklow joins him as another promising local.
Amongst the women, Marianne Hogan (CA) was second in UT100 2021, so she is aware that the Table Mountain trails are highly technical. Other runners familiar with the course are Varvara Shikanova (third last year), and Ekaterina Mityaeva (fourth last year). Both are most likely looking to improve on that result.
Ruth Croft (NZ) is the Western States 2022 women’s race winner as well as winner of UTMB OCC in 2018 and 2019. She will be a strong contender along with US athletes Leah Yingling, who has finished in the top 10 in both Western States Endurance Run and at UTMB, Lindsey McDonald, and Corrine Malcolm.
Kerry-Ann Marshall is a local favourite. Running on her home trails, she has placed first, second and fifth at previous UT100s, and last year she was the second female runner to finish the inaugural UTCT, taking fifth position overall. Another local to watch is Sam Reilly, who won the Cape Town Trail Marathon in October.
UTCT – 100 miler (166 km)
Aleksei Tolstenko will be the athlete to beat as he placed second last year to Fotis Zisimopoulos in a time of 21:30:17. Being familiar with the route and its technical nature will be an advantage, but Vincent Viet from France will recall the trails from his win at the previous format 65 km in 2017’s RMB UTCT. Mike McMonagle (US) will also be a visitor to watch.
Douglas Pickard exploded onto the South African trail running scene a couple of years ago. He won UTD160 in 2022, breaking the record that Ryan Sandes set the year before. He says UTD is very different and he has much less experience with RMB UTCT’s level of technical trails, and that to line up with runners who have taken the sport to the next level, like Vincent and Aleksei, is a huge privilege. “I am still quite new to running 100 miles, so I look forward to seeing if I can hang onto their heels for as long as possible.”
Other top local runners taking part are the young Robbie Rorich, Matt Bouch, and the experienced Jock Green. Lucky Miya, one of South Africa’s best trail runners for many years and perhaps best known for his 100 km Skyrun wins, will join the longer distance of UTCT.
South African women are set to shine in this race. Naomi Brand (South African, living in New Zealand) returns after placing third in the 100 miler women’s race last year, taking sixth position overall. Another seasoned local trail runner Nicolette Griffioen pulled out of this race after a gruelling 140 kms, so will definitely be looking to put her stamp on this year’s edition. She has RMB UTCT experience with a fourth place in the 100km in 2019, and having won the 2014 200km. Jo Keppler finished 10th in UT100 in 2021 and she is the 2022 UTD160 champion.
Cornelia Oswald from Austria and Anka Hausmann from Germany will challenge our local athletes.
The Scot Robbie Simpson (GB) who won the 55 km in 2022, is a favourite to take the PT55 title. South Africans Gabriel Kriel, Josh Chigome, Joshua Blackshaw, Simon Purdon and Mvuyisi Gcogco will be looking to put their local knowledge to good use.
Local hero Toni McCann (UTMB OCC winner) is a 55 km favourite in the women’s race, but Caitlin Fielder (NZ) and Ynvild Kaspersen (who won UTMB CCC) will not make it easy for her. Sume van Heerden (ZA) placed second in this event last year, two minutes shy of the winner, so she is certainly someone to look out for.
Collin Kanyimo finished second at last year’s TM35, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with race insight. It will be Etienne Schoeman’s (ZA) second RMB UTCT, with a previous third place. Bastien Perez (FR) will be lining up at RMB UTCT for the first time.
A powerful group of women will fight for the win in this race. Bianca Tarboton has not raced RMB UTCT since 2018, where she won the 21 km. Holly Page (US) won the TM23 last year, and both first and second placed women from last year’s TM35, Jasmin Nunige (CH) and Rebecca Kohne (ZA) respectively, are lining up again.
The 23 km race will be an exciting one, with a number of South African athletes, some with more of a road running background, being hosted by the RMB UTCT Trail Fund. The group includes Sipho Mbanywa, Andisiwe Njungaza, Philane Sengce and Busisiwe Chamane. Four LIV2Run Athletics Club runners will take part thanks to support from the First Rand Foundation, RMB’s social investment vehicle. They are Sipho Mbanjwa, Siboniso Soldaka and Tsielo Tsanyane. Another local runner Meg Mackenzie, now based in Chamonix, will tackle the shorter distance, along with Carla Molinaro (UK) and Laura Hampel (GER).
There are three official RMB UTCT Cheer Zones across the course. UCT Aid Station, Alphen Aid Station and Hout Bay Aid Station, where there will be food vendors, beer on tap, DJs and great activations. Look at www.ultratrailcapetown.com for further details, and come out and support the runners.