Smarna Gora to host final World Cup race October 7
The crisp fall air and leaves changing to gold signals the time for the final World Cup race for Mountain Running at the Smarna Gora. The race is held just a few kilometres from Slovenia's capital Ljubljana, and winds through fast and beautiful forest trails with a finish inside a castle at the summit! The race has a long history where it was first held in 1979 and the course now covers 10km around and up to two summit peaks. Steep ascents along with technical descents mean that this is a solid test of all-around mountain running ability and this years lineup taking on the challenge is one of the strongest in the race's history.
When we talk about form, if consistency is anything to go by then it's going to be hard to look past Andrea Mayr (Austria) for the win on the women's side. Her five appearances at Smarna Gora have resulted in five wins and in her past three editions after the course was lengthened to 10km she has raced within 44 seconds each time. However, when it comes to the World Cup, Mayr starts 50 points behind Alice Gaggi (Italy) and if Mayr were to win then Gaggi would have to finish in the top 10 to secure the overall 2017 World Cup title - something that she would normally do comfortably given her strong and consistent form this year. Pavla Shorna Matyasova looks safe in third for the World Cup, but if Gaggi or Mayr falter, she could move up given her consistencyh this year.
Every year a strong contingent comes out from the UK with junior and senior runners making the trip to the Smarna Gora. This is a track that suits them and so watch out for some new names in the top-15 positions. For the first time at the race, Norway has two runners registered and they are two very talented runners. Karoline Holson and Johan Bugge have the form to shoot all the way for a podium place with Holson's 4th and Bugge's 5th place at this years European Championships (also held in Slovenia). Holson is strong on downhills and Bugge is a runner who will go hard right from the start to shake up the men's race so they are welcome additions to the event.
The nation bringing the most runners from outside Slovenia however will be Italy, and they are packing a strong punch. Alex Baldacini has experience and form on this track. With six top six results in past years, it will mean he will be one to watch for judging a good pace. He has also won the race in 2012, and enjoys the fast flowing technical nature of the course. The Italians are stacked full of talent and Cesare Maestri and Luca Cagnati are two that know how to run well on this style of course and with the season coming to a close, there will be no holding back from these two. Max Di Gioia, like Baldacini has plenty of kilometres under his belt through the forested slopes of the Smarna Gora. A top-15 finish for him would be an excellent result but don't be surprised to see a total of up to six Italians in the top 10 on the men's side because multiple Italian and European Champs, Bernard and Martin Dematteis will also be racing on Saturday. The depth and talent is going to make this edition one of the best and the Italian twins are looking to cap off another strong season. Eritrea loses Petro Mamu to a doping ban but will be represented by Abraham Filimon. He has had some solid results recently including a fourth place at the previous World Cup race in Germany.
Let's not forget the local Slovenian runners. They might be missing the Kosovelj's, Mateja and Mitja as well as Lucija Krkoc, but Miran Cvet has been running well recently and he will be wanting to nail a top-10 finish as well.
Alex Baldacini is looking pretty safe on the top of the men's World Cup rankings, but two runners who could move on to the podium after Saturday are Austria's Simon Lechleitner and Bernard Dematteis. With the top-15 placed men and women receiving prize money, this year's World Cup will be the most well-paid in the history of Mountain Running.
Races are all held on Saturday, October 7,
and temperatures and weather are predicted to be perfect for the fast and exciting mountain running action. The local website page can be found HERE
Current World Cup rankings can be found HERE
Article by Jonathan Wyatt for the WMRA
Photos courtesy of the LOC