Valsir World Cup Preview 2022 Part 8: Sierre-Zinal
What needs to be said about the Race of the Five 4000s? No other mountain race attracts the same attention or the same depth of competition as Sierre-Zinal.
Since its first edition in 1974, the best of the best of have been gathering in the Swiss Canton of Valais every August. From true greats of mountain running like Jairo Correa and Lucy Murigi, to road and track Olympians like Marijke Moser and Jeff Norman, to great mountain running Olympians like Jonathan Wyatt and Anna Pichrtová, the honour roll at this race is a Who's Who of long distance mountain running.
This year the race is the 6th Gold Label event of the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup, weighing in at 31km, with 2,200m of ascent and 1,100m of descent, and taking place on Saturday 13th August.
The route has something for everyone, with 3 distinct phases. From the start in Sierre, 570m, it's uphill straight away, climbing non-stop for over 10 kilometres. A short descent into Chandollin, at 2000m, begins the undulating middle third of the race. With the steepest gradients dealt with, the emphasis shifts from climbing strength to leg speed as the course rises and falls, trending upwards all the way to Nava at 24km under the watchful eye of the five 4000s; Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Obergabelhorn, Matterhorn and Dent Blanch.
Nava is the high point of the race, 2,425m, and marks the beginning of Sierre-Zinal's frenetic finale; it's all down hill from here to the finish at 1,680m and if you want a top result you'd better have the legs to close fast! The atmosphere at the finish is unlike anything else, but there are no guarantees that the runners will have the chance to soak it up; more than once the race has been won and lost on the streets of Zinal.
The fields here are deep. A dozen runners will think they can win it, a dozen more will have their eyes on the podium and who knows how many will hope that on a perfect day they can sneak into the top ten. The stakes are high and risk taking is the norm, with many runners throwing caution to the wind and going out hard in the hope of a once in a lifetime performance.
But that's not the only strategy. A cool head and a clear plan can also be rewarded. In 2021 Robbie Simpson wasn't even in the top 10 at Chandolin, but from there to the finish he was the fastest man on the course, catching and dropping runner after runner until only Kilian Jornet remained ahead of him.
That was the Scottish runner's 4th second place at Sierre-Zinal, could this year's 49th edition be the one where he takes that final step to the top of the podium? Or will it be the year when Kilian Jornet takes an absolutely ridiculous tenth victory?!
Meanwhile Maude Mathys will be looking to take her fourth straight win, a tally that would equal Anna Pichrtová's record number of victories.
We can't wait!
Getting to Sierre is straightforward, with a direct train from Geneva taking just over 2 hours and the train from Zurich just a few minutes longer with a connection in Visp.
Images - Gulberti, Hofer