On the stroke of 2300 hours, 900 runners departed from the northwestern coastal town of Ageate in Gran Canaria for the tough and challenging 125km journey with 8000m of vertical gain that is simply known as Transgrancanaria.
A race in the UTWT (Ultra Trail World Tour) it has become over the years one of the worlds most iconic ultra marathons. The list of previous winners reads like a who’s who of the sport – Ryan Sandes, Sebastien Chaigneau, Didrick Hermansen, Núria Picas and Caroline Chaverot amongst others.
It’s a tough race. No, it’s an extremely tough race and one that should not be taken lightly. The island of Gran Canaria is traversed from north-west to the south via the trails and mountains that make Gran Canaria a must for any trail runner.
From the gun, the climbing starts and doesn’t let go. A rollercoaster ride of trails is made harder by darkness and often inclement weather. With the arrival of daylight, moods lift and as the runners travel south, temperatures rise as the lure of the sea and the finish line in Maspalomas brings the journey to the end.
The 2017 edition will be remembered for a cold and windy night that battered the runners both physically and mentally – over 300 runners would not make the finish line. Didrick Hermansen and Caroline Chaverot, champions from 2016, headed up a stellar field of world-class talent but they would not have an easy ride. Chaverot over the first 30km’s was off the pace and running out of the top-5 resulting in a withdrawal from the race at the first major control in Artenara. Hermansen equally was not having an easy run, like Chaverot, he was running off the podium in the first third of the race but he persevered – he is a master of pacing!
By contrast, Pau Capell and Azara Garcia, both from Spain, were showing the rest of the race the sole of their shoes. They started the race with commitment and dedication, pushing hard from the gun and opening up time on the chasers.
Daylight brought with it the arrival of Capell at the iconic Roque Nublio early, his pace considerably faster than that of Hermansen’s 2016 record time. Using poles he set a relentless pace and he looked relaxed. It was going to be his day! Behind, Lithuanian revelation Vlaidas Zlabys chased, he too looked in the zone while pre-race favorites of Diego Pazos, Andy Symonds, Hermansen, and Timothy Olson were accompanied by Jordi Gammito Baus and Maxime Cazajous chasing.
Azara Garcia was the First Lady to arrive at Roque Nublio and although she looked tired and sore from the journey, she had a steely focus that told all who watched her that she was going to fight for the line. Her time margin was significant over the chasers of Andrea Huser, Kirstin Beglund and Ildo Wermescher.
Garavan and then Pico de Nieves came and went, the journey to the coast was now seeing the runners descend from the mountains and with every meter of elevation loss, the temperature rose. From the almost zero temperatures of the night and morning, 25-degrees plus were punishing the runners as they fought for the finish line. Zlabys had closed some of his deficit on Capell, they were 10-minutes apart but Capell rallied and pushed for the line taking one of the greatest victories of his career – a new course record just reward. Zlabys finished 2nd and Hermansen paced his race to perfection using incredible closing speed to pass the runners ahead and take 3rd slot on the podium, he was just 6-minutes slower than his 2016 winning time.
Garcia produced a gutsy and incredible run to finish 50-minutes ahead of 2nd placed lady Huser. The race took it’s toll though. She was an empty shell on the finish line. A vacant expression replaced a normally glowing smile. Her fatigue deprived her of a celebration as she was stretchered away for medical attention. Rousset completed the podium.
Pre-race favorites – Diego Pazos, Andy Symonds, and Timothy Olson all had solid races and finished in the top-10. Each had a story of overcoming adversity.
“It was so cold in the night, I hadn’t anticipated that,” Olson said. “I hadn’t taken gloves and I really regretted it. I just had to push on and make the best of it. This is such a tough course, the contrasts are amazing.”
Transgrancanaria is no longer just one race, it’s a weekend of racing and this year the addition of a new 250km event created a stir amongst runners and media.
The 82km Advanced race was won by Sebastien Chaigneau – a popular victory for the ambassador of trail and took the ladies title.
In the Marathon, former Transgrancanaria ladies winner, Nuria Picas, took the female victory with a course record time and lead the men, notably, Ryan Sandes placed 4th.
Pau Capell 13:21:03 new course record (Didrick ran 13:41 in 2016)
Vlaidas Zlabys 13:35:38 (also under the 2016 course record)
Didrick Hermansen 13:50:06
Jordi Gatito Baus 13:53:53
Maxime Cazajous 13:53:54
Azara Garcia 16:25:20 (Caroline ran 15:23 in 2016)
Andrea Huser 17:15:45
Melanie Rousset 17:30:40
Kirstin Berglund 18:00:04
Ildo Wermescher 18:17:43