The Sky Gran Canaria witnessed the grand culmination of the Valsir Mountain World Cup Finalissima with a riveting display of athleticism on Sunday, as Kenyan athletes Joyce Muthoni Njeru and Philemon Kiriago etched their names into the annals of mountain running history. This exhilarating event marked the end of a remarkable season that kicked off in Broken Arrow, Lake Tahoe, USA, in mid-June and culminated on the demanding, rugged coastal route.
Throughout the season, a multitude of athletes from diverse corners of the world showcased their running prowess. Yet, Njeru and Kiriago emerged as the undisputed leaders, reaffirming their dominance in the final race of the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup and the overall mountain running calendar.
Originally anticipated as a high-speed race with substantial downhill sections, the event transformed into a rapid-paced 22km competition. Adjustments in altitude were necessitated by local conditions and the looming threat of forest fires, which ultimately crafted a captivating classic mountain running course.
Kenyan Runners in Command
The race unfolded over two laps, with both Kiriago and Njeru employing tactics that had proven effective throughout the season. On another scorching day, they seized control early in the initial 5km.
For Kiriago, this entailed maintaining a brisk pace while being closely pursued by his compatriot, Patrick Kipngeno, the reigning world mountain running champion and a multiple winner of World Cup races this year. Kipngeno, in fact, held the lead for the first 5km.
On the other hand, Njeru simply distanced herself from the competition, establishing a 40-second lead over Philaries Kisang, also from Kenya and a five-time podium finisher in 2023, a lead that she maintained all the way to the finish.
For Kiriago, this victory held profound significance as it affirmed his status as the overall World Cup champion.
“I’m thrilled today as I had hoped to clinch the World Cup, and it all fell into place,” stated Kiriago, who had previously triumphed at Fletta Trail, Sierre Zinal, and Trofeo Nasego.
Similarly, Njeru’s victory not only held immense importance but also solidified her position as the world’s No.1 in the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup rankings.
“I’m ecstatic; the race was flawless. It was a wonderful sensation to conclude and successfully defend the World Cup trophy. It truly worked out well for me,” expressed Njeru, the victor at Fletta Trail, La Montee du Nid d’Aigle, and Canfranc.
The first day of the competition witnessed British athlete Joe Steward securing victory in the vertical race, ultimately propelling him to third place in the overall men’s standings. His season-long rival, Remi Leroux of Canada, shifted from third to fourth position due to his sixth-place finish in the vertical 4km.
British runner Scout Adkin enjoyed a rewarding weekend in Gran Canaria, securing victory in the vertical race and attaining a third-place finish in the 22km event, allowing her to rise from fifth to second place overall.
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The Valsir Mountain Running World Cup Finalissima commenced with Scout Adkin and Joe Steward claiming victory in the uphill race on Friday. The following day featured the long-distance race, with Christian Allen of the USA and Spain’s Ikram Rharsalla Laktab emerging victorious.
Mountain running success is contingent on adapting to changing conditions and terrains, a fact highlighted during the weekend. A weather alert led to a reduction in the 6km uphill race to 4km on an altered route due to the scorching heat and forest fire risk.
In such challenging conditions, Steward displayed his prowess and secured victory in the Sky A4Uphill event. Patrick Kipngeno from Kenya took second place, while Christian Allen claimed third place. The women’s race saw Scout Adkin dominate, showcasing her exceptional form.
Endurance and Strategy
The following day featured the longest race of the weekend, the Sky TPT38 Long, a demanding 38km course with altered sections due to weather concerns. Christian Allen surged ahead early and maintained a substantial lead to win, ahead of his compatriot Andrew Wacker and Czechia’s Ondrej Fejfar.
In the women’s race, Spain’s Ikram Rharsalla Laktab overcame a four-minute deficit in the final 12km to secure victory after Italy’s Camilla Magliano took a wrong turn, ultimately finishing in second place.
The culmination of the event is the Sky A21 Classic, set to be a shorter two-lap race over 22km. While the weather conditions have necessitated changes, the anticipation for a thrilling finale remains high, promising another exhilarating day of mountain running action.