It’s more than a two-man race

Showdown between the top two ultrarunners is intriguing, but the field is teeming with contenders
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Always in search of a vigorous challenge, Geoff Roes wasn’t sure he would find it at the Western States Endurance Run after he shattered the course record at the 100-mile trail race last year. But when Roes heard Kilian Jornet would be returning to Western States in 2011, Roes quickly joined him on the entrant list. So did many other top runners, who will compete for ultrarunning’s top prize on Saturday. The 100-mile race begins at Squaw Valley and ends in Auburn. Roes, who lives in Alaska, ran with Jornet early on in the race last season before the young runner from the Catalan region of Spain, surged ahead, along with American Anton Krupicka. As Jornet faded late in the race, Roes hit his stride, passing both he and Krupicka on his way to a time of 15 hours, 7 minutes. Krupicka finished second and Jornet was third. All three were Western States rookies. “Running with Kilian is definitely a big part of why I came back,” the 35-year-old Roes said. “I was wavering through most of the fall. Knowing that he was planning on doing it was a big factor. I just really enjoyed running with him last year. Last year was really satisfying.” Krupicka is not running Saturday due to an injury. But Jornet is looking stronger than ever at age 23. He most recently set a course record at the North Face 100-kilometer race in Australia just a week after completing a sensational ski mountaineering season in Europe. Adam Chase, the brand ambassador for Salomon’s U.S. trail running division, has spent considerable time with Jornet over the past year. He said the Salomon-sponsored athlete is looking forward to another showdown with Roes. “He has a lot of big events on his schedule, but this is one of the few races he’s not won,” Chase said. “It’s not revenge – he’s not that kind of person – but I know he’d really like to win this race.” Roes and Jornet, considered by most to be the top two ultrarunners in the world, will also go head to head at the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in France later this summer. It’s a rivalry filled with mutual respect and admiration. “You can run with Kilian for five minutes and tell he’s amazingly gifted,” Roes said. “His physical ability is unmatched in the world. On technical trails, I’ve never seen anyone make it look as effortless as he does. “The most enjoyable thing for me is his obvious love of the sport, and just being in the mountains. Just to have the perspective he has at his age, it’s really cool to me.” Roes and Jornet are planning on having some company at the front of the pack on Saturday. There’s two-time WS champion Hal Koerner, who battled an ankle injury before dropping out late in last year’s race. He’s healthy and fresh off a very impressive run at the Miwok 100K last month. Veteran Dave Mackey won the American River 50-miler earlier this spring and followed it up with a win at Miwok. He could be poised for a breakthrough at WS after placing second back in 2004. Nick Clark quietly finished in 16:05 last year at WS and placed fourth. He followed that up with a win at the tough Wasatch Front 100 last September. Ian Sharman was eighth at WS last year and turned heads with a blazing time of 12:44 at the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler in Texas in February. Montana’s Mike Wolfe, who won Way Too Cool in March, is making his WS debut and could be a factor. Japanese standout Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, who took second in 2009, is back to contend on Saturday and Great Britain’s Jez Bragg is also back after taking third in 2009. Even after last year’s epic battle for the bronze cougar, the anticipation for this year’s competition is energizing the athletes. “Even if I have an off-day, it’s going to be cool to be a part of what is – in my mind – the most competitive trail race that’s ever happened,” Roes said. “There are folks running this weekend that give it even more of a top level feel than last year.”