Kenyans Joyce Njeru and Lengen Lolkurraru are back to defend their titles as the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup reaches round four for the season with the Grossglockner Berglauf in Austria on Sunday.

The Gold Label event will be run over 13.4km with 1265m of ascent in the shadow of Austria’s tallest mountain, Grossglockner. Many of the expected leading challengers for the overall World Cup standings will be in action for this “classic” category race over some of the eastern Alps’ most scenic trails.

Njeru continues her quest to claim a second consecutive World Cup title. She began in style with victory in the opening Gold Label race in Montemuro, Portugal, last month. Having crossed the finish line first on the famous Grossglockner High Alpine Road last year, she is well familiar with the testing course.

Finland’s Susanna Saapunki was second in Montemuro, just 46 seconds behind Njeru and she lines up having confirmed her form with fifth in the uphill mountain race at the European Athletics Off-Road Running Championships last weekend.

Ireland’s 2019 World Cup winner Sarah McCormack is due to begin her European campaign after victory in the famous Three Peaks Fell Race in April.

Another Kenyan challenger will be Lucy Murigi, world mountain running champion in 2017 and 2018, who was fourth in last year’s World Cup.

Belgium’s Charlotte Cotton, who was sixth in the 2021 World Cup, will hope to be sufficiently recovered from her race at the European Masters Off Road Championships in France two days earlier.

Slovenia’s Koligar Mojca is another with knowledge of the course, having placed sixth here in 2019.

On the men’s side, Lolkurraru will be looking for a repeat of his 46-second win last year. With a recent 30:23 10,000m time on the track to his name, he clearly has the speed to achieve that. However, he faces a strong field set for what could be a close race.

Kenyan mountain running champion Patrick Kipngeno won in Montemuro as a newcomer to the World Cup circuit and will be seeking to again show his 62-minute half-marathon prowess.

Italy’s Cesare Maestri would be another strong contender. However, he is tired after winning the European uphill title and taking silver in the up-and-down last weekend and says he will take a late decision on whether to run. He was fifth here last year in what he describes as an “iconic race for mountain runners”.

Kenya’s Geoffrey Ndungu, who was third in the 2021 World Cup and is No.1 on the WMRA world rankings, will be looking to build on his fifth place from Montemuro.

Ahead of him in second in Portugal was Ireland’s Zak Hannah, who moves on from fifth in the European Off-Road event.

Filimon Abraham is one of a large contingent of Germans who will be on the start line. His win here in 2019 helped him to second place on the overall World Cup standings and he was also runner-up here 12 months ago.

Manuel Innerhofer, who was third last year, is among the top contenders from the home nation. Eritrea’s Petro Mamu, who was fifth in the 2021 World Cup is another to watch out for.

Czech Republic’s Marek Chrascina, who was fourth in Montemuro, will be looking to continue his good form. Slovenia’s Timotej Becan, who is fifth on the world rankings, will be hoping to improve on his sixth place last year here.


The course

The race starts in the mountain-climber village of Heiligenblut am Grossglockner at 1250m altitude. A reasonable flat first 2km will see runners on to forest paths and then to the hiking trail to the Trogalm. Participants will get a glimpse of the whole Pasterze, the longest glacier in the Eastern Alps, before taking on the cruel 521 steps to the finish, which involves around 300m of climb in the last 1.25km. Belgium’s Charlotte Cotton, who was 17th last year, recalled: “It’s a stunningly beautiful course. The last steps are very tough and I remember taking longer than I hoped up them. One can also feel that altitude up there! It’s definitely a race for the shorter uphill runner with some parts which are flat and perfect for some speed.”

Irishman Zak Hannah, who was eighth last year, said: “It’s your typical Alpine uphill race for the most part, running through lush scenery with green grass and through fields with loose cows running about. Then you start getting closer to the finish line when the surroundings turn to glaciers, Grossglockner comes into view with lakes, snow and other snow-covered peaks all surrounding the runners. It’s probably one of the best uphill races on the circuit. The steps in the last kilometre for tired legs makes it even harder, as they are quite steep, given the time at which they come in the race.”


About the Berglauf Grossglockner

The 22nd edition of the race has already sold out its 1000-plus entries. Previous winners include Jonathan Wyatt, Anna Pichrtova, Andrea Mayr, Antonella Confortola, and Sarah Tunstall.


About the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup

The Valsir Mountain Running World Cup is a 17-race series in which runners accumulate points towards an overall standing. Races are split into Gold Label and Silver Label, with the former counting for higher points. Each event is also categorised as “short uphill” (3-8km with 750m+ minimum elevation gain and 1000m+ maximum elevation gain), “classic” (9-21km either mainly uphill or up and down) or “long” (22-45km either mainly uphill or up and down). Top prize for the overall World Cup champions will be €1250 for both men and women.