Women's 2016 Smarna Gora podium - runner-up Alice Gaggi, winner Andrea Mayr and third place finisher Karmen Klancnik (© Smarna Gora organisers)
Austria's Andrea Mayr and Alex Baldaccini of Italy will share the spotlight at the Smarna Gora Mountain Running Race, the final event of the 2017 WMRA World Cup season, whose rich tradition as a World Cup event will continue with its 38th edition on Saturday (7).
The race, held just a few kilometres north of Slovenia's capital Ljubljana, winds through fast and beautiful forest trails with a finish inside a castle at the summit. The race has a long history, first held in 1979, with the course now covering 10km around and up to two summit peaks. Steep ascents along with technical descents mean that this is a solid test of all-around mountain running ability. The lineup taking on the challenge this year is one of the strongest in the race's history.
When we talk about form and consistency, it's going to be hard to look past Mayr for the win on the women's side. Each of her five appearances at Smarna Gora have resulted in victories.
However, when it comes to the World Cup standings, Mayr starts 50 points behind Italy's Alice Gaggi. If Mayr were to win, then Gaggi would need a top-10 finish to secure the overall World Cup title. That's something that she would normally do comfortably given her strong and consistent form this year.
Pavla Shorna Matyasova looks safe in third for the World Cup, but if Gaggi or Mayr falter, she could move up given her consistency this year.
For the first time at the race, Norway will bring two runners to the start. Karoline Holson and Johan Bugge have the form to figure in the podium hunt after strong finishes at the European Championships --also held in Slovenia-- where Holson finished fourth and Bugge fifth. Holson is strong on downhills and Bugge is a runner who will go hard right from the start to shake up the men's race so they are welcome additions to the event.
The nation bringing the most runners from outside Slovenia however will be Italy, and they are packing a strong punch. Baldaccini has experience on this course. With six top six results in recent years, it will mean he will be one to watch for judging a good pace. Baldaccini also won the race in 2012, and enjoys the fast flowing technical nature of the course.
The Italians are stacked full of talent and Cesare Maestri and Luca Cagnati are two that know how to run well on this style of course and with the season coming to a close, there will be no holding back from these two. Like Baldacini, Max Di Gioia has plenty of kilometres under his belt through the forested slopes of Smarna Gora. A top-15 finish for him would be an excellent result but don't be surprised to see a total of up to six Italians in the top 10 on the men's side with multiple Italian and European champions Bernard and Martin Dematteis also racing on Saturday. The depth and talent is going to make this edition one of the best and the Italian twins are looking to cap off another strong season.
Eritrea will be represented by Abraham Filimon who has had some solid results recently including a fourth place at the Hochfelln Berglauf in Bergen, Germany, last weekend.
Let's not forget the local Slovenian runners. They might be missing the Kosoveljs --Mateja and Mitja-- as well as Lucija Krkoc, but Miran Cvet has been running well recently and he will be wanting to nail a top-10 finish as well.
Baldaccini is looking pretty safe on the top of the men's World Cup rankings, but two runners who could move on to the podium are Austria's Simon Lechleitner and Bernard Dematteis. With the top-15 placed men and women receiving prize money, this year's World Cup will be the richest in the history of mountain running.
Good racing conditions are expected. The forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 17 C.
Jonathan Wyatt/WMRA (organisers) for the IAAF