The Canfranc long race women's podium - Eva Mesado, winner Charlotte Morgan and Olivia Magnone (© World Mountain Running Association)
There was a huge amount of excitement for the first ever World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) World Cup race in Spain and Canfranc-Canfranc served up two races over the weekend. Firstly, the 45km race on Saturday (11) was the latest long mountain race in the series, while Sunday (12) featured a 16km classic mountain race.
The 45km race is renowned for being tough. It’s technical and rugged, with four climbs of between 250m and 1400m, and of course it’s one of the longest races in the World Cup.
The men's race featured Slovakia's Peter Frano, winner of Tatra SkyMarathon this year, and Spain's Raul Criado, who was third at Tatra SkyMarathon and was 12th here last year. Basque runner Ugaitz Artola was also hotly tipped. In the women’s starting line up were Britain's Charlotte Morgan, the 2018 WMRA long distance world champion currently lying third in the World Cup standings, while Spain's Eva Mesado, the 2020 runner-up here, and Olivia Magnone of France were also expected to be challenging for the podium.
As Covid restrictions were still in place at Canfranc the runners set off in small groups at one-minute intervals. These small gaps were soon to become bigger gaps as the first climb of 1400m kicked in. In the women’s race Morgan struck out into an early lead and by the top of the first climb at Moleta she was four minutes in front of Magnone, who in turn was two minutes ahead of Mesado. Similarly, in the men’s race it was Spain's Fran Naval who had a clear lead of three minutes over Frano, with Criado and Inigo Macias snapping at his heels, just 30 seconds behind.
One long descent and another big ascent (of 800m) and descent later, and by the 28km Candanchu checkpoint it was all change in the men’s race. Frano was now in the lead, but Criado was just 30 seconds behind. A gap of three minutes had opened back to Naval in third, with Macias another minute behind him. In the women’s race Morgan had really begun to stretch out a lead and she passed through Candanchu with a lead of 16 minutes over Magnone, with Mesado three minutes behind. It seemed unlikely that Morgan could be caught, but the men’s race could still go to any of the top four.
Who would we see running into the finish first? In the end it was Frano, who looked incredibly fresh and took the win in 5:38:16. Criado just couldn’t hang on to the second place he’d battled for and it was Macias who came in as runner-up in 5:42:48, with Criado completing the men’s podium in 5:43:23.
It was no surprise to see Morgan coming in to win the women’s race, though the cuts on her knee and face showed that it hadn’t been an easy final section. Her time was 6:38:09, which put her in eighth place overall. Magnone was second in 6:57:14 and Mesado third in 7:01:37, with a gap of over 10 minutes on fourth.
Murphy breaks course record and Martinez takes second win
The 16km event welcomed USA's 2019 world champion Grayson Murphy back for more European action, after her win at Trofeo Nasego and second place at Vertical Nasego last weekend. Also on the startline for the women were course record-holder Nadege Servant of France, Spain's Nuria Gil and Yolanda Martin.
In the men’s race all eyes were on 2020 winner Antonio Martinez of Spain, who would face strong competition from Sandor Szabo of Hungary and Spanish athletes Inigo Arantzamendi, Roger Comellas and Ion Sola. Also on the start for the men was Raul Criado, who was third in Saturday’s 45km race.
The runners were again set off in small groups at minute intervals. They would face one up and down over the 16km, but what a big up and down it was. It featured 1400m over the course of the first 6km to the summit of La Moleta, followed by a technical 10km descent down to the finish.
It was Szabo who hit the summit in the lead in the men’s race, with Daniel Castillo of Spain a minute behind and Martinez a minute behind him. It was all still very close, despite the long climb. In the women’s race there was a clear leader and that was Murphy. She hit La Moleta 10 minutes ahead of Gil and in fact was lying in fourth place in the race overall at that point. Servant was around 90 seconds behind Gil.
It looked unlikely that Murphy would be caught, but anything can happen on a 10km technical descent. In the men’s race it was Martinez who hit the final stretch (part of the famous Camino del Santiago) first and he took the win, his second consecutive one here, in 1:52:26. Szabo was a minute and a half behind in second place in 1:53:52, with Castillo taking third in 1:54:38.
All eyes were on the clock for Murphy’s arrival as it looked likely that the existing women’s course record of 2:08:18 was under threat. In fact Murphy broke the tape in an incredible 1:57:43, obliterating the previous mark and finishing fifth overall. The runner who set that record, Gil, took second in 2:15:28 and Servant was third in 2:17:16.
Kirsty Reade (WMRA) for World Athletics