Trofeo Vanoni, Mountain Runnings version of ‘la Classica Delle Foglie Morte’. A fitting event to end what has been an exciting year of Mountain Running. Ross Gollan shares his experience of the iconic relay event.

Location, Location, Location

Once again this September, a stellar international field descended on the small town of Morbegno in Valtellina, ready to race around the famous cobbled circuit.

Lying between the sparkling waters of Lake Como and the high mountain passes of Livigno, Morbegno is an attractive host town to a race that has been taking place in various formats for over 60 years.

The author Ross Gollan doing his best Bruce Lee impression on the famous step. Photo: Angela Testa Exelio/Fabio Vedovatti

A Race Route Like No Other

The race takes place around a circuit consisting of punchy climbs, with sustained gradients of over 25%, leg sapping switchbacks and a technical descent that twists down cobbled single track before finishing in the heart of Morbegno.

The race is run as a relay with the women’s course taking place on a 5km circuit with 250m of climbing with the men running a slightly longer route with 440m of climbing.

The course is special but the ‘Tifosi’ are what make this race a must do for any Mountain Runner. Hundreds of fans line the course, their support deafening competitors as they are urged on with shouts of ‘forza, vai and allez’.

The women have only been able to run a relay format at Trofeo Vanoni once every 3 years but as of 2023 the relay is to become a permanent fixture. It would be great to see the women get to race in a team of three and on the same route as the men in the near future.

Photo: Roberto Ganassa

The Main Protagonists

The 2023 Vanoni Feminale showcased the strength of British and Irish athletes with a number of teams featuring in the top 10 overall.

Irish Mountain Running superstar Sarah McCormack holds the course record and lead the charge for the Irish, setting the fastest lap time ahead of local hero Elisa Sortini and setting up a battle royale between the Irish team and local favourites Alta Valtellina and Recastello going into the final leg.

Alta Valtellina came home victorious in a tight battle that saw the Irish duo anchored by Aine Gosling hold on for a well earned third place. The Scottish team of Alice Goodall and Catriona MacDonald stormed through to take fourth closely followed by the strong Yr Wydfa team pairing of Helen Leigh and Caroline Lambert in sixth.

In the men’s race the French were too strong yet again and added to their impressive run of wins. The ephemeral Manu Meyssat produced another sub 30 minute performance to break the finish tape.

There was a similar story of success for the home nations with 2023 Scottish masters athlete of the year nominee Andrew Douglas running the third fastest time of the day helping secure second place for the GB team completed by Matt Knowles and Ross Gollan.

The Yr Wydfa team finished just outside the podium places in 4th with Ben Rothery setting a blistering pace to take the prize for fastest descent. A youthful Scotland team secured an excellent 9th place finish just ahead of Wales in 11th and Ireland in 13th.

Post Race Reaction

Some of the British and Irish contingent took the time to talk to Fast Running about their experience at the 2023 Trofeo Vanoni.

Helen Leigh had this to say about her Vanoni debut; ‘My first time racing Trofeo Vanoni and what an experience. It feels like the whole town is cheering for you, on the fast and furious course. Already planning my trip back next year!’

Uphill specialist Zak Hannah, a regular on the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup circuit can’t wait to come back again; ‘Absolutely class as always, the Morbegno community welcomes everyone with open arms, the racing spirit and camaraderie amongst competitors makes it a classic that every runner should experience.’

A huge thanks to the organisation (notably Cristina Speciale) and the supporters out on course for making the 2023 Trofeo Vanoni extra special.