A thrillingly close race for the women and a display of front running for the men at La Montée du Nid d’Aigle.

La Montee du Nid d’Aigle provided the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup’s third classic mountain race for 2023 and our next gold label event. This was the event’s third inclusion in the World Cup and it seems that each year the field gets deeper.

Last year’s epic race saw both the men’s and women’s course records broken, by Patrick Kipngeno and Joyce Njeru (both of Kenya), and both were on the start line again this year.

But the line-up was so good again this year, with athletes who have done well here before rubbing shoulders with those racing it for the first time but riding high in this year’s World Cup, that we knew we were in for an exciting race.

A perfect day for running up a mountain

The conditions were perfect for running, with cool temperatures of around 15 degrees at the start and an overcast sky.

The course is a relentlessly uphill one, starting at Le Fayet at 596m and climbing all the way up to the finish, which would usually be at Refuge du Nid d’Aigle at 2394m, but this year the course was changed slightly for construction work so the finish was at the ski station below it.

This 2000m climb takes over the course of 19.5km in length. The course offers a mix of river trail, tree-covered trail and then open mountain tracks, where the moderate temperatures would be a blessing today. Though the only downside to the overcast conditions was that the glacier wasn’t visible to the runners or spectators.

The locals from Saint Gervais turn out in huge numbers to volunteer for and support this race and as such it is a huge part of the town’s history. Today marked the 36th edition, making it one of the oldest mountain running races in France.

We had both winners from 2022 on the starting line, but they were both facing fiercely competitive fields if they wanted to retain their titles. There were any number of athletes in both fields capable of making the podium.

Photo: Marco Gulberti

Women’s race

While Njeru was coming into the race as the favourite, the fact that Philaries Kisang (KEN) was also on the start line set up an interesting duel. With two third places at last weekend’s Fletta Trail and Piz Tri Vertical, combined with a second place at the World Championships in the vertical uphill race, we knew that she could pose the biggest threat to Njeru retaining her title here.

But with a start list that also included Camilla Magliano (ITA), who was third here last year, former winner Lucy Murigi (KEN), last year’s runner-up Blandine L’Hirondel (FRA), Susanna Saapunki (FIN) and Sarah Carter (USA), to name just a few, the podium was wide open.

Excitingly, Njeru and Kisang were neck-and-neck almost the whole race. Coming up to the timing point at the 12km point it was Kisang who just edged it, with a small lead of just 11 seconds over Njeru. At that point Saapunki was two and a half minutes behind them in third, with Murigi 90 seconds further back, then another 90 seconds to L’Hirondel. But we knew this could all change over the second half of the race.

In a nail-bitingly close finish it was Njeru who came out on top (in 2.06.28), beating Kisang by just 5 seconds! Afterwards Njeru said she ‘just managed’ the win and praised the people of Saint Gervais and the beautiful course. Saapunki managed to maintain her third place in 2.10.42 and in fact Murigi and L’Hirondel’s positions also remained the same to take fourth and fifth respectively.

Kirsty Dickson finished 12th with Virginia Hourihane of Ireland also inside the top 20 in 19th.

Photo: Marco Gulberti

Men’s race

In the men’s race we also saw the 2022 winner, Kipngeno, back again but the event also welcomed last year’s men’s runner-up, Philemon Kiriago (KEN) back, hot on the heels of his win at Fletta Trail last weekend. But in an absolutely stacked field, this was a wide open men’s race.

Stian Angermund (NOR) was a late confirmation to the race, adding more depth to the field alongside Xavier Chevrier (ITA), 10th at the classic mountain race at the World Championships, Andrea Rostan (ITA), winner of the Broken Arrow VK and fourth at Piz Tri Vertical, Joe Steward (GBR), third at last weekend’s Piz Tri Vertical, Timothy Kirui (KEN) and Alex Baldaccini (ITA).

The men’s race was quite different to the women’s in that Kipngeno opened a lead early on. By the timing point he had stretched out a lead of 2.20 over Kiriago in second. At the point it was an all-Kenyan top three with Kirui sitting 80 seconds behind Kiriago. But Chevrier and Angermund were right on Kirui’s heels and the main battle looked for third in the race.

It was no surprise to see Kipngeno emerge from the final climb with a clear lead and he took the win in 1.46.44. Kiriago also managed to keep hold of his second place, finishing just over two minutes behind, in 1.48.47. Eventually it was Chevrier who won the hotly contested third place on the podium in 1.51.11. Angermund was fourth and Theodore Klein (FRA) fifth.

The best of the Brits were Joe Steward in 7th, Jacob Adkin in 7th and Tom Wood in 32nd.

La Montee du Nid d’Aigle is a race that sums up everything the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup stands for, with a local community all getting behind it, a rich history, a jaw-droppingly beautiful mountain backdrop and a testing course. And of course it delivered exciting racing, which will shake up the World Cup rankings.

Women’s top 5

Joyce Njeru (KEN) 2.06.28
Philaries Kisang (KEN) 2.06.33
Susanna Saapunki (FIN) 2.10.42
Lucy Murigi (KEN) 2.13.28
Blandine L’Hirondel (FRA) 2.14.18

Men’s top 5

Patrick Kipngeno (KEN) 1.46.44
Philemon Kiriago (KEN) 1.48.47
Xavier Chevrier (ITA) 1.51.11
Stian Angermund (NOR) 1.51.52
Theodore Klein (FRA) 1.54.54

Full results here: Montée du Nid d’Aigle 2023 (l-chrono.com)

World Cup rankings*

The points won here have shaken up the World Cup rankings somewhat. For the women Njeru, who was joint leader with Scout Adkin, has now stretched out a lead on her own with 160 points. Adkin is now second but Kisang jumps up from sixth to third now with 100 points. Murigi adds to her tally but because she has been leapfrogged by Kisang, she is now in sixth with 85 points.

For the men Kiriago has stretched out his lead and now has 130 points. Kipngeno jumps up to second with a total of 100 and Rostan is now third with 88 points. Other changes are that Steward and Baldaccini jump up to joint fifth (with Filemon Abraham) and sixth respectively.

Where next?

After a break of a few weeks our next gold label event in the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup will be at Sierre-Zinal on 12th August. This is one of the oldest and most competitive of the European mountain races and there will be extensive coverage of the race itself. Certainly one to add to your bucket list.