African runners campaign for 2021 Golden Trail

Hassan Elazzaoui - preparing from his Swiss base in Lugano. Photo: courtesy Elhousine Elazzaoui
Hassan Elazzaoui – preparing from his Swiss base in Lugano. Photo: courtesy Elhousine Elazzaoui

By Stephen Granger

Africa’s leading marathon-distance trail athlete, Elhousine ‘Hassan’ Elazzaoui, ends his campaign to qualify for the Golden Trail World Series (GTWS) grand-final at the sixth and final GTWS race in the French Basque centre of Ascain over the weekend.

Following the French season climax, the top eleven men and women athletes on the GTWS table will earn expenses-paid trips to the Grand Final in El Hierro in the Canary Islands, in addition to benefiting from substantial prize money at stake. Elazzaoui is currently on the cusp in 11th position on the table and a solid performance at the Skyrhune Race (21km with 1700m of vertical ascent) is likely to ensure his place amongst the world elite.

In reality, the diminutive Moroccan, who accumulated his early aerobic fitness assisting his grandfather in plying his camel train in the Sahara Desert, should be a shoo-in for the final, as his 11th position comes from just two of the three potential qualifying races.

Hassan Elazzaoui winning the Swiss Alpine Marathon earlier this year. Photo: courtesy Elhousine Elazzaoui

Elazzaoui placed second in the Dolomyths in Italy in July and fifth in the last GTWS race in Chiemgau in Germany to give himself a fighting chance to make the Grand Final following two ‘DNFs’ at Mont Blanc in June and Sierre-Zinal in August.

The shorter distance at lower altitude this weekend should suit Elazzaoui who only needs to make sure of a finish in the top fifteen to clinch his golden ticket.  But in the absence of series leader, Stian Angermund, Elazzaoui could do a whole lot better than that and his speed and agility could conceivably take him to his first Golden Series victory.

GTWS series leader Stian Angermund (Norway) with Elhousine Elazzaoui at the finish of last year’s Golden Trail Series. Photo: Stephen Granger

“It looks like conditions are ready for a beautiful  day with good weather predicted for this weekend’s race,” Elazzaoui said from the race hub in Ascain. The organisation here has been of the highest order and the level of runners impressive. There is great competition between the athletes who need to get points in order to qualify for the final and this is really so much fun.

“The race will be certainly be quick and fast and I think the race profile and course are suited to my strengths. So, inchallah, this will be a good race for me and hopefully not any bad surprises!

“This year the final in the Canary Islands is just facing my country Morocco. There the weather will likely be favourable for me. Inchallah, I qualify with a good result so I will be able to go to the final just near my warm continent Africa.”

Elhousine Ellazzaoui (left), second at Dolomyths with winner Stian Angermund of Norway and third-placed Joey Hadorn of Switzerland. Photo: Martina Valmasso

Elazzaoui is currently on 141 points from just two races, with Polish athlete Marcin Rzeszotko in 12th place 15 points adrift.  But the potential danger for the Moroccan lies with strong athletes of the calibre of Frederic Tranchand of France, Stephan Wenk of Switzerland and Jan Margarit of Spain who lurk several places back but who are capable of podium finishes and moving up the table, given the double points on offer for the final league race.

Toni McCann on her way to victory in Gruyere, Switzerland, in July. Photo: Courtesy Toni McCann

The other African interest in international trail racing this weekend lies in the Spanish centre of Biscay, just over 120km west of Ascain, where Toni McCann lines up in the Gorbeia Suzien Sky Race over 31km and 2400m of vertical ascent in her final race in Europe before returning to race the Cape Town Trail Marathon next month. Following a solid performance at the UTMB OCC in August, McCann will be looking for a strong finish to her tour in the beautiful Natural Park of Gorbeia.