Leading Moroccan trail athlete, Elhousine ‘Hassan’ Elazzaoui, raced to a superb victory in the Golden Trail Series Grand Final, in the northern Italian town of Noli over the weekend (22 October 2023) while Romanian newcomer to the sport, Madalina Florea, held off top Swiss athlete, Judith Wyder, to race to victory in the women’s competition.
Over a testing 26.37km course, with 1460m of vertical climbing, Elazzaoui took out his frustrations on the American immigration restrictions by leading an African clean-sweep of the medals, shutting out the European athletes for the first time in the event’s history. Kenyans Philemon Kiriago and Patrick Kipngeno took the runners-up positions.
“This is a one, two, three for Africa! This is just what European trail athletes have been fearing…” shouted British commentator, David Hellard at the finish.
Just 16 seconds separated Florea and Wyder in a white-knuckle final sector, with American Sophia Lauklia, four minutes back in third, doing enough to clinch the overall series title by the narrowest of margins ahead of Wyder.
Swiss athlete, Remi Bonnet, has challenged strongly for the overall series title over the past five years and finally made it to number one following his fourth place at Noli and GTWS 2023 race wins at Marathon du Mont Blanc and the two American races, Pikes Peak and Mammoth.
In last year’s final, Elazzaoui needed to beat his good friend, French athlete Thibault Baronian, by two positions to clinch overall second place in the series and he paired up with Eritrean, Petro Mamu, in the last 5km to drop Baronian and finish second behind Bonnet.
This year Elazzaoui achieved his first GTWS win at the Dolomyths in Italy and then raced to an impressive victory in the final, the Africans relegating Bonnet to fourth.
But Elazzaoui’s failure to secure a visa to travel to the USA in time extinguished his chances to take victory in the overall Golden Trail World Series, as he was unable to compete in the final two races, Pikes Peak and Mammoth, both won by Bonnet.
“The final in Italy was a really tough and strategic race,” Elazzaoui said. “Everyone encouraged me to get first place and I did. I am very happy with this achievement.
“I feel honored and proud because I won two races in a row. It was really the last chance for me to earn series points as I missed the races in America. I was disappointed as I felt that had I participated in America, I would likely have won the series.
“But it’s great to finish my season well and I will now take some time off to return to my family in Morocco desert and helping with doing some guided tours.”
Elazzaoui started cautiously, running in 6th place through the first loop before moving up to fourth behind Bonnet and then third at the end of the first lap.
Kiriago moved ahead in the second lap, and had built a 24 second lead going into the third lap, but ‘The Flying Camel’, as Elazzaoui is known in racing parlance, took over on the final climb 2km from the finish, racing clear on the descent past an ancient castle to take the tape in triumph.
Kiriago had led for most of the race but was happy to concede victory to the Moroccan. “I can’t be disappointed to be beaten by such an incredible athlete,” the Kenyan remarked. “He was better than me, that’s all!
“My legs were in great shape today so I could really enjoy it all, the climbs, the flat and the downhill. My aim was to be in the top 5, so I’m immensely satisfied with 2nd place. I can’t wait for next year!”
Romanian athlete, Florea, made her attack right from the climb on the second loop to open a gap of almost 1 min 30 sec on her rivals. The gap proved enough despite Judith Wyder’s storming resurgence in the last part of the race.
“I can’t believe it,” declared Madalina Florea at the finish line. “I keep thinking it’s a dream and that I’m going to wake up! I took the lead on the second loop and put the gas on. I felt really great today and stayed focused right to the end. I’m really happy!”
Second across the finish line, Wyder, kept up the suspense to the finish. “She was very powerful on the climbs,” said Wyder. “But I’d kept some in reserve to catch up on the shorter last loop. I was so close, but she was stronger.”
American Sophia Laukli took third place, just enough to clinch the series title. She ended with the same number of points as Wyder, but had one victory more than the Swiss athlete, sufficient to win the Golden Trail World Series 2023!
Results: Golden Trail World Series Final
1 Elhousine Elazzaoui (Mar) 1:56:15; 2 Philemon Kiriago (Ken) 1:56:30; 3 Patrick Kipngeno (Ken) 1:57:15; 4 Remi Bonnet (Switz) 1:59:37; 5 Eli Hemming (USA) 2:03:45; 6 Matthias Kyburz (Switz) 2:04:20; 7 Gontzal Murgomo (Spain) 2:04:27; 8 Luca del Pero (Italy) 2:04:27; 9 Alberto Vadillo (Spain) 2:04:28; 10 Thomas Roach (GB) 2:04:36
1 Madalina Florea (Rom) 2:18:05; 2 Judith Wyder (Switz) 2:18:21; 3 Sophia Laukli (USA) 2:22:25; 4 Miao Yao (China) 2:27:15; 5 Malen Osa (Spain) 2:28:19; 6 Julia Font (Spain) 2:29:40; 7 Sara Alfonso (Spain) 2:29:47; 8 Elise Poncet (France) 2:30:36; 9 Alice Gaggi (Italy) 2:31:58; 10 Eef van Dongen (Sweden) 2:33:10