San­des bags the big one as he wins West­ern States

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

THIRTY-five-year old Hout Bay trail ath­lete, Ryan San­des, ran the race of his life to win the West­ern States 100 miler in Cal­i­for­nia over the week­end.

San­des won by 29 min­utes ahead of Amer­i­can Alex Ni­cholls in 16 hours, 19 min­utes and 38 sec­onds to go one bet­ter than his run­ners-up berth in 2012.

Amer­i­can Cat Bradley (23) was the sur­prise win­ner of the women’s race in 19:31:30 af­ter Com­rades win­ner, Camille Her­ron, dropped out in the early stages.

To­gether with the Ul­tra Trail Mont Blanc 175km race in Europe, the West­ern States is re­garded as the pin­na­cle of ul­tra-trail run­ning and its tro­phy one of the most sought af­ter in the sport.

Since its ori­gin in 1974, the 163km route be­tween the Cal­i­for­nian towns of Squaw Val­ley and Auburn, has be­come re­garded as one of the world’s ul­ti­mate tests of en­durance.

Apart from the chal­lenges of the ter­rain and the 5 480m of as­cent and 7 010m of de­scent, the el­e­ments play a crit­i­cal part in the out­come of the race and this year was no ex­cep­tion.

Com­peti­tors had to cope with slip­pery snow and ice for the first 50km, and then toiled as tem­per­a­tures spiked close to 40 de­grees cel­sius in the sec­ond half of the race in the val­leys and canyons.

And ul­ti­mately, it was San­des’ ex­pe­ri­ence of rac­ing un­der the tough­est con­di­tions in the world’s deserts, icy waste­lands and Ama­zon forests, which proved the dif­fer­ence yes­ter­day, as his ri­vals strug­gled to over­come the test­ing con­di­tions.

“For me West­ern States is my dream race to win,” ad­mit­ted San­des af­ter the fin­ish. “It couldn’t be bet­ter. I’m here with my wife , my baby, my mom and some good friends. It’s cer­tainly one of the great­est days in my life.

“But I was com­pletely bro­ken – that was one of the hard­est things I’ve ever done. I just wanted to col­lapse and sleep on the field at the fin­ish, but some­how Vanessa dragged me back to our flat. I think I’ll sleep well now.”

Times for the elite ath­letes were about an hour slower than in re­cent years, tes­ti­mony to the chal­leng­ing con­di­tions.

Strong favourite for the race, Jim Walm­s­ley, who has been best­ing ul­tra-trail records over the world and had promised to do so at West­ern States, went out fast to take an early lead, at one stage run­ning an hour ahead of San­des.

He was re­duced to a crawl in the fi­nal quar­ter and was pow­er­less to re­spond as San­des took the lead with 40km to go.

“I was close to ex­haus­tion, but got a spark when I over­took Jim,” San­des ex­plained.

“We had a quick chat, but then I put my foot down and quickly opened a gap. But 5km later at the river cross­ing I felt ab­so­lutely bro­ken and ex­pected Alex (Ni­cholls) to catch me.”

An un­usual rul­ing, which al­lows com­peti­tors to be ac­com­pa­nied by a sec­ond­ing run­ner over the fi­nal 50km, proved a bless­ing to San­des as his close friend, Ryno Gries­sel, joined him for the lat­ter stages.

“Ryno made me dig deep and set a mean pace.

“It made a big dif­fer­ence and some­how I held on to the fin­ish,” said San­des.

“I had started the race with Jim and asked him if he was go­ing for a sub-14 hour time and he said ‘yeah’.

“I knew that would be sui­cide in the con­di­tions we were fac­ing, so held back in the ear­lier stages. But all credit to him for stick­ing to his guns and giv­ing it a full go.”

San­des was in fifth place af­ter the first 25km but had moved up into sec­ond at Dun­can Canyon at 40km, 30 min­utes be­hind Walm­s­ley and a minute clear of the Swedish pair, Jonas Buud and Elov Ols­son.

San­des was never over­taken, but the gap to the run­away leader grew to an hour shortly af­ter half way at Michi­gan Bluff be­fore grad­u­ally clos­ing as Walm­s­ley tired.

The South African still trailed by 40 min­utes with 40km to go, but swept past his ri­val just 15km later to race to a mem­o­rable vic­tory.

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