Philemon Kiriago and Sophia Laukli have won the 50th edition of the Sierre-Zinal in the Swiss Canton of Valais.
31km long and with 2200m of elevation gain, this was a first triumph in the legendary European race for both runners, with Kilian Jornet and Maude Mathys- who have dominated the event in recent years- both not in attendance.
It left the field wide open for two new winners to be crowned with both the WMRA World Cup and Golden Trail World Series meeting at the legendary race, and it was the American Laukli and Kenyan Kiriago- who finished less than two minutes outside of Jornet’s record- who duly wrote their names in history as they beat out their rivals to top the podium.
Kiriago chases down Kipngeno
Along with his fellow Kenyan Patrick Kipngeno, Philemon Kiriago was one of the favourites to take the men’s crown in a Kilian Jornet-less race.
Both regulars on the WMRA World Cup circuit, Kipngeno was seeking to go one better than he did in 2022 and finally get his hands on the Sierre-Zinal title, and as the race began it seemed that the current WMRA Mountain Running World Cup champion might have been on his way to victory.
He led the field from the near get go- but Kiriago remained in touching distance throughout, around a minute behind his countryman.
That all changed between the checkpoints at Weisshorn (20km) and Barneuza (27km), between which the route hit its peak height of 2424m at Nava before beginning its descent down to the finish at Zinal.
It was there Kiriago made his move, bursting past Kipngeno and building a lead over the remaining few km to come into the finish as the winner with the clock on 2:27.27- the third fastest time ever. Kipngeno was 1.22 back, runner-up once more.
Behind them came Kevin Kibet, who finished on 2:34.16. He had been third for the majority of the race, but held off a surge from Sylvain Cachard to hold on to the final Sierre-Zinal podium spot by just five seconds.
Laukli first US winner since 2014
It was a Golden Trail World Series regular who triumphed in the women’s race, with the US runner Sophia Laukli leading for around half the race to claim the country’s first win at Sierre-Zinal since 2014.
First in the Marathon du Mont Blanc and second in the Dolomyths Run, Laukli added the Sierre-Zinal title to her growing roster of impressive 2023 GTWS results with, in the end, comfortable ease.
It didn’t always look like that was going to be the case- Laukli was part of a handful of the elite runners who broke away from the field from the very start, but as others dropped off it was clear Laukli would be part of a title-contending group which also featured current WMRA Mountain Running World Cup champion Joyce Njeru and Philaries Jeruto Kisang.
But from the Tignousa checkpoint (16km), Laukli began to move up the gears. Split by split she increased her time on her opponents, and by the time she reached Zinal as champion she was was 4.02 ahead of runner-up Njeru, the winning time 2:53.17. Behind them came Kisang in third, finishing with 3:01.06 on the clock.
Laukli was the first US runner to top either Sierre-Zinal field since 2014, when Stevie Kremer also won the women’s race in the 41st edition.
2023 Sierre-Zinal results
2023 Sierre-Zinal results men’s race
1. Philemon Kiriago (KEN), 2:27.27
2. Patrick Kipngeno (KEN), 2:28.50
3. Kevin Kibet, 2:34.16
2023 Sierre-Zinal results women’s race
1. Sophia Laukli (USA), 2:53.17
2. Joyce Njeru (KEN), 2:57.19
3. Philaries Jeruto Kisang (KEN), 3:01.06