Banchory’s Great Britain international Robbie Simpson is unlikely to be shaking the hand of Eritrean Pedro Mamu at the finish of tomorrow’s Sierre-Zinal run.
The Swiss race, unquestionably one of the most prestigious events on the European mountain running circuit, has attracted a stellar, world-class field of 5,000 competitors from 51 countries.
It’s held over a stunning 31km route, which includes 2,200m of climbing and 800m of descent within the shadow of five 4,000m-high mountain peaks.
Simpson has been runner-up for each of the past three years. He was also fifth in 2013 and 2014, and 35th in 2011.
The Deeside runner came the closest to victory in 2016 when he led with less than 1km to go before suffering from cramp.
Mamu then stormed past the beleaguered Scot and went on to win by 33 seconds.
The following year Mamu was banned from athletics after twice falling foul of drugs testing procedures leaving Simpson to ponder over whether he had been unfairly beaten by the Eritrean.
Mamu is back on the scene and will compete tomorrow but Simpson is more concerned about a number of other top-quality opponents, including the remarkable Spaniard Kilian Jornet, who has won the race a record six times over the past decade.
Simpson said: “Kilian is targeting the race more seriously to try to break the course record.
“So far he’s won the race more times than anyone else but he has still been a few minutes slower than the record so I don’t think he’s satisfied.
“It’s probably the most prestigious non-ultra distance mountain-trail race in Europe so it is always a target for him.
“From what I have heard he has done a lot more flat training sessions so he can run the faster parts of the course better.
“He’s also raced very little this year so should be fresh for it.
“It will be a really tough race as there are some strong uphill runners who could push the race from the start and split up the field.
“If Kilian wants to break the record he’ll have to start much quicker than normal and that might affect him later in the race. There are a few other guys who might push him all the way and usually some people struggle in the final 10km if they’ve started too hard or if they don’t like downhill.
“My best plan is to stay within reach of the leaders on the climb but save my legs for the faster parts of the course where I can run well then hopefully come through the field.
“If I start too hard then it’ll be difficult to maintain it but I also need to take some risks early on to have a chance of improving on previous years.
“I’m very happy with how my preparations have gone and that I’ve kept my race schedule a bit lighter to hopefully get the best out of myself on the day.
“The competition is even stronger than in previous years so it will be even harder to be in the top few positions – although, after so many attempts, I probably know the course better than most, which is an advantage.”
Simpson has identified American Jim Walmsley and Italian Davide Magnini as other dangermen.
He also tips his Scotland and Great Britain team-mates Andy Douglas and Jacob Adkin to do well.
Simpson said: “Last year they were both top 10 and can definitely run faster this time.
“The first climb will suit Jacob well so I think he will be comfortable running with the leaders and will be involved in the front of the race from early on.
“Andy has also been in great form and ran one of the quickest splits for the second half of the course last year.”