Mathys honing in on a hat-trick of titles at home in Zermatt

Switzerland's Maude Mathys wins at the 2017 European Mountain Running Championships
European Athletics

Switzerland's Maude Mathys wins at the 2017 European Mountain Running Championships

On Sunday week, it will be exactly 154 years since Englishman Edward Whymper became the first climber to reach the top of the Matterhorn, the mountain in the Alps along the border between Switzerland and Italy.

This weekend - seven days earlier - being first will be the priority among 254 athletes when the Swiss village of Zermatt plays host to the European Mountain Running Championships on Sunday (7), the event taking place in the lower regions of the Matterhorn. 

This being an uneven year, it means the pursuit of glory will take place on a largely uphill course and one in which Maude Mathys, running for Switzerland, and Italians Xavier Chevrier and Martin Dematteis will be looking to write more of their own history.

It is the first time Switzerland has staged the event and should defending senior champion Mathys triumph again, she will join Austrian Andrea Mayr as the only female athlete to take the title three years in a row. Mayr’s hat-trick came between 2013, 2014 and 2015 and after Mathys' success in Kamnik, Slovenia two years ago, she followed that up with victory on an up-and-down course in Skopje last year. 

Mayr, who has won four titles in total at European level, is in the field as a challenger but Mathys has great strength especially on the uphill courses despite winning by four minutes on a different sort of course last year.

Beginning from Zermatt - which will also host the start of the men’s senior race over the same distance - the senior races are over 10.1km, with climbs of 1020 metres from a start of 1604 metres. The course includes just a 45-metre descent en route to the finish at Riffelberg at 2579 metres above sea level.

It is as much about speed as endurance and as Mathys said after her triumph last year: “I trained downhill for that race but I prefer uphill.” An ominous warning, even then to her rivals now and it will be interesting to see how they approach the race knowing how strong Mathys can be. 

A year ago on the up-and-down course, Mathys won in 52:32, a victory margin of more than four minutes from France’s Anais Sabrie, who was second in 56:41, with Great Britain’s Emma Gould (57:47) back in third. Both Sabrie, who led France to the senior women’s team, and Gould return in pursuit of the champion again.

It was some day in Skopje for Italy 12 months ago as Bernard Dematteis won the event for a third time at the helm of a clean sweep for his nation.

Italy has become a force at this men’s senior event after breaking the six-year dominance of Turkey’s Ahmet Arslan when Bernard won his first crown in 2013. He was champion again in 2014 with twin Martin taking the title in 2016, Chevrier in 2017 and then Bernard last year. 

Chevrier and Martin Dematteis were second and third respectively behind Bernard then, but the reigning champion is not back in a bid to retain his crown.

The Italians are joined in their squad by Nadir Cavagna, Cesare Maestri, Davide Magnini and Alberto Vender while the hosts will have big hopes for another Mathys – Christian, who was sixth last year and eighth in 2016 and is a four-times national champion.

One intriguing entrant is Romania’s 19-year-old Gabriel Bularda, the U20 champion in 2017 and 2018, who makes his debut in the senior race on Sunday.

The U20 races themselves will take place over 5.91km, starting higher up the mountain at Riffelalp, with a 448-metre ascent and 75-metre descent, and also finishing at Riffelberg. 

In the men’s event, Joseph Dugdale, who was second behind Bularda as he spearheaded Britain to team gold, returns and in the women’s U20 race, Angela Mattevi will be looking to successfully defend her crown which brought double gold in Skopje as Italy were teams champions too.

Live results here.