Kitamura and vadovicova run for the atm points lead at vjm


After a break of five weeks since Ultimate Tsaigu, the 2019 Asia Trail Master Championship returns to action in Vietnam this Saturday. The 3rd edition of the Vietnam Jungle Marathon offers a fantastic 70km course in and around the Pu Luong Nature Reserve, roughly 120km south of country capital Hanoi. Initially still dubbed the “little sis” of the famous Vietnam Mountain Marathon in September, VJM has matured over three years into a solid event in itself with a very competitive, international and experienced field of runners for the main 70k race. 

Vietnam is, alongside Thailand, the South East Asian country where mass participation outdoor sports has seen tremendous growth in the last two years. Only two months ago, runners were delightfully stunned by the Dalat Ultra Trail in the south of Vietnam with close to 4000 event participants. That event has put trail running firmly on the map in the south, just as VMM did in the north a few years back. Driving force and race director of VMM and this weekend’s VJM is Britain’s David Lloyd, who has been doing incredible work for the development of (trail) running, MTB and road cycling in Vietnam based out of Sapa and Hanoi. A detailed interview with David by our team at VJM this weekend will be uploaded in the next few days and will make for interesting listening.

Picking winners for VJM’s 70k points race is hard. Plenty of known talent at the start, along with several very interesting newcomers to the ATM series. Let’s begin with the obvious: both Hisashi Kitamura and Veronika Vadovicova get an outstanding chance to claim the lead in the championship rankings. In-form Kitamura needs only 110 points to jump ahead of John Ellis, and unbeaten Vadovicova requires 355 points to overtake Carrie Jane Stander, or in other words a top 5 race finish in Pu Luong. Kind reminder: only a runner’s best five results are taken into account for the championship ranking. This will be Kitamura’s fifth race already, and Vadovicova’s fourth. 

The Japanese runner, who has made an incredible leap in performance since he entered the trail scene at 9 Dragons early last year, is a big favourite to win VJM and his first ATM points race as well. After numerous second places, third places and other places of honour, it would also be well-earned for the motivated Uglow runner. This Saturday he will be up against a local hero who last September also pushed him into second at VMM: Hung Hai. Still little known outside his native country, Hung Hai is fast and has no issues with heat & humidity, a problem for several athletes at this event. At VMM over 100km, the gap between the Vietnamese and the Japanese was 18 minutes. Kitamura is stronger now than then, but reports claim that Hung Hai has certainly not become slower neither! 

When two dogs fight for the bait, a third may sneak away with it. At VJM, that is certainly a possibility with the likes of Tomohiro Mizukoshi, Ander Iza Rekakoetxea and David Longo also on the start list. Manila-based Spaniard Ander Iza Rekakoetxea led our championship standings early on in the season after great performances in 9 Dragons (3rd on 50 miles) and Cordillera Mountain Ultra (4th - ahead of Kitamura and Ellis). An upset stomach and infection forced him to quit early in Dalat, but now he is fully recovered and ready to try and claim his first ATM win of the season and edge closer to the top of the ranking again. The story of Mizukoshi is a little similar. After a massive 2018 season, topped by a win in Bali and a third place in the championship, the sympathetic Japanese runner began well again with third place in Tahura Trail, until injury forced him to the sidelines. He returned in Sungai Menyala but clearly not yet in the best form. Now we are seven weeks later. Given Tomohiro Mizukoshi won a super hot 70k in Bali last October against a stellar field, the climatic conditions at VJM should not bother him as much as it does perhaps for other North Asians. 

Other known podium candidates are Quang Nguyen, Thanh Lam Nguyen, Julien Petit, Sam McGrath - who was excellent in Sungai Menyala in Malaysia a month ago -, Vincent Casanova and Sergei Schlasev. 

Moving on with the women’s 70k race. Shanghai-based Slovakian Veronika Vadovica has been so overwhelming in all her races this season - three big wins -  that it is amazing not everyone is convinced she will also grab the race victory at VJM. The reason is the presence of Vanya Cnobs, a Belgian runner living in Singapore. Known to be extremely quick on the short distance and on the road, Cnobs is making moves into longer trails and VJM 70 will be a first big test for her competitively speaking. There are several dark horses in the women’s race as well. Also from Singapore, Evelyn Lek won VMM 100 and TMMT 100 last year and that says plenty enough. Hong Kong’s Filipino runner Fredlyn Alberto of Team T8  is very motivated to do well in her third ATM points race so far this year. Alberto was third on the 50/50 of 9 Dragons and fifth at CMU. Malaysia’s Siokhar Lim is not afraid of heat and technical trails. She won V Trail in Laos and scored 2nd on the Penang 100k last season, which she finished as fifth in the ATM Championship.  Another podium candidate is France’s Nathalie Cochet, and will we see the emergence of a local female star as well?

ATM will be reporting live from VJM - connectivity permitting - all day on Saturday from the start at 4 am. 

Kris Van de Velde