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Debats and Hajnal sparkle at Istria 100 by UTMB®

The hotly-awaited 2022 UTMB® World Series, the world’s leading trail running circuit, got underway in rural Croatia this weekend with nearly 1,000 runners from 47 nations contesting five courses in the Istria 100 by UTMB®.

In a range of conditions that included rain, mist, wind, snow and even the odd clap of thunder, runners enjoyed classic courses in beautiful mountainous scenery in northwest Croatia, as they completed the first of 25 confirmed events in the 2022 UTMB® World Series calendar.

Among the standout performances were the winners in the longest challenge – the 168km Red Course – that saw 185 runners take the start. In the female category the 43-year-old Dutch runner, Ragna Debats, was in superb form as she finished more than 25 minutes ahead of Luzia Buehler of Switzerland with the Slovenian runner Barbara Jolič third.

Debats’ time was fast enough to place her fifth overall with Buehler sixth, a remarkable performance by both women in a field replete with a strong corps of Elite competitors as determined by the UTMB® Index.

“I’ve never won a 100-miler, so that was my main goal,” said a delighted Debats at the finish in the attractive Croatian coastal resort of Umag. “It wasn’t easy – there was a lot of wind higher up, then heat at the end and it was a real mixture of technical terrain. I felt strong from the beginning, and I think I ran at a consistent pace.“

Debats, the world championship trail running bronze medallist from 2016 and the 2019 CCC® winner at UTMB® Mont-Blanc, enjoyed the atmosphere at the first event in the new calendar. “I love trail running and for me, it’s been an opportunity to open up; I’m quite a timid person, but the trail world is very friendly,” she said.

In the men’s race, the Romanian Elite runner Robert Hajnal saw his pre-event preparation pay off handsomely as he completed the course with 6,515 metres of climbing in 18 hours, 26 minutes and 47 seconds. Hajnal walked slowly across the finish line, arms aloft, more than an hour ahead of second-placed Roberto Mastrotto of Italy, a former winner in Istria.

“I came out a few weeks ago to train, so I knew which sections I needed to keep a consistent pace, and where I could accelerate,” Hajnal said afterwards. “It felt like being part of UTMB® history to come first, and wear the first bib. My next UTMB® World Series race will be at La Sportiva Lavarado Ultra Trail by UTMB® in Cortina, Italy in less than two months, and I hope for as good a result!”

After receiving his winner’s medal at the official prize giving on Sunday, Hajnal was on hand to welcome the very last finisher of the 168-km, in a touching moment that summed up the camaraderie among athletes competing together from all over the world. “For anyone looking to get into trail running, it will change your life,” said Hajnal, who finished second at UTMB® Mont-Blanc in 2018. “Your life will be much more beautiful.”

On the Blue Course – a 128-km test with just over 5,000 metres of ascent that started in the rain in the village of Labin – the Dutch runner Peter Van der Zon was another convincing winner in a time of 13 hours, 34 minutes and 54 seconds. He finished nearly 50 minutes ahead of dead-heating second place finishers, the Canadian runners Galen Reynolds and Tomas Borcin.

“When I started the first uphill, I felt that the other guys weren’t as strong as I was,” said Ven der Zon. “Ten minutes in, I started to think ‘I can go for the win’…but you never know what can happen in 13 hours.” The Dutchman also enjoyed his first participation in Croatia’s biggest trail race.

“I love the trails here, and it wasn’t too hot today,” he explained. “But at the highest point, it was really cold and everyone put on their jackets…and then on the downhill there was snow.” Next up for Van der Zon are two 24-hour fun races before he takes on the mozart 100 by UTMB® in Salzburg in June.

Among other notable performers were Ildiko Wermescher of Hungary, the convincing winner in the female division on the Blue Course, and Latvian runner Anet Švilpe. She justified her pre-event status as among the favourites on the 68-km Green Course by winning with a margin of almost half an hour over fellow Latvian athlete Irita Pukite.

Marie Sammons, UTMB® World Series Sports and Regeneration Director, who was on hand to enjoy the first event of the new season, was delighted to see athletes from all over Europe and further afield enjoy the first ever UTMB® World Series event.

“It’s been a great weekend to launch the UTMB® World Series here in Istria,” she said. “I_stria 100 by UTMB® has really set the standard that we are looking to achieve across all our races and we welcomed a lot of Elite and international athletes, flying in from as far as Nepal, Canada and Peru.”_

All the finishers in Istria received ‘Running Stones,’ depending on the distance they ran. One ‘Running Stone’ equals one entry in the lottery to participate in the UTMB® World Series Finals, so the more a runner has, the better chance they have of securing a place in the Finals at UTMB® Mont-Blanc, 2023.

The top-three male and female winners in the 168-km at Istria were automatically awarded a place on the startline of the 2022 UTMB® Mont-Blanc, while the top-three in the 68-km race were awarded direct entry into OCC race of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc.

View the full Istria 100 by UTMB® results here.