McLaughlin, Kowalczyk, and Laukli Shine in Golden Trail World Series Grand Final
Rémi Bonnet and Nienke Brinkman win the five-stage GTWS championship and overall season titles
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To know Allie McLaughlin is to know the many faces of a trail runner widely known as Allie Mac. The On-sponsored Colorado Springs runner is a videographer, skydiver, motorcycle fanatic, T-shirt designer, a van life enthusiast, and a dog mom to her year-old golden retriever, Harley Quinn, named after the DC Comics character who happens to also be McLaughlin’s alter ego.
Racing in the last stage of the Golden Trail World Series Grand Final on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, McLaughlin celebrated her 32nd birthday and Halloween by racing as an Americanized version of Harley Quinn. Complete with red and blue lipstick, red-and-blue eyeshadow, and red-and-blue ribbons in her hair, plus a small black heart painted adjacent to her right eye and an all-black On racing kit, McLaughlin nailed both the character as well as the 30.5K race up a mountain and back down to the sea.
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The race started in the mountain village of Monte and sent runners up a steep, lung-burning 14K (8.7-mile) climb up and over 5,964-foot Pico do Areeiro. From there, runners reversed their course and descended 16.9K (10.5 miles) back through Monte and down to the seaside city of Funchal.
As one of the best uphill runners in the world, McLaughlin went out fast, so fast that she was nipping at the heels of some of the top men in the lead pack. In doing so, she gapped the rest of the world-class women in pursuit — including Dutch runner Nienke Brinkman and fellow Americans Bailey Kowalczyk and Sophia Laukli of Team Salomon.
Although McLaughlin had to eventually back off this aggressive pace, her strong surge uphill broke the race wide open. She won the climbing prize premium section by a 34-second margin over Brinkman, but didn’t let up. (Each stage included bonus money for climbing, descending, and sprint segments, similar to “premium” sections in elite cycling races.) She had the third-fastest split in the downhill premium segment and went on to win the race in 2:39:34 with a 7-minute margin over Brinkman.
“It’s true. I set off at a ‘fun pace’ – some would say a hard pace – I was with a group of guys in the climb, but I couldn’t keep up with them,” McLaughlin said.“I felt great, even if I think I pushed it a bit too hard, especially as there was still a way to go in the downhill. I was told that Nienke couldn’t catch me, but I didn’t believe it so I gave it all I had until the finish line.”
McLaughlin, who later sported a costume of the “Fight Club” femme fatale protagonist Marla Singer on an off-day from racing, helped close out the five-day Golden Trail World Series Grand Final in style, in a similar fashion to that of Swiss runner Rémi Bonnet, who was the men’s stage winner in 2:20:05, after a robust initial climb of his own.
After Brinkman finished second in 2:46:42, French runner Julie Roux took third (2:50:55) after a fast downhill effort that helped her outrun Kowalczyk (4th, 2:51:31) and Laukli (5th, 2:52:52) to the finish. Each athlete entered the five-stage championship event with the points earned from their best three race finishes in the six qualifying races around the world between April and September—Zegama-Aizkorri Alpine Marathon, Mont-Blanc Marathon, Sierre-Zinal, Stranda Fjord Trail Race, Pikes Peak Ascent, and the Flagstaff Sky Peaks Race.
Each of the stages of the GTWS Grand Final were held on a different part of Madeira Island, ranging between 24.5K (15 miles) and 30.5K (19 miles), except the third stage staggered-start 6K (3.7-mile) time trial race. Athletes could race as many stages as they desired—as few as one or all five—to boost their point total in the final season standings, but only runners who competed in all five days could earn a ranking for the GTWS Grand Final championships standings.
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Bonnet and Brinkman, who each raced every single stage of the Grand Final, sealed the overall GTWS season titles after the 26.2K (16-mile) fourth stage the day before, but put in strong efforts in the final stage to win the five-day Grand Final titles, too.
Bonnet, 27, earned the men’s overall championship with consistent finishes and wins at the Pikes Peak Ascent and the Flagstaff Sky Peaks Race. Brinkmann, 29, won the women’s GTWS overall title—and the Zegama-Aizkorri Alpine Marathon, Pikes Peak Ascent and Flagstaff Sky Peaks Race—in the same year she earned a bronze medal in the marathon at the mid-August European Championships and set a new personal best of 2:22:51 at the April 10 Rotterdam Marathon.
“I’m wrecked,” Brinkmann said at the finish line. “I’m really pleased with this week. I gave everything I had and now I need a break. But I really wanted to do all the stages, even though I had already won the GTWS with the fourth stage result.”
McLaughlin, who only raced in the first, third, and fifth stages of the Grand Final, won the opening 24.5K (15-mile) stage race over Brinkman and then finished second to Brinkman in the 6.6K (4.1-mile) third stage time trial en route to a ninth-place finish in women’s season standings. (She entered the GTWS Grand Final ranked only No. 14 because she had only run two qualifying races.)
Kowalczyk was the top U.S. women’s finisher in the five-day GTWS Grand Final, racking up five straight top-10 finishes to rank second behind Brinkman in the event standings, 34:20, behind based on cumulative time and fifth in the women’s season standings. Her best result was a runner-up finish to Brinkman in the 26.6K (16-mile) second stage.
Laukli, meanwhile, turned in four solid results— 4th in the first stage, 3rd in the time trial, 2nd in the fourth stage, 5th in the final stage—to boost her position to No. 2 in the women’s GTWS overall season standings.
“I had to do four stages out of five to keep hold of my position,” said Laukli, who is a world-class Nordic skier for the U.S. Ski Team in the wintertime. “I’m really happy. I really had fun this year, even if this week has left its mark on my body.”
French runner Thibault Baronian was the closest competitor to Bonnet in the GTWS Grand Final standings, placing between third and fifth in each of the stages to finish 35:10 back in cumulative time. Meanwhile, American runner Eli Hemming continued his stellar season of racing by producing five top-eight finishes to place fifth in both the GTWS Grand Final (55:30 behind) and the GTWS season standings.
2022 Golden Trail World Series Five-Day Stage Final Results
- Nienke Brinkman, Netherlands (Nike Trail), 11:20:30
- Bailey Kowalczyk, USA (Salomon), +34:20
- Sara Alonso, Spain (Salomon), +36:41
- Julie Roux, France (Salomon), +39:30
- Philiares Kisang, Kenya (Milimani Runners), +40:51
- Rémi Bonnet, Switzerland (Salomon/Red Bull), 9:20:58.
- Thibault Baronian, France (Salomon), +35:10
- Ruy Ueda, Japan (Red Bull), +44:56
- Petro Mamu, Eritrea (Scarpa), +47:34
- Eli Hemming, USA, (Aerobic Monsters), +55:30
2022 Golden Trail World Series Overall Season Standings
- Nienke Brinkman, Netherlands (Nike Trail), 1,026 points
- Sophia Laukli, USA, (Salomon), 799 points
- Sara Alonso, Spain (Salomon), 782 points
- Elise Poncet, France (Sidas x Matryx), 702 points
- Bailey Kowalczyk, USA (Salomon), 680 points
- Rémi Bonnet, Switzerland, Salomon/Red Bull, 968 points
- Elhousine Elazzout, Morocco (Pini Mountain Racing), 720 points
- Thibault Baronian, France (Salomon), 714 points
- Ruy Ueda, Japan (Red Bull), 686 points
- Eli Hemming, USA, (Aerobic Monsters), 634 points