Top Contenders at the Sahara Race 2017

The Sahara Race (Namibia) 2017 kicks off on 30 April and we are looking forward to another exciting race.  There is some great competition at the top, but no outright favourite to win either the men’s or woman’s competition.  This will make it even more exciting to watch. 

In the previous edition of the Sahara Race (Namibia) the top spots were taken by Wataru IINO from Japan in a time of 22 hours 28 minutes and Jax MARIASH from the United States for the women in a time of 29 hours and 10 minutes.  You can see all the results from past 4 Deserts races.

The top contenders who are expected to be fighting it out for a podium place in 2017 come from all corners of the globe  and range in age from 30 to 55 years old.

Read on to find out who the top contenders are.



Ralph Crowley from the United States is joinining his ninth 4 Deserts Race at the Sahara Race (Namibia) 2017.  He is a member of the 4 Deserts Club and has also completed the last four RacingThePlanet races, most recently in Sri Lanka in 2016 as well as many, many more ultramarathons.   Despite coming 27th at his first Sahara Race – back in 2010 in Egypt – he has had five podium places finishing either 2nd or 3rd but never quite making it to 1st place.  Could the Sahara Race (Namibia) be THE race for Crowley?!

It is not going to be an easy task for Crowley to get a top spot.  His competition includes Iulian Rotariu from Romania, Jovica Spajic from Serbia, Felix Allen from the United Kingdom and Rafael Fuchsgruber from Germany among others.  And this does not yet include those who are new to the 4 Deserts and do not yet have a track record in stage racing.  Remember Neill Weir from Northern Ireland who came 2nd in the Atacama Crossing last year at his first stage race ever.

Rafael Fuchsgruber from Germany has had three podium finishes in three 4 Deserts / RacingThePlanet races but has also not yet made it to 1st.  However Fuchsgruber is leading the members of the Little Desert Running Club to Namibia – we are waiting to find out if he will be going for gold or staying to support the Little Desert Runners through the race.

Jovica Spajic from Serbia works in the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit(!).  One of his first ever races was the Sahara Race (Egypt) in 2012 where he placed 12th.  Since then he has completed many more endurance races often finishing on the podium.  In 2015 he finished 8th at BadWater Ultramarathon and he has also set the record in Serbia for 24 hours of running by completing 222kms.  Jovica has also competed in Tors de Geants.

Romanian Iulian Rotariu and Felix Allen from the United Kingdom have both finished very strongly in their previous races.   Rotariu is joining his third 4 Deserts race – both previous races were in 2016 where he placed 4th in the Gobi March and 6th in the Atacama Crossing.   Allen will also be joining his third race having finished 4th and 8th at previous races in 2014 and 2015.

There are also some other Top 10 finishers from past 4 Deserts and other races.  There is 4 Deserts Grand Slam PLUS veteran Paul Borlinha from Canada who has had two 7th place finishes in his seven 4 Deserts / RacingThePlanet races.   Italy’s Nicola Benetti has had no less than five Top 10 finishes in his eight 4 Deserts / RacingThePlanet races – his best ranking was at the Sahara Race (Egypt) so perhaps he favours the sandy terrain?



In the womens competition we will be looking at Kristinet Starck (nee van der Westhuizen) from South Africa – not only is she close to home ground but she also has 2nd, 3rd and 5th place finishes to her name in the woman’s category of her previous appearances at 4 Deserts races.  

Close competition is expected to come from Marina Lazic from Serbia who has represented Serbia in endurance races as well as joining Tors des Geants and Spartathlon – despite only starting to run seriously in 2014.

Carolina Monaci from Italy has a strong track record of racing in the sand – finsihing as the first women in her previous desert race of 100km.

This line up would not be complete without a mention of our own 4 Deserts colleague Riitta Hanninen from Finland who has completed a long list of 100km+ races finishing in top positions.  As she enters her first 4 Deserts Race as a competitor (despite having been at more than 25 race on the management team) we will be seeing if she will be pushing hard or if just finishing is more important to her this time.   Read Riitta’s blog to see how her preparation is going.

Follow all update during the race on www.4deserts.com/sahararace