It was a year of upsets at the 37th running of the world’s toughest self-sufficient desert ultra, Marathon Des Sables (MDS) in Morocco. Mohamed El Morabity of Morocco won the 250 km stage race after his brother, nine-time MDS champion Rachidwithdrew after the fourth stage, which presented an opportunity for Montreal’s Mathieu Blanchard to land on the podium.
Blanchard was in fourth place after the first of five stages, but found himself between fourth and fifth position entering the fourth stage. The drama began to unfold on stage four when temperatures hit 40 C. Rachid was leading the race when he was given a three-hour penalty for external assistance.
The three-hour penalty moved Rachid back to fourth, heading into the fifth and final marathon stage. He ended up withdrawing from the race, and Morocco’s Aziz Yachou moved up to second place in the overall classification. Blanchard, who ran his own race behind the leaders, moved up into a podium position.
Mohamed closed things out on the final stage to win his first MDS title in 19:19:54, ending his brother’s reign of eight straight wins. Yachou finished second, 10 minutes behind Mohamed in 19:29:09, and Blanchard, 35, who was fifth at the MDS in 2021, upgraded to a third-place result in 2023, (21:21:27).
“I’m so sad for my brother,” Mohamed said to Africa News after his win. “He should have won, but that’s how it is–next year.”
Blanchard’s finish continues his run of excellent performances after back-to-back podium finishes at UTMB. The 35-year-old ultra-trail specialist plans to make his Western States debut in June.
In the women’s race, 2019 MDS champion Ragna Debats of the Netherlands broke down on the long 90 km fourth stage. Debates were leading, but fell back a few hours after suffering digestive issues 20 kilometers in. She continued the race, but France’s Maryline Nakache took advantage of the opportunity and surged ahead on stage four. This was Nakache’s first MDS title.
Morocco’s Aziza El Amrany was the top Moroccan athlete, finishing second in 27:53:37. Japan’s Tomomi Bitoh was third (29:29:51).