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Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc: How the French were able to sign an unprecedented Top 5 in the wake of… – 20 Minutes

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From our special correspondent in Chamonix,

OK, the last two foreign winners of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (171 km and 10,000 m of elevation gain), the Spaniards Kilian Jornet (2011) and Pau Capell (2019) were unfortunately not in the game. Nevertheless, no one imagined seeing this Saturday five French tricolors take the first places at the world summit of the
trail. 20 minutes looks at this historic day of glory for French trail running, worn by its leader
Francois D’Haene, titled for the fourth time … in four participations!

François D’Haene still boss

As you might expect, there was a Hardrock 100 effect for François D’Haene. Winner for the first time in July of this legendary ultra of 160 km and 10,000 m of D + in the United States, the runner Salomon showed more difficulties than in 2012, 2014 and 2017. “In six weeks, the recovery could not not be optimal, confirms his manager Jean-Michel Faure-Vincent. It is the first time that the pain falls on him at this point on the UTMB. His legs were screaming and until the end, no one was serene in the team. We have familiarized ourselves with new limits, it is up to us to find a way to push them further. “

In the meantime, no one has been able to take advantage of his slack in the night from Friday to this Saturday after Courmayeur (78 km), and certainly not his two fiercest rivals announced, Xavier Thévenard and Jim Walmsley, both forced to retire even before the second part of the race. The Beaujolais winegrower finally reached Chamonix in 8:46 p.m., twelve minutes ahead of Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz, a gap that he most often managed to stabilize.

Even in the physically tough, François D’Haene has once again proven that he is the boss of the UTMB. – Laurent Salino / UTMB

“I was going much faster in 2017, recalls the person concerned. There, I had to deal with strange sensations on the descents. I was a little worried because of my hard legs. This victory was really hard to come by. »An exchange with his former partner at Salomon Michel lanne, this Saturday morning at Champex, was in this sense tasty.

Go, go, go, you grit your teeth.

– I’ve been hugging them for a while.

– Yes, but you know how to tighten them. “

The day before, the former winner of the CCC and the TDS announced: “There is no doubt that this great steak will still give us great emotions”. A happy omen, as usual, one would be tempted to say when it comes to François D’Haene (35) on an ultra major.

A very ambitious succession

European vice-champion of skyrunning in 2017, Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz had never before participated in an ultra format of 160-170 km. The passing exam is more than successful for the 28-year-old Savoyard, who managed to finish with authority as François D’Haene’s runner-up. As soon as he crossed the finish line, he did not hide his ambition “to want to come back to win the UTMB”.

The other Frenchman completing the podium will undoubtedly share this dream. 13th in the event in 2018, Mathieu Blanchard (34) has an atypical profile, after having attacked trail a year earlier in Canada … and participated in the show Koh Lanta in 2020. “It’s incredible for me to make a podium on the UTMB, I don’t realize,” he says. But at the same time I told myself for 50 km that I could go for first place when I discovered that François was starting to have leg cramps. “If Ludovic Pommeret (4th), winner of the event in 2016, is a 46-year-old adventurer, the last member of the prestigious Top 5 tricolor of the weekend, Germain Grangier (31), still has a good margin of improvement .

The American curse continues

Jim Walmsley may regret having soaked up a big rhythm on Friday evening, alongside François D’Haene, between the Col du Bonhomme (43 km) and Courmayeur (78 km). At the end of this key supply of the race, the three-time winner of the Western States 100 suffered from the cold in the Italian Alps (up to -5 ° C felt) and retired. In 18 editions, all the greatest American ultra-trail specialists have tried their luck in vain at Chamonix, while at the same time, four Americans have gleaned this major title, like Courtney Dauwalter in 2019 and 2021.

The president of the UTMB Group and co-founder of the event Catherine Poletti tries an explanation: “Jim Walmsley explained to me that in the United States, the ultras are long but much more rolling than with us. Women often have to walk, unlike men. They have therefore learned to walk fast, and on the UTMB, it is essential to do so. Jim is probably unbeatable in the Western States, but he’s used to the heat of Arizona, not the cold of our nights ”.

Jean-Michel Faure-Vincent adds: “The French riders undoubtedly have more experience in the mountains and they prefer to lose 30 seconds to cover themselves more before dark. It can be part of the details that play on a UTMB ”.

Superior preparation and motivation on the French side

The faults of favorites were multiple, with also the Americans Tim Tollefson and Timothy Freriks, the Spaniards Pablo Villa Gonzalez and Jordi Gamito, the Russian Dmitry Mityaev… “It is not totally a surprise because I think that the sanitary conditions prevented international runners to come and train as usual, spending time in our mountains from July, confides Catherine Poletti. The French had this advantage during the various confinements. “

They also have an extra soul on “their” event, which is the most anticipated of the year. “For us, the UTMB is really a special race,” recalls Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz. There is an additional motivation and it is perhaps more difficult to give up here. “This observation applies to several hundred amateur runners, who are starting their second night on the trails around Mont-Blanc this Saturday, and who hope to complete Sunday” the ultra of a lifetime “before the time barrier set at 4:30 pm.

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