An Unusual 2010 UTMB
First of all let’s get to the results of the 2010 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. British Jezz Bragg took the victory with a time of 10h30′37″, followed by US runner Mike Wolfe seven minutes back and Zigor Iturrieta from the Basque Country (Spain) was third with a time of 10h49′18″. On the women’s side also Brit Lizzie Hawker ran a great race to finish in 11h47′30″, followed by Nerea Martinez and Agnes Hervé, 1h2′ and 2h24′ min back. But let’s take a look, hour by hour, at what happened in the Mont Blanc during Friday and Saturday.
Lots of expectation created around the 8th edition of the most popular ultra trail race in Europe. The best field ever gathered, including all the winners of previous editions, elite runners from the US, Japan, Spain, France and runners from a total 57 nationalities traveled to Chamonix with high hopes. Take a look at the pre-race writing to see how the event looked like on the days prior to August 27th.
Until 6:30PM - Early in the week the weather forecast did not look too bad for the weekend: some showers Friday afternoon and cloudy on Saturday. But as days passed by, the forecast turned into heavy rain throughout the night of the race. French weather forecasters are renowned for their accuracy and their predictions were confirmed on the race day. The morning showers turn the course into a muddy and slippery one though rain stops until around an hour into the race. But there is not too much concern among the runners at this moment. They couldn’t even imagine this would take an unexpected turn by the end of the day.
6:35PM - Crowds gather around the first miles in the town of Chamonix to see the 2300 runners toe the start line. The music becomes louder, rising the excitement to unbearable limits and finally… “go!” the race is on. Quite fast the first few dozens but slowly the rest of the pack, participants start moving through the streets with cheerings fueling their spirit for the 166Km waiting ahead.
7:30PM - Early on Kilian Jornet pushes the pace and gets a 30 second lead together with Pascal Giguet and closely followed by Miguel Heras, Geoff Roes, Mike Wolfe and others. The first miles are not at all technical and feels like a stroll for the elite runners. Around 7:30 a downpour at Les Houches (mile 10). It’s not cold yet, but runners will have to put up with wet clothes the entire race. Spectators keep cheering along the trail sides even under the rain.
9:30PM - The night has already closed in when the first runners get to the Les Contamines aid station (mile 20). A quick stop and then off for the first complicated part of the course, the Col du Bonhomme. But suddenly, the volunteers stop the 9th runner, and all the others coming right after him. Rumors kick in that the race has been temporarily cancelled and there’s confusion for quite some time. Runners are disappointed, some of them break down and cry. After months of training, a couple of years accumulating points to get into the race, with thousands of miles traveled are now forced to confront the fact that the race is gone. The organization stops and brings back the leading 8 runners and first rumors have it there has been a mudslide…
Around 10PM - While runners keep arriving in the aid station, it is officially confirmed: the 2010 UTMB is cancelled. In Les Contamines no one can believe it but as the news sinks in the reason for the cancellation is slowly becoming clear. While it is not raining at this moment, the weather is extremely complicated in the miles waiting ahead: strong winds (up to 70mph), heavy rains, snow and expected as low as 2500m, making the mountainous race even more difficult. Rain is taking a toll on the trail and the forecast calls for continued storming through Saturday afternoon.
Between 11:PM and 12:30AM - Shortly after, the organization makes public the reasons for the cancellation: the mentioned severe weather but also the removal of course marks at the Col du Bonhomme, situation which tried to be fixed by the organization by putting them back (with no luck) using a helicopter. Check out the video of this press conference. Runner’s safety comes first and so nothing can be done. The race is over.
Drenched runners are now transported back to Chamonix by train or bus and the aid station slowly is emptied. Kilian Jornet, Karl Meltzer and Geoff Roes gather at Nicholas Mermaud’s place (president of Hoka OneOne, also running the UTMB and who happens to live in Les Contamines). While having some pasta and drinks, Kilian manages to get all four of them into the Ultra Skyrunning World Championship, a technical 48Km race happening in Italy on Sunday (watch Kilian talking about this). In the meantime, the start of the TDS is also cancelled and the finish of the CCC is compromised.
1:30AM - Runner’s cell phones start buzzing: a text message in French from the race organization saying there will be a shorter race starting at 10AM with the CCC course. UTMB and TDS runners are invited to run and a bus will be leaving at 6:30AM. Confusion everywhere as not everyone is aware of the situation: some runners will never get the SMS, some are already sleeping and with their cell phones turned off, some have gone back to their basecamp (not everyone was staying in Chamonix) and some are still enjoying a beer at local bars.
2:10AM - The CCC is cancelled and runners are stopped at Trient and Vallorcine and transported back to Chamonix.
4:00AM - A second text message alerts the runners that only 1000 spots are available to be hauled to Courmayeur, were the race will restart. At this point, it is clear that the race will be resumed and what will be run is the UTMB, not an alternative race. A press conference at 9:00AM (which I believe never happened) will confirm the restart
Between 4:00AM and 9:00AM - Those who are aware of the restart need to decide what to do. Many of the pack runners will not run, as they are still drenched and with no options to get their gear dried out before the start. As per the top runners, many decide to sleep a few hours and then line up to run it: Jezz Bragg (making a last minute call), Sebastien Chaigneau, Lizzie Hawker, Mike Wolfe, Karl Meltzer, Julien Chorier, Samuel Bonaudo, Nicolas Mermoud, or Nerea Martinez. But other elite runners opt not to run this shorter route race: Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, Kilian Jornet, Geoff Roes, Miguel Heras, Scott Jurek or Tracy Garneau. Thoughout the night, information is scarce and so teams have to decide without knowing what the competitors are planning.
10:15AM - 1238 runners line up at the start in Courmayeur, to run the 55miles of this abbreviated version of the UTMB. 588 runners from the TDS (50% of the entrants) and 650 from the UTMB (around 30% of the initial participants). The weather is cooperative here in Italy and the race starts with no further surprises.
10:30AM to midnight - The race is on. Nepali Dawa Sherpa and Greek Alexis Gounko take the lead with Julien Chorier, Mike Wolfe, and Zigor Iturrieta not far behind. Lizzie Hawker is in the top 20 and 15 minutes ahead of the next woman, Nerea Martinez. The rain comes back and cold temperatures set in. At the Grand Col Ferret (2537m altitude) runners encounter snow and wind.
At Champex (mile 32) Gounko and Sherpa are still leading with Chorier right behind (only 3min) and Wolfe and Bragg getting closer. Here’s the video with the leading runners in La Fouly (you will also see the exact moment were Sebastien Chaigneau drops out, saying he doesn’t have his mind in the race) and in Champex. But it won’t be until the next aid station (Trient, mile 42) where things start to clear up on the possible podium for the race. Gounko drops out with severe leg pain, Sherpa gives up the lead to Chorier, Bragg and Wolfe. Hawker keeps increasing the distance with Martinez.
At La Tête aux Vents, the last major climb of the course with 2,500 feet of climb and under extreme weather, things turn out to be decisive: Bragg still ahead with 8min on Wolfe and Spanish Zigor Iturrieta pulls an excellent climb and passes Chorier.
Just after nightfall on Saturday night, Jezz Bragg crosses the finish line after 10 hours and 30 minutes on the trail, followed by Mike Wolfe and Zigor Iturrieta. Check out the finish line video with the arrival of Bragg and Wolfe. French Patrick Bohard, Antoine Guillon, Jérôme Challier, Cyril Cointre, and Thomas Saint-Girons cross the finish line hand in hand and Karl Meltzer finishes his race shortly after in 17th place. Lizzy Hawker comes in first for the women after 11 hours and 47 minutes dominating the entire race. Nerea Martinez will finish 1h15′ behind and Agnes Hervé will end her race well passed 2AM.
Runners would still arrive throughout the morning in Chamonix to complete their race under the 27 hour cut off. Also, some unclear situations and rumors were cleared out during the day. In an official press conference we learn there was no removal of trail marks, that no mudslide put in danger any runners and that no alternative route was prepared in case of such a situation (as per the organization, a different course through the lower valleys would not deserve to be called the UTMB and so it was not contemplated).
Definitely an unusual and totally unexpected race, full of exciting moments and some disappointments. But the UTMB is an exceptional race, I would say unique in the world, which I have enjoyed and which I hope to have the chance to experience again in a year from now and bring all the news to TrailrunningSoul readers.
Results – Top 20
1. Jez Bragg – 10h30′37″
2. Mike Wolfe – 10h37′38″
3. Zigor Iturrieta – 10h49′18″
4. Julien Chorier – 10h53′45″
5. Cyril Cointre – 10h56′41″
5. Patrick Bohard – 10h56′41″
5. Thomas Saint Girons – 10h56′41″
5. Antoine Guillon – 10h56′41″
5. Jerome Challier – 10h56′41″
10. Pascal Blanc – 11h08′56″
11. Dawa Sherpa – 11h14′19″
11. Kenichi Yamamoto – 11h14′19″
13. Bernhard Hug – 11h19′24″
14. Bastien Bravais – 11h27′37″
15. Vincent Delebarre – 11h29′03″
16. Arnau Juliá – 11h35′17″
17. Karl Meltzer – 11h40′28″
18. Samuel Bonaudo – 11h45′37″
19. Lizzy Hawker – 11h47′30″
20. Bruno Bottollier – 11h53′04″
Slideshows from Petzel, official partner of the 2010 TNF UTMB