France’s Francois D’Haene defied wet and windy conditions at the 15th edition of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc to complete the famous ultramarathon in record time on Saturday (2).
The race, widely known as the ‘UTMB’, is held on a 166.9km loop around Mont Blanc, starting in Chamonix and crossing the borders to Italy and Switzerland before returning to Chamonix, having covered 10,253 metres of vertical gain.
The skies above the Mont-Range decided to celebrate 15 years of trail running in their own unique way, by turning on the hose full blast over the hundreds of kilometres of trails travelled by competitors. Mixing rain, wet snow, hurricane-force winds, fog at the higher elevations, and mud, nothing was spared for the several thousand runners, including some who spent two nights out in the mountains to endure the abominable conditions.
This year's race featured an incredibly talented field like never before, including a highly anticipated duel between the world's top two trail runners, D'Haene and Kilian Jornet, with the addition of USA’s Jim Walmsley and two-time winner Xavier Thévenard.
It resulted in the quickest race in UTMB history, completed by D'Haene in just 19:01:32. It was a level of running never before reached in its 15-year history, with a truly unknown outcome until the last few kilometres of the race.
In spite of a final herculean effort by Jornet to chase down D’Haene, the Spaniard still came up short. With three victories to his name, D'Haene has now matched Jornet’s record tally of UTMB wins.
Catalonia still enjoyed its moment of glory thanks to Nuria Picas, who finally won the UTMB after two second-place finishes and frequent disappointment in a race that had denied the two-time Ultra Trail World Tour champion (2014 and 2015) several times.
The Spaniard climbed to the podium's top step, but it would not have taken much for her dream to evaporate just a few kilometres from the finish line. After an asthma attack during the long ascent to La Flégère, Picas saw the comfortable lead she had built over the first 150 kilometres of the race come crumbling down, just 20 minutes before the final descent to Chamonix.
Miraculously, over the last eight kilometres she was able to hold on to her lead by a thread. Picas crossed the finish line in tears, finishing just two-and-a-half minutes ahead of her nearest pursuer.
Switzerland’s Andrea Huser was satisfied with another second place, and only expressed slight regret after crossing the finish line. “On the last descent, I was in a dreamlike state, a bit detached,” she said. “I did not realise that I was so close to Nuria. I think that if I had known that beforehand, I would have given it my all to catch up with her to cross the finish line hand in hand.”
The real surprise came from France’s Christelle Bard, who finished third after running a superb second half of the race in what was her first 100-mile race.
Organisers for the IAAF
1 Francois D’Haene (FRA) 19:01:32
2 Kilian Jornet Burgada (ESP) 19:16:38
3 Tim Tollefson (USA) 19:53:00
1 Nuria Picas (ESP) 25:46:43
2 Andrea Huser (SUI) 25:49:18
3 Christelle Bard (FRA) 26:39:03