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An American in Paris (well, Chamonix): USA triumph at UTMB

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

The slogan for this year’s legendary UTMB race should have been, “The Americans are coming…”

The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) has mythic status. Its extreme difficulty coupled with its extreme beauty make it irresistible to ultra runners, and the draw is always heavily oversubscribed. It was first held in 2003 and the route takes you round the stunning scenery of Mont-Blanc and the encircling peaks. The festival includes five races between 22nd and 28th August. The race centre is in Chamonix in the French Alps.

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

© UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

The five races are:

  • UTMB: Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (170 km +10,000 m)
  • CCC: Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (101 km +6,100 m)
  • TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (119 km +7,250 m)
  • OCC: Orsières – Champex – Chamonix (55 km +3,300 m)
  • PTL: La Petite Trotte à Léon (approx. 290 km +26,500 m)

UTMB is a single-stage race and passes through three different countries as it follows the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc across France, Italy and Switzerland. The race varies very slightly in different years and in this edition it was 170km with 10,000m of ascent. 2500 starters set off but there was a heavy drop out rate.

This year a couple of the big names dropped early including two of the favourites – Rory Bosio of the USA and  Luis Hernando of Spain.  

Before the race, Anton Krupicka had picked Hernando as a favourite.

“It is hard to bet against Luis Hernando and Zach Miller has the fire for it. For the women, Caroline Chaverot has had a great season and also Magdalena Boulet”

Jason Schlarb, who is one of our IRUN4ULTRA  ambassadors was also a casualty. On his Facebook page, he posted this moving note about how it felt to have to DNF (did not finish) and what it meant for his son, Felix.

It was a real disappointment to drop today. I felt really good training in August but the body was a wreck today. The hardest part was the massive disappointment Felix had from my drop. He was crushed. He cried and told me he wanted me to do UTMB. We have been in Europe for 6 weeks getting ready for UTMB, he has a UTMB t-shirt, he did the kids race, UTMB was his world this month. I am Felix’s hero. We run together on trails every day together. My drop was almost like having Christmas canceled. My heart is broken.”

RACE LEADERS

Photo Credit: © UTMB® - photo : Pascal Tournaire

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

But for those who stayed the course, it was to be a magnificent race. Zach Miller of the USA was in the lead for a large part of the race, proving that he did have that fire. In the end, though he was unable to hold onto first place and Ludovic Pommeret of France chased him, passed him and took the win with 25 minutes to spare. Gediminus Grinius from Lithuania put in a very impressive performance to come in second. Then there was a late contender. Tim Tollefson from the USA had been behind but clawed his way up, clicking past the other competitors to come in at third, to his own, and everyone else’s delight.
Speaking after the race, he told us what it felt like.

There was not long to wait until there was more great news for America. Tim was followed in by David Laney (third last year) who had also run an astounding race. He crossed the finishing line and had clearly given it all he had, as he collapsed, showing just how much these athletes sacrifice of themselves to be the best.

Zach Miller, who was given the accolade   “most aggressive runner” by the UTMB TV crew, completed the trio, making it in 6th place.

After the race, one of his sponsors, Brent Hollowell, Vice President of Marketing for NATHAN said:

“ The first 85 miles were nothing short of amazing and the last twenty miles were heroic. You can’t watch that kid and not been inspired by the way he goes out at 100% and let’s what happens happen.”

The USA may not have taken first or second place, but the men’s gutsy performances and sheer charm won over the Chamonix crowd.

The woman’s race went to Caroline Chaverot, giving France the one/two. The French flags were out in force in town this evening and deservedly so.  

Photo Credit: © UTMB® - photo : Pascal Tournaire

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

But don’t forget for the main body of the field, they still have a long night and day ahead of them and a thunderstorm has just broken over the mountains. The cut off time is 46 hours which will bring us to 4pm tomorrow evening local time.

FINAL RANKINGS

  1. Ludovic POMMERET, France 22:00:02
  2. Gediminas GRINIUS, Lithuania 22:26.05
  3. Tim TOLLEFSON, USA, 22:30.38

WOMEN’S RANKINGS

  1. Caroline CHAVEROT, France, 25:15:40
  2. Andrea HUSER, Switzerland, 25:22:56
  3. Uxue FRAILE AZPEITIA, Spain, 26:15:18

Keep across our Twitter feed for live updates, our Facebook page for new videos and our Instagram feed for the best pictures from the course @IRUN4ULTRA

Read more inspiration from the stars of UTMB past and present https://irun4ultra.org/2016/08/26/thoughts-on-utmb/