The UTMB, a mythical experience! 

ITRA followed this iconic race. Let us take a look back at the UTMB® runners who, like all those who took part in the iconic adventure, achieving the incredible by completing the 171 km course (with a height gain of 10,042 m). To see the race leader who gave of his utmost, and more, was a stunning and heart-stirring experience!

It is 6 o'clock on the evening of Friday, 31 August; in the heart of Chamonix, the Place du Triangle is echoing to the noise of the crowd. From volunteers, organizers, medical teams to runners who are there to win or those who are merely hunting the Holy Grail of Finisher, everyone knows that the clock has struck; it is time for the great adventure to commence.

At les Gaillands, fleeting glimpses are to be had of rivalry amongst the crowded runners, of a hunger for victory, but also of anxiety and fear at the sight of a threatening sky which brings thoughts of a cold wet night to come. Undeterred, they tackle a rolling section of the course on the way to les Houches, where the first "steep" uphill awaits. The first gaps start to appear amongst the elite runners; in the lead is top US runner Jim WALMSLEY who has come for the sole purpose of winning the title of Champion. He is closely followed by fellow US runner, Zach MILLER; behind Zach are Kilian JORNET (Spain) and Sylvain COURT (France).

The runners at Les Gaillands, at the exit of Chamonix.

In Saint Gervais, meanwhile, supporters and onlookers are beginning to gather in the centre of town. Excitement is running high around the food station that awaits these titans of the trails. A fanfare accompanied by the applause of the public reminds the runners that at this 21st kilometre, the way ahead is long. The leading group in the men's race is still composed of Jim WALMSLEY, Zach MILLER, Sylvain COURT and Kilian JORNET whilst, in the women's race, Magdalena BOULET, Emilie LECOMTE, Clare GALLAGHER and Mimmi KOKTKA are heading apace towards Les Contamines, anxious not to waste a precious moment as rain looks set to accompany the runners through a good part of the night.

Saint Gervais UTMB
Saint Gervais - KIlian Jornet ans Magdalena Boulet

At Notre Dame de la Gorge (kilometre 35), volunteers and crowds of onlookers have gathered to cheer on the participants at the start of the long climb up to La Balme and the Col du Bonhomme. Volunteers have lit a roaring bonfire which provides a warm glow in a night marked by the stinging rain that beats mercilessly down on the runners. Throughout the night, journalists, photographers, supporters, trail-running fans and lovers of the great outdoors are spread out along the route to join in supporting the thousands of trailers who are here to test themselves to the limit over this iconic route...

Notre Dame de la Gorge  
Crédit photo: Mickaël Mussard. 

The path to Courmayeur (Italy), where the first athletes is already eagerly awaited, is long. Here, on the Italian side, the heavens appear to promise more clement weather conditions; the magnificent slopes of Mont Blanc can be seen silhouetted against the starry night but the cold remains biting.  Moments before the first runners arrive, the food station starts to resemble a colony of ants.  

The volunteers are ready and journalists position themselves at the best angle for a great shot capturing the emotions of the athletes and to see who looks most likely to follow the adventure to its end.  
courmayeur ambiance
The people who come to assist the runners and the journalists are ready.

The US runner, Zach MILLER, is the first to join his team. Shaking his head, apparently in an effort to stay awake, he is also first out, to loud encouragement.  Two minutes later, the much-awaited star of the trails, Kilian JORNET, makes his entrance. His expression is grim, his face drawn – unlike what we have come to expect of the three-time winner of the UTMB. Then, in third place, it is the turn of Xavier THÉVENARD. Smiling and completely relaxed, his freshness surprises the watching public. After THÉVENARD come Tim TOLLEFSON (US), Jordi GAMITO (Spain) and the amazing Hallvard SCHJØLBERG (Norway).  With no assistance to help, the Norvegian claims his own runner's bag and food supplies whilst all around him support teams are assisting and encouraging their athletes. 

Everyone is waiting for news of Jim WALMSLEY, Luis Alberto HERNANDO (Spain) and Sylvain COURT (France) but next into the Italian Mountain Sport Centre is the Rumanian, Robert HAJNAL. Three quarters of an hour after MILLER, HERNANDO and COURT reach the food station - where they abandon the race, both with injuries.  Jim WALMSLEY arrives exhausted, more than an hour behind the race leader.  With his dreams of winning shattered, he spends a long time at the food station before resuming the race, exhausted but appearing to be spurred on by an unbelievable, extraordinary desire to finish this iconic race.

From left to right: Zach Miller, Xavier Thévenard, Jim Walmsley and Caroline Chaverot. 

Amongst the women, a fierce struggle is taking place.  Magdalena BOULET, ahead in the early part of the race, has abandoned at Lac Combal on Saturday morning. At Courmayeur, Caroline CHAVEROT (France), comes out ahead of the Italian, Kati FORI, and the Brazilian, Fernanda MACIEL.

At this Italian food station, which is at the halfway mark, there is still everything to play for. The news travels fast that Kilian JORNET has abandoned following a wasp sting on the morning of the race. He has refused to take corticosteroids because of an allergy but pain caused by the substitution treatment prevents him from continuing the race.  Amongst the women, meanwhile, Caroline CHAVEROT abandons the race at the Grand Col Ferret due to a lack of preparation following health problems this summer. 

However, the race is still far from over and the pace of podium contenders does not slacken.  At the la Fouly food station in Switzerland, cold and wet are the order of the day.  Around 7: 00 a.m., Xavier THÉVENARD (France) and, some 30 seconds behind him, Zach MILLER (US) set off into the cold, soon joining forces to run together. 
La Fouly
From left to right, Zach Miller, Xavier Thévenard and Jordi Gamito at the exit of the La Fouly's aid station. 

At the next aid station, Champex-Lac in Switzerland, a thick cold mist tenaciously accompanies the valiant and intrepid supporters.  Gathered around the food station, their faces reveal anxiety.  In everybody's mind is the possibility that their idols may not appear or may be losing the battle against fatigue, cramps or cold. 

The two front runners arrive together.  Xavier THÉVENARD eats rapidly, passing quickly through an equipment check without wasting any time, and leaves in first position.  Zach MILLER stays for a long while.  His features are drawn, cramps have paralyzed his legs, cold seems to have taken hold of him and he's in a bad way.  Powerless to help, the spectators silently witness his suffering before resuming their encouragement.  To everyone's surprise, the American decides to carry on for a possible second place – hopes that will be shattered on the climb to the Giète, where the rescue team intervenes to repatriate him to Champex-Lac.

Champex lac
Xavier Thévenard and Zach Miller arriving together at the aid station of Champex-Lac.

Behind the American, competition is fierce.  Robert HAJNAL (Rumania), Jordi GAMITO (Spain), Tim TOLLEFSON (US) and Hallvard SCHJØLBERG (Norway) compete for the podium.  The American, Tim TOLLEFSON, is forced to stop following a serious quadriceps injury.  Arriving more than four hours after THÉVENARD, Jim WALMSLEY abandons at Champex-Lac. 
Champex lac
From left to right: the arrival of Robert Hajnal at Champex-Lac and the exit of Jordi Gamito and Tim Tollefson along the lake.

As for the women, the Italians, Katia FORI and Francesca CANEPA are first into Champex-Lac.  Uxue FRAILE AZPEITIA (Spain) arrives in third position ahead of Fernanda MACIEL (Brazil).  

Meanwhile, at Trient, which is the last Swiss food station, volunteers have been organizing children's races.  Xavier THÉVENARD (France) arrives at a good pace, to enthusiastic encouragement from crowds of budding young runners, 27 minutes before the Rumanian Robert HAJNAL who is clinging tenaciously to his second place.  Third, to loud applause from his cohorts of friends from home, is the Spaniard, just 20 minutes after HAJNAL, whilst the Norwegian is close behind in the battle for the third place on the podium. 

Children in Trient waiting for the runners, Xavier Thévenard living the aid station followeb by Robert Hajnal.

As for the women's race, there is little change at the front. The Italian, Francesca CANEPA, arrives three minutes ahead of her compatriot, Katia FORI, and looks in great shape. French runner, Jocelyne PAULY has narrowed the gap over the Brazilian, Fernanda MACIEL, and the two runners reach the food station at almost the same time.

Just 19 km to the finish line, the leaders cross back into France. By Vallorcine, predictions as to the next winner seem more certain. Xavier THÉVENARD, who is 30 minutes ahead of Robert HAJNAL, pauses briefly. For third place, a contest is going on between Jordi GAMITO (Spain) - supported throughout the race by a large contingent of friends - and Hallvard SCHJØLBERG (Norway), who is just, 20 minutes behind.

Xavier Thévenard ans Robert Hajnal in Vallorcine.

It is no surprise and with immense joy that the little Prince of the Trail, Xavier THÉVENARD makes his entrance into Chamonix to the deafening applause of an unbelievable crowd.  With this, his third UTMB victory, Xavier THÉVENARD has joined the ranks of François d'HAENNE and Kilian JORNET.  Joy is clearly written on the face of the young champion as he receives the well-merited accolades.  THÉVENARD has taken just 20:44:16 to complete the 171 km (height gain of 10,042 m).  

xavier thevenard
Credit photo:UTMB® Xavier at the finish line.
Next, it is the turn of the Rumanian to enter town.  As he proudly waves the Rumanian flag, his emotion is clear to see; he crosses the finish line in 21:31:37, to the cries and loud applause of his many admirers. 

robert hajnal
Crédit photo: Mickaël Mussard - Robert Hajnal triomphant. 

Third place is being decided on the descent from Flégère.  Will the legs of the Spaniard outrun the energy of the Norwegian, who is here unaided to seek a coveted podium?  Finally, it is the Spanish runner who crosses the finish line with huge excitement to take third place in 21:57:01, ten minutes in front of the Norwegian, who arrives fourth to a thunder of applause. 

jordi gamito
Crédit photo: Mickaël Mussard - Jordi Gamito so happy.

Hallvard SCHJØLBERG in Chamonix.

It is early evening and the crowd stays on, continuing to cheer the extraordinary runners as they proudly finish their Tour of Mont Blanc.
Then it is the turn of the first women, who arrive tightly bunched.  The incredible Italian Francesca CANEPA has not slackened pace at all and runs through Chamonix to loud encouragement and the cheers of her supporters, finishing in 26:03:48.  Uxue FRAILE AZPEITIA (Spain) arrives soon after in 26:08:07 even as Jocelyne PAULY (France) enters town.  Unable to believe her place, Jocelyne mimes a figure three to the crowd, to check that she is not dreaming.  As she crosses the finish line in 26:15:11, her delight is clear to see.  After running so far, the three women who will be on the podium arrive just 12 minutes apart!

podium femmes
Crédit photo: David Gonthier. From left to right : Uxue FRAILE AZPEITIA, Francesca Canepa and Jocelyne PAULY.

Copyright @ 2002-2021 ITRA, All Rights Reserved