2018 UTMB® - Learning to expect the unexpected
The 16th edition of the UTMB® will go down in the history books of trail running. Several comebacks and the challenging weather conditions created unbelievable circumstances for the men's and women's elite that shook up the trail running world. Among the 2300 runners who started the race, quite a few are still out on the course as this Sunday afternoon's final 16:30 cutoff time approaches. Yesterday, Saturday, after running for 20 hours and 44 minutes, Xavier Thévenard passed the finish-line arch to roaring applause. Another one of the many exciting and emotional moments that so often occurs during the UTMB®.
A third victory for the UTMB®'s "Little Prince"
Nothing is ever written in stone in ultramarathon trail running. This very unique sport has never been an exact science, and it always proves somewhat unruly with regard to the slightest prediction. This is the main take-home lesson from the 2018 edition. Mimmi Kotka (SWE) said it first, "A trail runner can't have an ego or the mountains will quickly put them in their place." Xavier Thévenard (FRA) also reiterated the humility needed when confronting such an epic race. "Ultra running is its own separate discipline. You just can't predict in advance what will happen." Even though everyone talked about the imminent duel between Jim Walmsley (USA) and Kilian Jornet (ESP), it proved short lived, leaving room for the emotional triumph of the UTMB®'s "Little Prince." With this third win, Xavier equals François d'Haene and Kilian Jornet in number of victories. The mountains and the difficult conditions (-10°C at the high passes, precipitation) proved too harsh for most of this edition's favorites, as with many runners in the UTMB®'s main field. One by one Jim Walmsley (USA), Kilian Jornet (ESP), Luis Alberto Hernando (ESP), Sylvain Court (FRA), Ryan Sandes (RSA), Alex Nichols (USA), Tim Tollefson (USA), Benoît Cori (FRA), Michel Lanne (FRA), and Zach Miller (USA) dropped out of the race, beaten down by the cold, exhausted from starting out too fast, or betrayed by their bodies. Kilian had to stop after having an allergic reaction to a bee sting. In a race that seemed to eliminate everyone in its path, Xavier Thévenard was the only big name to finish unscathed, sticking scrupulously to his race strategy, and this after an epic duel with Zach Miller. In addition, Romanian runner Robert Hajnal surprised everyone by finishing in 2nd place, more than a half-hour behind the Frenchman, and in front of the always-energetic Spaniard Jordi Gamito.
The women's race witnessed the same level of carnage among the elite. Major favorite Mimmi Kotka (SWE), proclaimed by everyone as unbeatable, "put on the brakes" in Les Contamines, just 30 kilometers into the race, with an injured knee and perhaps lacking the energy needed due to an extremely busy 2018 season. A little bit later and still in the lead, Magdalena Boulet (USA) dropped out as well at Combal Lake (km 66), allowing Caroline Chaverot to surge into the lead, before the latter also dropped out at Grand Col Ferret Pass due to hypothermia. With the three favorites out of the race, experienced outsiders proved all too happy to take over the lead. Two Italians, Francesca Canepa and Katia Fori, were out in front, with only 8 minutes separating the two women when they reached Valloricine, 20km from the finish line. The last climb to La Flégère proved disastrous for Katia, and she was passed by Spaniard Uxue Fraile, who took second place in 2015 and third place in 2016. Uxue once again finished in second place, 5 minutes behind Francesca Canepa, who won the race with a time of 26:03. "This is perhaps the greatest day of my athletic career" said the Italian at the finish line; she was born and raised on the Italian side of the Mont-Blanc Range. "I hadn't really planned to win. My strategy was to be patient, which is hard since everyone passes you at the beginning of the race. At Les Contamines, I was probably not even as high as 20th place in the women's race. I wanted to save energy for the end as well as run at my own pace. It's all too easy to get caught up in the general euphoria of the race and to ruin it all. I was able to stay calm, never really worried, and in the end my strategy worked." Frenchwoman and Pau native Jocelyne Pauly finished in third place after a 26:15 effort.
A new generation of champions
The 16th edition further reinforced the race's already very international character, with the rise of several talented young Chinese runners who made a lasting impression with their aggressive race strategy. Erenjia Jia won the OCC to become the first Chinese runner to win a UTMB® race. Miao Yao copied him the very next day by winning the women's CCC®, while her boyfriend, Min Qi finished in second for the men. Eastern Europeans also took center stage during the week's races. On Thursday, Polish runner Marcin Swierc won the TDS® and Russian Dmitry Mityaev placed third. On Saturday, Romanian runner Robert Hajnal finished second in the UTMB®. The UTMB® proved more than ever why it is the world trail-running summit.
Evermore excitement and emotion
Several incredible moments from the week will remain etched in our memories:
- The MCC's first edition enjoyed sunny skies, a warm and friendly atmosphere, and established itself as a local festive race… and that it only takes one step to transform from volunteer to runner.
- The incredible PTL® finish on Friday, August 31, at 12:00 noon on the dot, in 100 hours and 00 minutes, by the Beaufortain team (Thierry Bochet and Sébastien Gérard), after 300km and 25,000m of vertical gain. The two runners and their families shared tears of joy and fatigue with spectators and organizers for a very emotional moment!
See you in 2019 from August 26 to September 1.
For all results: http://utmb.livetrail.net
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