The 18th annual edition of the 170km Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) is set to start today (August 27) at 17:00, one year after the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Frenchman and UTMB champion François D’Haene, who has won the race three times before, including in 2017, has been deemed the one to watch in the men’s race.
Spaniard Kilian Jornet, another three-time winner, is not taking part this year, and neither is 2019 champion, Spaniard Pau Capell, who is still recovering from having knee surgery in July.
Favourite Mr d’Haene, a vigneron, holds the record for completing the race in under 20 hours. He is the only person to do so, not counting the 2010 and 2012 races, when much of the route was cut back due to weather conditions.
For context, completing the race in under 20 hours is extremely fast; in 2019, the slowest competitor finished in 46 hours, 55 minutes and 30 seconds.
The UTMB is known for being one of the most difficult ultramarathons in the world.
This week, a Czech runner died from injuries after falling during a descent in the TDS Race, which is held during the same week-long running event that also hosts the UTMB. His was the first death in the events’ history.
The UTMB ‘umbrella’ of races also includes the CCC mountain race, OCC (which takes in parts of Swizterland), the PTL (Petite Trotte à Léon) and even a range of ‘Mini-UTMBs’ for kids.
Speaking about his victories and this year’s attempt, Mr d’Haene has said: “On the ultra trail, there isn’t much strategy. You just have to adapt as quickly as possible. That will be the key, to adapt as well as possible to the sensations, the weather, and the other athletes.”
There is less of a clear favourite among the women’s race; a different person has won each of the past five races. Yet, there are repeat champions; British woman Lizzy Hawker has won five times since 2003, USA’s Krissy Moehl has won twice, and USA’s Rory Bosio won in both 2013 and 2014.
This year is the first time the race has taken place since 2019, as the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year’s race will also be more European, with almost half of the 10,000 international competitors coming from just three countries: France, Spain, and the UK.
China will only be the 13th-most represented country, in contrast to fifth place in terms of competitor numbers in 2019.
The winners of the race year by year are as follows:
2003: Dawa Sherpa (NEP), 2004: Vincent Delebarre, 2005: Christophe Jaquerod (SUI), 2006: Marco Olmo (ITA), 2007: Marco Olmo (ITA), 2008: Kilian Jornet (ESP), 2009: Kilian Jornet (ESP), 2010: Jez Bragg (GBR), 2011: Kilian Jornet (ESP), 2012: François D’Haene, 2013: Xavier Thevenard, 2014: François D’Haene, 2015: Xavier Thevenard, 2016: Ludovic Pommeret, 2017: François D’Haene, 2018: Xavier Thevenard, 2019: Pau Capell (ESP), 2020: No race.
2003: Krissy Moehl (USA), 2004: Colette Borcard (SUI), 2005: Lizzy Hawker (GBR), 2006: Karine Herry, 2007: Nikki Kimball (USA), 2008: Lizzy Hawker (GBR), 2009: Krissy Moehl (USA), 2010: Lizzy Hawker (GBR), 2011: Lizzy Hawker (GBR), 2012: Lizzy Hawker (GBR), 2013: Rory Bosio (USA), 2014: Rory Bosio (USA), 2015: Nathalie Mauclair, 2016: Caroline Chaverot, 2017: Nuria Picas (ESP), 2018: Francesca Canepa (ITA), 2019: Courteney Dauwalter (USA), 2020: No race.