The Mont Blanc Ultra Trail, or to be more precise the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc or UTMB for short, is the most important international event regarding mountain running – trail running. It is held in August of every year in Chamonix, France, involving other surrounding nations and councils as well, such as Courmayeur in Italy and Orsières in Switzerland. It attracts thousands of enthusiasts and also some of the best trailers in the business.
(EDIT: 2019 edition)
This year marks its 16th edition; over the years the event has grown in importance and authoritativeness, mainly thanks to the expert organization team who prepares the event down to the smallest detail.
10,000 athletes registered to participate in 2018, representing 100 countries. Many more runners tried to take part: from the earliest editions, faced with so many requests for registration participation is determined by a selection process that is only accessible after the completion of one or more so-called ‘qualifying races’ for which athletes are given points, defined by the international ITRA association depending on a number of variables: length, elevation gain and natural environment of the race. Once an athlete has obtained a certain score, they can decide whether or not to apply for selection for one of the seven races that during the week’s events start from and arrive at Chamonix and which are always held in the presence of Mont Blanc.
The Salon Ultra-Trail acts as a frame to the event. The most important international manufacturers of technical materials, such as shoes, clothing and accessories, are able to showcase their latest arrivals. Representatives of other important events take the opportunity to advertise their own events here.
In order to cope with the huge influx of participants, it is vital to spread out entry as well as regulate it. Collection of the bib and mandatory equipment check is a well-ordered, seamless sequence of inspections to ensure that the runner has all the equipment and food necessary to deal with any emergencies or difficulties. Depending on the weather forecast, a standard mandatory provision may be given out to deal with the weather expected on the course.
One of the last steps is the application of the bracelet identifying which race is being participated in and which, over the years, has become a collection item for the runners themselves. Once you have your bracelet, you’re off.
Registration concludes with advice on what to do to not disturb the many pasturing animals to be found on the route, if and when not to use sticks and how to behave in certain situations. Athletes then collect their bibs and put them on for the mandatory photo.
Some years ago the YCC was introduced. More races and routes depending on age groups in order to introduce young athletes to mountain running.
The TDS route, 120km and more than 7,000m of elevation gain, is the most challenging of all the races (excluding the PTL), but it offers runners some of the most breathtaking views.
The route from the Small Saint Bernard hill is one of the most photographed. Above, the first runners to reach the finish line in Chamonix: Marcin SWIERC (1st), Dylan BOWMAN (2nd), Dmitry MITYAEV (3rd).
A Chamonix veteran, Rory Bosio after winning the UTMB twice, in 2013 and 2014, this year took part in the TDS. Her final result was incredible: second female runner with a time of 16:19:36.
The weather often changes suddenly… for the worse. At times, like this year for example, this leads to a modification of the route that the organization team is able to set up without too much difficulty, having already foreseen and prepared for any eventuality.
Standing ovation for Tofol CASTANER’s finish, not only by his many co-nationals but from all enthusiasts in general: the Spaniard has been an important member of the event for over ten years.
Highly accredited journalists, photographers, camera operators flock here from all over the world. Hospitality and accommodation here is top-rate with a spacious, elegant press room.
Undisputed queen of Chamonix, Madame Poletti chairs the press conference for the main race.
The female winner of the TDS, Audrey TANGUY, with the male winner, Marcin SWIERC.
The final prize-giving for the TDS with the top ranking runners.
Erejia JIA, first OCC member and first Chinese athlete to win the event, pictured just before the finish line. A race he led throughout.
The Italian runner Christian Modena.
I like to think that those bringing up the rear of the race are made up – more so than at the front – of people who become athletes in their – limited – spare time. Their races are always more exciting and emotional…
…but, undoubtedly, also of pain and suffering.
At Saint Gervais, 21km into the race, the first runners finish in less than two hours. A dense crowd lines the road as they pass.
The Les Contamines is certainly one of the loveliest aid stations to stay in and most interesting to photograph. It is the first one that the support staff can access and where all the top runners arrive, eat something and change their clothing within an hour.
Jim Walmsley, the first to arrive at Les Contamines, checks out the second arrival, his countryman Miller, and the two then set off again together.
Friends, staff, children, wives, girlfriends. Support that is not just physical with food to hand, but above all emotional. One word, a kiss, a hug can sometimes be just as important.
Francesca Canepa was not amongst the first to reach Les Contamines: some of her adversaries had already left quite a few minutes earlier. I approached her to take some photos and took the chance to say ‘Come on Francesca, you’ll catch up in no time!’, to which she replied: ‘I wish! Today’s tough…’
Food for everyone.
For the journalists, photographers and camera operators, following the race and reporting on all the various aspects of it has its price to pay regards lack of sleep. Many of us, including myself, will have been on our feet for more than forty hours by the end of the race.
Despite not crossing the finish line, Zach Miller’s race was all in attack. His race, his style, his attitude are all appreciated by the crowd.
Xavier and Zach on the descent from Gran Col Ferret towards La Fouly.
Kilian Jornet bows out after being stung by an insect leaving the way clear for the duo Miller – Thevenard. The Frenchman buries any hope of victory for the American at the Champex-Lac aid station: after a brief pit-stop he immediately took off again.
Robert HAJNAL, here at Col de la Forclaz, second across the finish line but with a constant winning smile on his face.
Madame Poletti and her collaborators prepare the celebrations for the arrival of the first participant.
Third victory at the UTMB for Xavier Thevenard, the only athlete to have also won CCC, TDS and OCC.
Good job Francesca Canepa, first Italian woman to win the UTMB.
All trail running enthusiasts have to cross the finish line at least once.