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The Tor must go on...

by @garyfallsover
Monday 14th March 2016
Followers of the never boring Italian ultra running scene have been particularly interested in the increasingly bitter row between the originators of the Tor des Geants race, a monstrous 336km single stage traverse of the Alta Via 1 and 2 routes in the Aosta valley, and the local governmental body who is trying to take over the race on safety grounds.
Some months ago rumours started to surface that, following the mid race cancellation of the Tor in 2015, the local council of the Aosta valley, who were the major sponsors of the race, began to apply pressure on VDA trailers to change some aspects of the race ostensibly to improve the safety of the participants. The council’s main concern was that with the race being so late in the season the weather in the high passes was particularly unpredictable and so potentially exposed racers to dangerous alpine storms. There were also concerns from some quarters that because the racers were not subject to carrying compulsory tracking beacons there was potential to become lost in the mountains. 
But in Italian racing it seems there’s no such thing as a simple solution and what seemed like a minor issue has now blown up into an insurmountable problem. There has been an official split between the original race company, VDA trailers, and the new race organisation  who have decided to go their own way and start a new race along the same paths, albeit a week earlier. 
The new race, named the 4K Alpine Endurance Trail will start in Cogne instead of Courmayeur so as to tackle the higher passess of Col Lauson, D’Entrelor and Fenetre earlier in the race while the runners are relatively fresh. The route will be slightly longer and with greater total elevation and has also introduced safety features such as a gps tracker for every runner, which was a criticism of VDA for not being part of the mandatory kit in previous races.  Anti doping controls and cash prizes all contribute to what feels like a more controlled race than the old school Tor des Geants that I’ve had the pleasure of participating in. 
And it’s the introduction of those changes and the behind the scenes participation of the UTMB organisers the Polettis that are raising some eyebrows. Initially it was reported that one of the major causes for the dispute was the fact that the race was so late in the racing season, when the weather in the high passes could be particularly unpredictable and dangerous. But by starting the 4K a mere week before the Tor that fear hasn’t been allayed at all.  In fact if anything it’s making the likelihood of both races surviving even more difficult as the strain it’ll put on the local populace will be unsustainable. With some of the checkpoints open for 4-5 days running two races back to back means it’s inevitable that choices will have to be made between the two.
There’s also a good deal of anger within the local area that a rumoured 300,000 euros of local council money is being used to set up and organise the new race, though having said that a good many of the original Tor sponsors have now moved over to support the 4K. 
Having spoken to some of the local residents of the valley it’s clear that whilst there’s still a great deal of confusion over the split between the local government and VDA trailers they themselves are committed to ensuring that visitors to the area enjoy whatever race they’ve chosen. Though from my point of view it’s difficult to see how two races of this magnitude can survive in the area within such a small period of time. 
Races like this become great not because of the organisers, they survive and thrive because the volunteers and workers take the participants to their heart. I’ve enjoyed the hospitality, friendliness and strength of the people of the Aosta valley for the last two years and I hope to enjoy it again. Disputes like this hurt only the people who love the valley and the mountains and I fervently hope that whatever the reasons behind it it gets resolved. Whatever happens I’ll be back in the Aosta valley in September. I’m just not sure what kind of bib I’ll be wearing.
As of today (14th March) the 4k has been forbidden by judicial order from taking any more entries.

About The Author

Gary Dalton

Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit. 

Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs. 


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