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UTMB 2017: impressive line-up didn't disappoint

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Tuesday 5th September 2017
Tags  UTMB   |   Damian Hall
Billed as the best field ever assembled for the UTMB we knew it was going to be an exciting race. But we had no idea just how exciting! 
Firstly the mountains span their random weather generator wheel and it came up: ‘challenging’. It was cold and rainy with fog in places and some snow up high. Because of this there were a couple of variations made to the route, including avoiding the dreaded final climb up Tete Aux Vents. 
The men’s race started off fast, and carried on that way. Kilian Jornet relaxed into the first dozen kilometers of the race, but then he quickly matched the pace imposed by François D'Haene, Xavier Thévenard, and Jim Walmsley. It was not until the lead group reached Col du Bonhomme Pass (43km) that one of the favourites, Xavier Thévenard, started to fall behind. By Courmayeur, at around 02:30 in the morning, Jim Walmsley had a 5-minute lead on Jornet and D'Haene.
After the climb to Grand Col Ferret Pass (102km), where the runners had to deal with high winds and snow, Walmsley and D'Haene broke ahead. Not too far behind, Jornet had been "feeling a bit off" since leaving Courmayeur, and unfortunately the long descent to La Fouly sealed Walmsley’s fate as he was frozen to the bone and plagued by blisters. His long breaks in La Fouly and Champex-Lac left him far behind the other lead runners. While D'Haene and Jornet's grimaces didn’t show that they were feeling any better than Walmsley, their vast experience in the mountains and racing ultras proved to be a clear advantage. 
In Trient, D'Haene's lead over Jornet indicated that the Frenchman just might finish the race in first place. He eventually dropped back into Chamonix in just over 19 hours, 15 minutes ahead of Jornet. The now now three-time UTMB® winner D’Haene said "It was amazing. We were so tired at daybreak, but we had to get the job done! At that point the race went from simple to complicated. Thankfully there were lots of people along the course to cheer us on in spite of the rain, it was simply unbelievable! The race wasn't really a battle against the other runners, but against ourselves. When I started the descent from Grand Col Ferret Pass, you couldn't see a thing, we were freezing, and my legs were stiff and tired,”. Tim Tollefson of the US finished in third. 
For us the big story of this year’s UTMB was Brit Damian Hall. Coming from a hill walking background and only getting into ultra running five years ago, he’s been quietly but steadily climbing up the ITRA rankings with some great results. He finished an exciting 19th in 2016’s UTMB and then had a breakthrough performance on a big stage at this year’s Lavaredo by finishing 7th and taking some big scalps! We expected big things this year at UTMB and he didn’t disappoint. He kicked it with the big boys, was in the top 10 at one point, and finished a fantastic 12th place in one of the most stacked ultra fields ever. Congratulations, Damian. 
The women’s race wasn’t as close but it was no less exciting. The tough conditions saw some of the early leaders drop later in the race, including GB’s Beth Pascall, who was in 3rd at one point, and Fernanda Maciel. 
Nuria Picas led from the start and was the eventual winner after two previous second place finishes at the UTMB. However, this was after a dramatic turn of events in the last few kilometres when she suffered an asthma attack. This led to her lead being slashed from 20 minutes to just under 3! It was a superhuman effort to hold onto her lead in those circumstances and she crossed the finish line in tears. 
Andrea Huser was happy with another second place, and only expressed slight regret after crossing the finish line. "On the last descent, I was in a dreamlike state, a bit detached. I did not realise that I was so close to Nuria. I think that if I had known that beforehand, I would have given it my all to catch up with her to cross the finish line hand in hand!" The real surprise came from Frenchwomen Christelle Bard, who finished in 3rd place after running a superb second half of the race. Having placed 3rd in last year's TDS®, her first 100-miler was clearly an overwhelming success.
Brit Anna-Marie Watson had a great run to finish in 7th place. Fellow Brit Sophie Grant finished in 15th. 
UTMB® 2017 - 166.9 km - 10,253m of vertical gain
François D'HAENE (FRA) - 19:01:32
Kilian JORNET BURGADA (ESP) - 19:16:38
Tim TOLLEFSON (USA) - 19:53:00
Núria PICAS (ESP) - 25:46:43
Andrea HUSER (SUI) - 25:49:18
Christelle BARD (FRA) - 26:39:03)

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