François D’haene is aiming for a historic fourth victory at the UTMB, whose start is given this Friday in Chamonix. This year, the field is still dreaming with another triple winner, Xavier Thévenard, or the American Jim Walsmley. The last time he won here, in the magnificent valley of Mont Blanc, François D’haene had signed an epic battle against Kilian Jornet in particular for the toughest race in history, in 2017. Four years later, the triple winner of the UTMB returns to try to win a fourth crown (after 2012, 2014 and 2017), a first in the history of the event, again facing an ultra-high start list for these mythical 170 km and 10 000 m of altitude difference between France, Italy and Switzerland. François D’haene “(La Hardrock), it leaves a bit of aftereffects, but also positive memories and I will try to keep this positive energy” “On this race, you don’t have to complain about the field all. les ans, laughs D’haene, in front of many cameras, the day before the race (start at 5 pm in Chamonix). In 2017, it was perhaps the first time that there were so many people together. This year, there is no Kilian (Jornet), it’s a bit of a shame. Last time, we spent a great night together, it made us move forward in a pleasant way, laughing, but still quite fast. What was also exceptional was that most of the athletes at the start were at the finish line. Courmayeur’s top 15 was almost the same at the finish. It showed that everyone had managed to manage themselves, to find their look and it was really beautiful. There is great respect between the runners. There, ahead, whether it’s me or not, you could see the first ones arriving around 8 p.m. I think. This is what is magic in this discipline: anything can happen. “
Smiling and relaxed 24 hours before the start, D’haene was filled with confidence in the United States last month, after a year plagued by the pandemic. He remains on a very fine victory at the Hardrock 100, one of the two great North American ultras, where he exploded the record time (of a certain Kilian Jornet), swallowing the 170 km and 10,000 m of vertical drop in 9.45 p.m. It remains to be seen whether he has recovered enough. “Normally, I’m supposed to be more ready for the UTMB than for the Hardrock,” smiles the winemaker. Obviously, I left a little energy there, 21 hours of effort, passages at more than 4000 meters (altitude), it wears out a bit. But, I had prepared my season according to this challenge, I knew that there were six weeks apart. I hope it will work. After that, you have to be honest, it leaves a bit of aftereffects, but also positive memories and I will try to keep this positive energy that I have since the Hardrock. »Xavier Thévenard, also for a quadruplet So who could prevent François D’haene from entering even more into the history of the UTMB? Not the defending champion (2019), the Spaniard Pau Capell, absent in Chamonix, who is recovering from knee surgery. But another French, obviously, is one of the favorites: Xavier Thévenard, nicknamed “the little prince of Mont Blanc”. The three-time winner of the UTMB (2013, 2015 and 2018, without forgetting his victories in the other races of the Chamoniard event, CCC, TDS and OCC) will also try to offer himself a fourth historic coronation. But Thévenard has had a complicated year, disturbed by his Lyme disease and Covid-19, which have weakened him. Xavier Thévenard “I think I can perform despite my illness. “” It adds an extra touch of spice and that we will have to manage with the means at hand, he explained to us 48 hours before the race. It’s a bit of the unknown honestly, but I’m already really happy to be there and to be able to do the loop. ”Thevenard specified, however, that he gradually regains his sensations. “But I only experienced them on foot trips of a maximum of five hours, I don’t know what that can be like over 21 hours,” admits the 33-year-old Frenchman. But I am rather confident and happy to have found a small form. After, we’ll see what it can give on Friday: it will be adventure. But I think I can perform despite my illness. “
We must not forget either another big name in ultra-trail: Jim Walmsley, who remains in fifth place in 2017 and retired in 2018, and wants to do battle with the UTMB. “Since then, every year, I saw the field and the race and it made me want to come back,” smiles the American. Walmsley remains on a victory (in 14:46) last June at the Western States in the United States, for the third time, on these very fast 160 km with more descents than climbs (5500 m of positive for 7000 m of negative). Also to be followed: American Tim Tollefson (podiums in 2016 and 2017), Romanian Robert Hajnal (2nd in 2018), Briton Tom Owens (4th in 2019) or French Ludovic Pommeret (winner in 2016), Russian Dimitry Mityaev or the Spaniard Pablo Villa.
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