Ryan Sandes’ hopes of a second international ultra-trail podium finish in 2017 were dashed when he struggled to find form in the UTMB “CCC” 101km trail race through Italy, Switzerland and France, eventually crossing the finish line in Chamonix in 12 hr 04 min 09 sec in 21st position.
American Hayden Hawks ran a superb race, taking the lead at the standard marathon mark ahead of last year’s UTMB champion, Ludovic Pommeret, and racing to an 18 minute victory in 10:24:30, while Clare Gallagher made it a US double, clinching a 13 minute victory over the favourite, Maite Maiora of Spain, in 12:13:57 to clinch the women’s title.
“That was rough - I had no legs after 10km,” admitted Sandes (pictured at the finish). “I think I’ve had too much travel across time zones recently and perhaps I’m not fully recovered from the Western States 100 Miler. But I wanted to finish so hung in there, and there was a great vibe on the course.”
These mountains. So beautiful yet so harsh. Yesterday's run was brutal but I survived and I'm… https://t.co/hYY3A9HSCc
“I felt really good over the first climb at of Courmayer from the start, but by the time I left the aid station at Refuge Bartone at 15km I knew it was going to be a long day! From then, I just tried to hold it together to finish.
“I was able to open up on the downhills, but had nothing on the climbs. I had hoped to make up some ground in the final downhill, but the dark and misty conditions made it impossible and I was just relieved to finish. I will take some time off now to make sure I’m fully recovered and then get in some good training. I will make a call shortly on running Ultra Trail Cape Town in December - I’m super keen to run it.”
Sandes was still well-placed in 16th position after 15km, less than two minutes behind ultimate winner Hawks. But the Hout Bay athlete started to slide back down the field dropping to 21st after 22km, 33rd after 31km and 37th passing the standard marathon distance at the Swiss Valais resort of La Fouly.
While his body refused to respond, the mental toughness which has made Sandes an international star kicked in, and the Cape Town athlete began to fight back, slowly moving through the field. Two thirds into the race Sandes had regained a top 30 position and had broken into the top 20, 15km from the finish, but the dark, wet conditions made further progress difficult as Sandes hung on to the finish.
French ultra-trail athlete, Francois D’Haene, 32, triumphed over Spanish super-star Kilian Jornet in the 167km UTMB race, billed as the race of champions, with four past winners of the great trail race in the field.
Starting in Chamonix on Friday evening, the race developed into a three-way battle between D’Haene (who won in 2012 and 2014), Jornet (winner in 2008, 2009 and 2011) and the talented young American, Jim Walmsley, who Sandes defeated in the Western States in June.
Jornet, who has taken on an enormous schedule of physical endurance feats during the year, including two free-climbing summits of Everest, fell back after 80km with D’Haene opening on Walmsley after summiting the challenging Col de Ferret at 100km.
Jornet came back strongly in the latter stages but could not catch the strong-runner D’Haene, who won by 15 minutes in 19 hrs 1 min 32 sec.
Spanish athlete Nuria Picas won the women’s competition with a clear-cut win over Switzerland’s Andrea Huser, who bagged her second successive runner-up medal.