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The race that never ends

September 15, 2011

Sunrise below Col Fenêtre, Rif. Miserin. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

Tor Des Géants, Aosta Valley, Italy. While the fastest runners reached the finish in Courmayeur on wednesday, many are still struggling out on the course. Follow the race live here.  I have been following the race in Aosta, trekking and running parts of the course. Here is my first report. More to follow.

It didn’t take long before the field of 500 participants in Tor Des Géants were stretched out. Hours grew to days and nights, and there were always another grueling ascent with another painful descent. When or If the runners, trekkers, stubborn endurance machines… reach the finish point only tears can match their inner feelings.

But let’s rewind to sunday the 11th. Last years runner-up spaniard Calvo

Descending to Champorcher after an energizing breakfast at Rifugio Dondena. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

Redondo took an early lead before Christophe Le Saux, the energetic french with the big curly hairdo, followed by strong swiss runners Marco Gazzola and Jules Henri Gabioud. However, predicting the TDG is impossible, since it’s a VERY long race, with an expected winning time of 80 hours. At the pressconference the day before, both 2010 winners, Anne-Marie and brother Ulrich Gross from Südtirol in german speaking Italy, had declared they were here to defend their titles. Annemarie truly did, with a large margin, and finished 5th overall early thursday morning. Ulrich however had to drop out after sunday evening in Rhemes. Salvador Calvo Redondo dropped out tuesday morning due to knee problems. Tuesday afternoon Christophe Le Saux reached Valtournenche, just south of Cervinia and Mont Cervin (Matterhorn) first, however during the following night he fell asleep without knowing and was passed. First to reach Courmayeur was instead Marco Gazzola, after 75 hours, beating Ulrich’s time from 2010 with 5,5 hours. However, it seems Gazzola has been disqualified, which would mean that Jules Henri Gabioud is the winner. More information about this to follow…

But just like most other ultratrails this is an amateaurs race, where 9 out of 10 participants highest goal is completing the course, like Lorenzo 54, from Liguria.

– I will be very happy if I can reach the finish, but if I don’t, I will be

Marco Gazzola approaching Valtournenche tuesday afternoon in 2nd place. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

happy anyway, he explains during the ascent to Col de Fenetre in the early morning dusk day 2. The remains of last nights rough and wet welcome to the brave assembly from 22 countries rising like smoke over the jagged peaks.

Lorenzo explains he started with a colleague but had to continue alone since his friend had to abandon due to achilles problems, a not very unusual scenario. At the first edition last year less than 100 of 300 starting finished the race. From young age Lorenzo used to spend lots of time in the mountains, so the transition to ultratrail 5 years ago didn’t seem like huge step. Compared to his normal hikes and treks in the mountains participating in the TDG offers new dimensions.

Jules Henri Gabioud with pacer and Mont Cervin (Matterhorn) above. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

– I like it because I get to experience mountains I didn’t know before, and meeting people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. The race format also adds extra adrenaline, and of course the challenge: to see if you can make it.

Reaching the top of Col Fenetre letting the morning sun revive him Lorenzo takes a short rest, 10-15 seconds, admiring the fantastic view, before heading down the serpentine trail cut into the steep slope that will end some 1100 meters below. The upper tigh muscles burn like fire as they do after thousands of negative altimeters. But it’s just how this race tastes.

Thinking of doing the TDG? Consider these figures:
330 km distance & 24 000 m D+ (positive elevation – and about as much negative elevation, which we mustn’t forget). During the race runners ascend and descend mountain passes higher than 2000m 25 times (thus approx 8 a day for the fastests).

Thanks to Tecnica and Aosta Valley Tourism Office for helping me covering the Tor Des Géants 2011.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Robert Riesinger permalink
    September 22, 2011 6:22

    Dear Frederik,
    congratulations to your good report !

    Your remember, the Austrian “Robert”, – we met in Courmayeur and later on the Rifugio Sogno, the beautiful cabane with the tasty specialities.

    Do you still have the foto you made on Rif. Sogno – I would be thankful to get it sent to :

    Taks e mygge

    hey da


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