Launched in 2003, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc was mourned for the first time last Wednesday, after the fatal fall of a 35-year-old Czech runner on the TDS (145 km).
The UTMB organization was keen not to cancel the rest of its week, which ended on Sunday afternoon with the arrival of amateur runners on the main 171 km event (10,000 m of elevation gain).
How did the runners, relatives and organizers finally experience this 2021 edition after this tragedy?
From our special correspondent in Chamonix,
From our special correspondent in Chamonix,
“It was our phobia every year. »Co-founder of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in 2003, Catherine Poletti says she has dreaded this day for 18 years. Until then spared despite an influx having gradually climbed to 10,000 trail runners, his race was in mourning on the night of August 24 to 25. At 12:25 am, a 35-year-old Czech runner, registered on the TDS (Traces des Ducs de Savoie, 145 km and 9,100 m of D +), was indeed the victim of a fatal fall in the descent of the Passeur de Pralognan (Savoie ), approximately at km 62. This very difficult section of the course had already been on the program several times during the first 11 editions of the TDS.
If the 293 participants who had already passed this difficulty were able to go to the end of their challenge, the 1,200 trail runners located upstream of the fall were "neutralized" to organize the rescue as best as possible, before being forced to abandon and back down to Bourg-Saint-Maurice.
At 7 pm on Wednesday August 25, the organizers, "deeply saddened", announced in a press release: "Despite a grieving TDS, the UTMB 2021 continues".
But how did the thousands of registrants for the following races, namely the OCC, the CCC, and above all the main UTMB event (171 km and 10,000 m of D +) experience this tragedy before setting off for the conquest of Mont-Blanc?
Tragic precedents in Reunion Island and in China
“I thought a lot about this tragic accident and it really affected all the runners,” indicates Charles Mahon de Monaghan, an amateur runner who completed the UTMB on Sunday morning in less than 38 hours. It reminds us that whatever the conditions, even when we are trained and with equipment, the mountain is always dangerous. I have already participated in events where runners were killed in the past. We know that can happen in the ultra-trail world. Fortunately not many, the main precedents concern the Diagonale des Fous in Reunion Island, with three deaths on its trails, in 2002 and 2012 (a heart attack and two fatal falls), then more recently the terrible storm in an ultra in China having was fatal to 21 runners.
“The fact that this is happening for the first time on the UTMB, just before we set off, really challenged us,” explains Perpignanais Olivier Mevel (57), who abandoned his challenge on Saturday morning after 61 km.
But you should know that the UTMB course is much less technical than that of the TDS.
There is hardly any dangerous place on the edge of the cliff.
It remains a serious reminder of the risks of such a discipline in the mountains.
For a split second, I wondered if the last races would be canceled.
"Take advantage of every moment in a race, but also in life"
Marked as so many events by the cancellation of their 2020 edition due to Covid-19, the organizers did not make this choice. “We have always attached great importance to our health and safety posts,” explains Catherine Poletti. In the mountains as in the sea, it is often the older ones who disappear in conditions that we do not understand. Nature can remind us that as strong as we are, if it is time, we cannot avoid this fatality. We are sad for this brilliant young boy. "His disappearance also made those around the runners" more worried than ever ", as we have been told by many relatives of amateur participants in the UTMB in refueling. On several occasions since August 25,sequences of applause were launched in tribute to the victim until the conclusion of this 2021 edition.
Vibrant tribute from Czech rider Hruska Zdenek before the start @UTMBMontBlanc to his friend Ondrej Tabarka, who died on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday during the TDS @ 20Minutes # UTMB2021 #trail pic.twitter.com/GiZ5YpjT2z
- Jérémy Laugier (@JeremyLaugier) August 27, 2021
The most poignant moment undoubtedly took place on Friday afternoon, just before the big start of the UTMB.
The Czech Hruska Zdenek wanted to read a message prepared for the late Ondrej Tabarka.
“My friend Ondrej was one of the best people I have ever met.
He was always smiling and humble.
He loved to run in the mountains and in life.
He has always had an incredible positive nature.
Be careful in the mountains, but at the same time, enjoy every moment in a race, but also in life, because you never know what the future holds.
»Announcing that he wanted to run« in his honor », Hruska Zdenek thus paid another tribute to his friend, by concluding the formidable 171 km race in a beautiful 58th place, in 27h53.
Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc: How so many amateur runners snatched their “Grail” after more than 40 hours of racing
Trail: Czech runner falls to death near Chamonix, race neutralized