Every other Thursday, in its “Off-Pitch” section,
explores new, unexpected, unusual, clever or booming spaces for expressing sport.
This week, we are devoting ourselves to the SaintéLyon, the oldest nature running race, the 68th edition of which will take place on the night of December 3 to 4 between Saint-Etienne and Lyon.
Extremely attached to the two cities, trail runner Baptiste Chassagne (29) tells what this mythical 78 km event represents in his eyes, which he hopes to win for the first time next week.
Will Baptiste Chassagne's daydream come true on the night of December 3 to 4?
This 29-year-old trail runner from Lyon ensures that he "thinks every day" about the SaintéLyon, a terrible night race of 78 km (2,050 m of elevation gain) leaving Saint-Etienne at 11:30 p.m. to reach Lyon, most often in dantesque conditions.
“The thing that fascinates me is to see that this is the 68th edition, he underlines.
It makes a lot of sense to be the dean of nature races in France, as Liège-Bastogne-Liège is in cycling.
It's hard to find a better symbol than Baptiste Chassagne to embody the strong identity of SaintéLyon.
He was born in Lyon and he still lives there today.
All while going very often to Saint-Etienne, the city where his parents and grandparents are from.
It is also proof that you can have spent your entire childhood in Lyon… and support ASSE.
“I know that I have a bipolar tendency because I love both cities, smiles Baptiste Chassagne.
The real opposition is between OL and ASSE.
My father took me at the age of 3 to the North Kop of Geoffroy-Guichard, so it quickly developed in me a magical universe around the green people.
I was a Magic Fans subscriber for almost 20 years.
The discovery of the trail via his driving school teacher
To punctuate it all, it was the discovery of SaintéLyon that prompted him to take up trail running during his studies in political science.
And this through discussions with Emmanuel Meyssat, his driving school teacher in Vaugneray (Rhône) during the winter of 2015, and vice-champion of France in trail running in search of a first crown on the SaintéLyon (he will win the 2016 and 2017 editions).
“At the time, I only played club football, and as soon as he told me about SaintéLyon, it made me want to run in the middle of nature, remembers Baptiste Chassagne.
It definitely planted a little seed in me.
From “hobby” until 2017, his approach became “semi-professional” in 2018, when he joined Team Sidas-Matryx.
Unsurprisingly, the most Saintéphanois of Lyonnais therefore found himself before that among the 17,000 participants in SaintéLyon in 2017, in a relay.
In 2018, he reached a milestone by winning the SaintExpress (formula of "only" 44 km), before tackling his Grail in 2019. On the podium until 400 m from the finish, he finished the race fourth for his first participation, in 6h04, just ten minutes behind the winner Cédric Fleureton.
Close to realizing his dream from his first try, Baptiste Chassagne must then take his troubles patiently, between the cancellation of 2020 due to Covid-19, then a stress fracture preventing him from taking the start last year.
Since the beginning of my career as a trail runner, there has always been SaintéLyon as a red thread.
I found myself caught up in the magic of this hyper-popular race, and I promised myself to run it until I won it one day.
I feel lucky to have a heart race.
I'm very close to her but she refuses me a little.
In front of Mathieu Blanchard on the Lavaredo
This is why he intends to "reconcile" with her next week, after having contented himself in 2021 with a volunteer role on a supply station, from 5 to 10 a.m. in Soucieu-en-Jarrest (Rhône).
"We all know that Baptiste dreams of winning his heart race," says Thomas Janichon, his manager at Team Sidas-Matryx.
He is also very close to the organisers, and all of this must allow him to have an extra soul on the SaintéLyon, and not inhibit him.
” Baptiste Chassagne is in any case coming out of a big 2022 season, like his fourth place in March on the Transgrancanaria (126 km and 7,500 m of D +) in Spain, just like in June on the Lavaredo (120 km and 5,800 m of D +) in Italy, ahead of Mathieu Blanchard (5th).
Finally, he obtained in less than 11 hours another Top 10 on the CCC (100 km and 6,100 m of D +), one of the major races of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), in August in Chamonix.
All while finishing each time as the first tricolor in the standings.
Performances that earned him a first summons to the French trail team for the world championships in November in Thailand.
"At night, we feel more animal"
But "burnt" by this intense year 2022, Baptiste Chassagne preferred to decline, to devote himself to this new season, which therefore begins in Saint-Etienne on December 3, with the next World Championships in Austria in June 2023 in sight. comes back to the specificity of SaintéLyon, less prestigious and formidable a priori than its three biggest challenges of the previous season.
There are a lot of elite runners who don't finish this race.
It's often guys from the mountains who say to themselves that SaintéLyon is the countryside and it's all flat.
At night, we feel more animal and more vulnerable.
It's not the best runner who wins the SaintéLyon but the one who has a crazy motivation, and who best manages deep loneliness.
Because if you don't know why you're here, when you arrive in Sainte-Catherine after 4 hours of running alone at night in the snow, I understand that you're stuck.
Saint Catherine ?
No, we are not talking about the mythical street with bars, at the bottom of the slopes of the Croix-Rousse (Lyon 1er), so popular with students (and even Mick Jagger), but of a village in the Monts du Lyonnais where a December night often rhymes with icy air, ice, even snow for its most extreme editions.
An ideal playground for our regular on these trails, who trains about 20 hours a week, in parallel with his professional activity at the head of the communication agency 40 BPM.
What is ultimately the room for improvement for the 29-year-old trail runner, whose "high-level approach" is recent?
A podium on the UTMB by 2025?
"Baptiste has only been running for six years, and it's hard to grasp his limits," explains Thomas Janichon.
He did not go through athletics.
It is not a raw talent but a needy one.
“And therefore a runner destined to flourish in the ultra-trail, according to his 2022 season and the words of his manager:” He holds high racing values for a very long time.
On the CCC, for example, he climbs three bumps of 1,000 m of elevation gain at the same speed after 80 km of the race as at the 20th km.
“The interested party is in phase with this career development towards the ultra: “My qualities are revealed over long distances, when the race becomes a real game of chess.
There, I still have a course to cross to pass from 14 hours of effort to 20 hours.
But I set myself three years to get a podium on the UTMB [171 km].
Our off-road file
An incredible ultra-trailer
, beyond measure with the prospect of reaching the Halle Tony-Garnier first, on December 4 in the early morning.
“The SaintéLyon is far from having the aura of the UTMB, but winning it would really be a consecration for me, concludes Baptiste Chassagne.
Winning a UTMB changes a life, but winning a SaintéLyon, it changes the life of a Lyonnais…”
Trail: “We put hundreds of runners back afloat”… How the rare spectators of SaintéLyon play a key role
Trail: Who are these "extraterrestrials" who will follow two SaintéLyons in the weekend?