By Pavel Toropov
Since its first edition in 2003, the UTMB® Mont-Blanc has become a unique experience: a mythical route around the highest peak of Europe, a race that crosses 3 countries and 18 municipalities, incorporating 7 events ranging from 300km to 15km for trail runners of all levels. It is an experience that is sought after by more than 32,000 runners who registered for a place through the lottery. By choosing to cancel the event, the organization acknowledges that it does not wish to offer runners an experience that does not live up to their dreams. Pavel Toropov interviewed Catherine Poletti, the founder of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc.
How difficult was the decision to cancel?
Quite difficult, because until the last moment we tried to work on different models to see what was possible. When we realised that it was completely crazy, not trail running – with barriers, with distancing, we realised that everyone will be disappointed. Runners will be disappointed to run in those conditions – with masks, with nobody on the start, nobody in the villages, it is not trail running. We said – OK, it is not possible!
Who proposed those rules?
It was proposed and asked by the government. It is the rules that we must follow, such as social distancing, and we also have no possibility to organise now in France an event with more than 5,000 people. With all the runners, and the public, and the volunteers, it is impossible to do something like that.
Could you have made an earlier decision about this year’s UTMB?
I do not think this was a last moment decision. We still have three full months before the race, you cannot say 3 months is “at the last moment”!
The main problem is not us, the main problem is knowing if it is possible to travel internationally, nobody knows what the situation will be like in 3 months. Maybe it was too early to make the decision!
UTMB 2021 what will it be like? Will it be a “new UTMB” with new protocols – social distancing, mask, staggered start, or will it be the “original UTMB”?
If we are made to have all the volunteers and runners wearing masks, it is impossible (to hold a race)!
So, you are hoping for a return to “normal UTMB” rather than a new format, whatever it may be?
I really do not know! I do not know the hygiene regulations for next year!
Maybe we have to be careful with our travel, not to fly too much, or only fly alone. In the new world we may have to be careful with that, not just with UTMB Mt Blanc, but maybe with all the UTMB races. We have to change something in the system, but I don’t know today how to do this, but we must work together.
What feedback have you been getting from runners after announcing the cancellation?
They are disappointed! After many years of preparation, it is impossible for them to come (to UTMB) and to run. They want to be sure that next year they are able to run (UTMB)!
This is not our fault, the situation is what it is. It is the same as going into the mountains, if it is not possible, you say – OK! I will go next time, as soon as it is possible. So, it is exactly the same position (with UTMB)! This is why for the next three years your place (art UTMB) is reserved.
What will happen with “by UTMB” races and people who got running stones for this year’s UTMB?
The person who got running stones today has got priority, they will have one blank year, so if it is not possible (to organise UTMB) in 2020, then (they can run) in 2021 or 2022 (if 2021 has no race).
We will keep all the promises we did, but today we don’t know – Val D’Aran by UTMB got cancelled.
In China, for Panda Trail and Gaoligong by UTMB, it is their decision, it is not our decision (whether to hold or delay or cancel the race), because China has its own rules, and they have to follow those rules.
I really think in our job – adventure and sport, we need to adapt to the situation. It is not possible not to have problems. Probably there will be another virus (in the future) and we need to learn to live with it.
We cannot change nature, we need to adapt to nature.
When you want to climb a big mountain, if it is not the day, you chose another day!
The 19th edition of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc will take place from August 23 to 29, 2021, and will cross France, Italy and Switzerland.