It was here in Alagna that a new sport was born 25+ years ago and in 2021, after missing the 2020 edition due to Coronavirus, the Monte Rosa SkyMarathon finally emerged with a successful and exciting edition with 558 athletes from 36 countries.
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Start low, go high, reach a summit, and then return as fast as possible. A sport free of the clutter of mountaineering equipment, a sport that is fast and light. This is the Monte Rosa SkyMarathon.
Back to the core values of the sport, skyrunning, the ‘buzz’ in Alagna was electric at the start.
Retracing the original route from Alagna Valessia at 1192m the route went via the Bocchetta delle Pisse (2396m) to the Indren cable car station (3260m). From here the route continued upwards via the Gnifetti Hut (3467m), Colle del Lys (4250m) and then the summit, the Margherita Hut at 4554m.
An out-and-back route, at the summit, participants (in teams of two) turnaround and re-trace all the way back to Alagna along paths, ski runs, glaciers for a 35km loop and 3490m of vertical ascent and equal descent.
Ahead of the race, conditions in the mountains had been warm and snow conditions were less than ideal. However, a weather window appeared, and the race was confirmed to go ahead on Saturday 19th June, albeit with an earlier start of 0530. Mountains are fickle and snow can be exceptionally challenging, especially beyond midday – an earlier start would hopefully provide better conditions for longer.
Roped together in teams of two for much of the race, the route starts with dry single-track before opening with the need to cross moraine, snow fields and glaciers, it is the ultimate test for a special few as strict vetting takes place in advance of the race to ensure all have the necessary skills and experience.
With past champions, William Boffelli and Franco Colle returning, anticipation was high. However, this time, the winning duo had new partners, they would race head-to-head. Nadir Maguet would join Boffelli making for an incredible pairing. Colle would be joined by Tadei Pivk. Sevennec and Viret, also hot favourites to contend the podium.
For the women, Giuditta Turini and Laura Chiara Besseghini would be hot favourites pushed by the El Kott twins and Vasinova and Sperger.
From the gun, William Boffelli and Nadir Maguet dictated the pace and with 2000m vertical covered, they had a commanding lead over Franco Colle and Tadei Pivk. Climbing the steep couloir beyond Indren cable car station, it was interesting to see Maguet lead Boffelli and unusually, Boffelli seemed to be struggling?
“Nadir was really strong, and the pace was fast, I was struggling a little to hold the pace and so Nadir lead. However, the higher we got, the better I became and after the couloir at the higher altitude, I took the lead, and it was Nadir’s time to suffer a little…” Boffelli said post-race.
The duo was too strong, and the lead gained early on was maintained all the way to the end, however, there was no fast times, the show conditions were just too challenging.
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Colle and Pivk, as expected ran a very strong race and while always in contact with the La Sportiva duo ahead, they were unable to catch them finishing 2nd.
Daniel Thedy paired with Henry Grosjacques rounded the podium with Daniele Felicetti/ Filippo Beccari and Alexis Sevennec/ Léo Viret placing 4th and 5th respectively.
In the women’s race, the hot favourites of Giuditta Turini and Laura Besseghini were relegated to 2nd after a strong performance by the El Kott twins from Sweden, Lina and Sanna. Their time of 6:22:12 was apparently a “little disappointing” according to the twins, they told Hillary Gerardi (who competed in and won the 2VK) that they had hoped to beat her time when paired with Holly Page of 5:51:32. It only shows how much slower the conditions were…
Marina Cugnetto/ Roberta Jacquin placed 3rd, just 1-minute behind Turini and Besseghini for hard fought podium places. Marcel Vasinova/ Eva Sperger and Noemie Grandjean/ Sophie Bertschy placed 4th and 5th respectively
- Boffelli-Maguet (ITA) – 4h45’58”
- Pivk-Collè (ITA) – 5h01’28”
- Grosjacques-Thedy (ITA) – 5h13’07”
- Felicetti-Beccari (ITA) – 5h20’39”
- Viret-Sévennec (FRA) – 5h29’01”
- El Kott Helander-El Kott Helander (SWE) – 6h22’12”
- Turini-Besseghini (ITA) – 6h31’30”
- Cugnetto-Jacquin (ITA) – 6h32’35”
- Vasinova (CZE) – Sperger (GER) – 6h38’57”
- Grandjean (FRA) – Bertschy (SUI) – 6h55’59”
A special note must go to duo, André Jonsson and Rémi Français who sacrificed any top-5 possibility by sacrificing their race to go to the rescue of two other competitors who came victim of a crevasse.
“A race is a race, but sometimes things happen that makes positions and time splits irrelevant. About halfway up the glacier, one guy in the team ahead suddenly disappeared through the snow and his teammate was not far from being pulled down as well. I threw myself, grabbed him, held as hard as possible so they did not slide farther into the crevasse and then Rémi pulled our rope to stop me following them… More teams joined and we soon got them to the surface.”André Jonsson
It’s a timely reminder that the Monte Rosa SkyMarathon is an extreme race and why all participants are strictly vetted and compulsory equipment and the requirement to be roped together is an essential requirement.
“Skyrunning differs to other sports and this is the discipline we launched in the late 1990’ s,” Giacometti said. “Skyrunning has always existed; across the world it is just that it became a formalized sport in our hands. I am called the father of skyrunning, but it is for the aspect of race organization, when we started 25+-years ago, nobody talked about this.”
“Older generations were already Skyrunner’s. My grandfather crossed the mountains working for example. Skyrunner’s added more speed but in essence it has always been the same thing, Skyrunner’s have always existed.” Bruno Brunod says, “I felt the same when I was a kid in the pastures, I always ran up and down the summits that surrounded me. It is something I felt inside, something I liked.”
The consensus post-race was that Marino Giacometti, the race organization team, Alagna and Monte Rosa participants were equal stars of the 2021 edition, especially after a such a tough and challenging year with Coronavirus. We look ahead now to 2022 with another year of less cloud, more sky!
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