They say the best wins are the ones you have to fight for. This was definitely the case for champions Debats and Minoggio who faced extreme conditions and fierce head-to-heads at Royal Ultra SkyMarathon, the ninth race of the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series.
Heat, high altitude and snow – it was clear from the start that today’s 55 km race with 4,141m vertical gain, would be an extreme challenge, even for the most advanced skyrunners of the series.
For the female champion, Ragna Debats, the biggest challenge was not the conditions, but a dark horse she had to battle with for the majority of the race. Not many runners are brave enough to challenge Debats, especially on a course so well suited to her strengths, but unknown athlete, Myriam Guillot Boisset, showed no fear today when she picked a fight with the Dutch elite. Boisset, a 40-year-old professional adventure racer and ex-professional Ironman athlete from France, set a pace that Debats had to work hard to keep up with before finishing in second place.
“I came here today because I just wanted to train running long distance to get some more miles in my legs but this race turned out to be perfect for me. I did some Skyraces a few years ago but I’ve been focusing on adventure racing recently. It’s nice to be back and to experience the feeling of skyrunning again.” said Boisset who lead the female race for the first 30 km before being beaten to the finish line by the overall ranking number one.
“The race with Ragna was exciting. I had a moment in the middle where I struggled for an hour and that’s when she passed me. I let her go and just focused on my race. I kept going and managed to come back. I’m not used to running constantly for 8 hours. Usually, I switch between running biking and kayaking so this was totally new for me. I like these kinds of races – very technical and beautiful, so next year I would like to return to do the entire season.”
Even after an incredibly tough 42 km race the previous weekend, Debats proved she was not prepared to taste defeat today. The Dutch skyrunner went on to not only be crowned champion of 2019 Royal Ultra SkyMarathon Gran Paradiso, but she also set a new course record of 7h52‘40“, 13 minutes faster than the previous record set by Maite Maiora in 2017.
“I was second for a very long time. I tried to control the situation and not let Myriam go too far away because I could see she was going very fast. I paced myself from the start because I knew that if I continued that fast, I wouldn’t be able to last. I stayed on Myriam and halfway through when she slowed down, I managed to pass her.” said Debats, who was victorious despite getting lost along the way. “Shortly after I came into the lead, I actually got lost! I took a wrong turn and ended up losing around three minutes. When I finally found my way back to the track, I was really worried that Myriam has passed me again but I was lucky. I had a good feeling about this race though since I picked up by bib yesterday. It was ideal conditions for me – very runnable but still technical with snow.”
In the men’s race, it was local runner, Cristian Minoggio who took home the title today with a time of 6h50’04”. Although the Italian athlete was unable to beat Bhim Gurung’s incredible 2017 course record of 6h41’24”, he still managed to pull off an impressive win after going head-to-head with French runner Gautier Airiau for the last quarter of the race. In the end, Airiau could not keep up with Minoggio in the last downhill and finished in second place by only one minute.
Airiau and Minoggio were joined on the podium by Ruy Ueda of Japan, who, despite being knocked down last weekend at BUFF® Epic Trail, got back up again and fought hard for his podium position. “I am proud of what I achieved. I had no energy at the end and I really struggled but I knew I had to fight today so I did,” said Ueda, whose third-place finish was not enough for him to steal back the number one position in the overall ranking.
Aside from the victories, there were also many emotional finishes. Andre Jonsson, who placed second at the last Royal Ultra SkyMarathon in 2017, did not experience the same success this year. After a strong start which saw him take the lead at km 13, Jonsson suffered from the altitude and even considered throwing in the towel before the last climb. In the end, the Swedish skyrunner stumbled across the finish line with a time of 9h06’01”, more than two hours slower than his previous time. Although slightly disappointed, Jonsson explained this race remains a special one for him.
It was also an extremely emotional race for Hillary Allen of the USA who burst into tears after crossing the finish line of her first Skyrace since her near-fatal accident at Tromsø Skyrace two years ago. “This was a really difficult race for me to finish but I’m so happy I did it,” explained Allen who almost also brought the crowd of fans and spectators to tears after an inspirational performance and act of courage.
After the ninth race of the 2019 Migu Run Skyrunner World Series, the leaders of the overall ranking are still Ragna Debats and Oriol Cardona. The full ranking can be found here.
Royal Ultra SkyMarathon Gran Paradiso Results:
1. Cristian Minoggio (ITA) Serim – 6h50’04”
2. Gautier Airiau (FRA) Salming – 6h51’01”
3. Ruy Ueda (JPN) Columbia – 6h56’49”
4. Hannes Namberger (GER) Dynafit – 6h57‘24“
5. Andy Symonds (GBR) SCOTT – 7h05’32”
1. Ragna Debats (NDR) Merrell – 7h52‘40“
2. Myriam Guillot Boisset (FRA) – 8h14’53”
3. Oihana Azkorbebeitia (ESP) Euskal Herria EMF – 8h45’35”
4. Antoniya Grigorova (BUL) XcoSports – 8h48’38”
5. Silvia Puigarnau (ESP) Matxacuca – 8h50’47”