UTMB 2023: Will Jim Walmsley overcome the American curse around Mont-Blanc?

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PORTRAIT After two Top 5 in 2017 and 2022, the 33-year-old American runner intends to build on his year and a half spent exclusively in Beaufortain to win the supreme consecration on the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which begins this Friday (6 p.m.)

UTMB 2023: Will Jim Walmsley overcome the American curse around Mont-Blanc?

The star rider of the Hoka team, Jim Walmsley, will be one of the big favorites of this 20th edition of the UTMB from this Friday. — Simon Dugué

  • The world's largest event in the discipline, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (171 km and 10,000 m of elevation gain) will start this Friday (6 p.m.) from Chamonix (Haute-Savoie), on the occasion of its 20th edition.
  • Despite a high density of high-level runners, American trail running has never raised one of its athletes to the top of the UTMB since the launch of the event in 2003.
  • This anomaly could well be corrected this year by the star of the Hoka team Jim Walmsley (33 years old), triple winner of the Western States, who made the surprising choice to leave Arizona to come and live for more than a year in Arêches-Beaufort (Savoie). All in order to best prepare this UTMB which makes him dream so much.

What if this 20th edition of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) finally turns in favor of an American runner? Tim Tollefson, Zach Miller, Dylan Bowman and so many others have always snapped. teeth on the biggest trail-running event in the world. But this Friday (departure at 6 p.m.) at Chamonix, Jim Walmsley presents himself as the number one favorite of this mythical race of 171 km and 10,000 m of altitude difference. positive. And this because of the common absence of the two gluttons of the event, Kilian Jornet and François D’Haene (injured), who shared the race. three of the four editions to which has hitherto been participated the atypical trail runner (and ex-cross-country skier) from Arizona. But also because he made the astonishing choice, in the spring of 2022, to come and settle in the city. Arêches-Beaufort (Savoie).

“Living in France was a family project with my wife Jess [Jessica Brazeau, also a trail runner], but of course it’ UTMB which inspired this, explains Jim Walmsley. We both love the French culture and the amazing outdoor possibilities.that this enriching experience allows.” The 33-year-old runner, who finished 5th in the UTMB in 2017, before retiring in 2018 and 2021, perceived the first beneficial effects of this move during his the 2022 edition, concluded at 4th place (in 9:12 p.m.). “For the first time, I felt close enough to be able to break away and win,” If Kilian Jornet and Mathieu Blanchard had delivered themselves a hell of a final battle to reach Chamonix, Jim Walmsley had led; the race for over 120km before collapsing on Saturday morning.

UTMB 2023: Will Jim Walmsley overcome the American curse around Mont-Blanc?

Leaving very strong for his first participation in the the UTMB in 2017, Jim Walmsley (on the right) had then cracked, in particular in front of Kilian Jornet (on the left), who will be absent from this 20th edition this Friday. – Franck Oddoux/UTMB

He follows the recipe for ski mountaineering dear to him. Jornet and D’Haene

Live at; Can 100% in the Alps for a full year allow him to follow his dream this time? “The UTMB course is just a stone's throw away. side from my house now, he appreciates. Even though I’t performed only one real test on the spot at the last moment, to have in the Beaufortain a nice playground not far from there; Fits me very well.” Disembarked from Flagstaf (Arizona) without a trainer last year, Jim Walmsley initially hoped a lot to train with Françil;ois D’Haene (quadruple winner in Chamonix), but the latter’s long injury has changed the deal.

Elite runner and coach within the Sidas-Matryx team, Simon Gosselin (27), who also lives in Arêches-Beaufort, has become the regular training partner. from the Hoka star. “Jim made a strong and really interesting choice to come and lead a simple life in our mountains,” notes Rémi Bonnet”s coach. Last January, it was even the teammate of the triple winner of the Western States, for the first ski mountaineering event of his life. Because yes, inspired by François D’Haene and above all Kilian Jornet, who have always their winters on skis, our athlete from Arizona tried the adventure of La Belle Etoile, a formidable race in pairs with on the menu two stages of 2,500 m of D + aux 7 Laux (Isère).

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“He may well have tamed the side of it. hostile of the mountain”

A great first concluded at; 15th place (in 7h19). “He ended up drained. and I laughed sometimes thinking to myself that I could have, if I had wanted to, let go of Jim Walmsley uphill in a sport, which is not common,”smiles Simon Gosselin. More than this anecdotal ranking in ski mountaineering, the American has perhaps forged, in view of the UTMB, a resistance to foolproof; this occasion. “He lived in the city for a long time. Phoenix, therefore, as much as the heat is a strength for him, he fears the cold nights, in which he leaves a lot of juice, deciphers Simon Gosselin. There, he was able to tame the side of things. hostility from the mountain.” This hostility who played him so much of laps since 2017 on the UTMB, to the point of pushing him to preparing in an almost obsessive way this 20th edition of the event, as he has therefore entrusted to him. to 20 Minutes.

The UTMB is the world's pinnacle of 100-mile mountain races. I’s trying to reach the top of this sport, and it naturally goes through the UTMB. It’s a race that I’ve always wanted to do. So I'm trying to build my season around the biggest ultra event in the world. I haven’t given yet the best of myself here as I have been able to do in other races. This is what frustrates me the most: I want to achieve the best athletic performance of my career at Chamonix.”

Even if the facts implacably prove otherwise, whether in a solo breakaway in 2017 or in a high-flying duel with François D’Haene in 2021 (he was arrived cooked in Courmayeur), Jim Walmsley refutes the thesis of the frantic pace of the start of the race and untenable for 171 km. “My pace has been the same since 2017,” In any case, I try not to repeat the same mistakes from one edition to another. I feel confident with this pace and I've mostly had nutrition issues on the cold nights here. That's what got me so far. always prevented to push as I would have liked until Chamonix.”

“ this year”

By the way, does Jim Walmsley’s French future depend on his place at the helm? the arrival at Chamonix Saturday? “No, the original plan was to live a year and a half away. background in France with Jess, he reveals. There, we will share our time more with the United States because we miss our friends and our family. But at In the long term, settling in France permanently remains an option because I fell in love with this country. And regardless of the result on the UTMB, we are satisfied to have made this choice.” Nevertheless, don’t put even greater pressure on yourself when you dedicate your entire season to; a race, to the point of changing country/life to prepare for it? “I definitely feel pressure,” he admits. But çit suits me, it’s the case on all races, no more here than on the Western States for example. I aim for victory at every time I show up for an ultra-trail race. Living in France all this time makes me feel more grounded and relaxed. this year.”


His famous compatriot Courtney Dauwalter, victorious in 2019 and 2021 Chamonix believes in its consecration: “Jim has great potential and I will never rule him out of the possible winners of the UTMB” And this despite this curse that seems to be hitting American men's trail running in the Alps? “No, a curse is like a voodoo phenomenon for something you couldn’t explain, Jim Walmsley said. Until then, it’s like çthat, that’s all. And then it’s not yet as long as the shortage of French riders in the Tour de France so it’s not that bad.” Will Jim's interview ride be confirmed on the Mont-Blanc trails this Friday and Saturday?