The 2021 Grand Trail des Templiers started with its typical red flares and music blazing into a frosty, dark, October morning — this year perhaps buoyed by the extra energy of the race’s three-year absence due to bad weather and the COVID-19 pandemic. This 81 kilometer (50-mile) event, which takes place in Millau, France, climbs some 3,690 meters (12,100 feet) but does so over largely runnable terrain. The event has long attracted international competition as well as many of its home nation’s trail stars. This combination results in a really fast race with dynamic competition between runners from start to finish.
This year saw just-below-freezing temperatures and clear skies for the 5:15 a.m. start. Soon after dawn, it became an outrageously perfect fall day in southern France. Afternoon temperatures reached about 16 degrees Celsius (62 degrees Fahrenheit), literally perfect running weather.
The U.K.’s Jonathan Albon (post-race interview) won the men’s race by seven minutes, but he put five of those minutes on second place in the race’s final 11k, so the men’s race for the podium was really tight for the majority of the race – nearly 70k – before spreading out a bit at the end. This was Albon’s debut at Les Templiers.
New Zealand’s Ruth Croft (pre-race and post-race interviews) took the race out easy, moved up into the lead mid-race, and distanced herself significantly from the rest of the field late to earn her second win of Les Templiers.
Thanks to Vert.Run for sponsoring our coverage of Les Templiers.
2021 Grand Trail des Templiers Men’s Race
Les Templiers is always a fast-moving race — blink and you’ll miss it — and this year was no exception. As far as 35 kilometers into the race, the top-eight men were still running within a minute of each other! But let’s back up to the beginning. When we spotted the leaders at 10k, 21k, and 35k, it was the usual suspects up front, including two-time defending champion Sébastien Spehler (pre-race interview) of France, the U.K.’s Jonathan Albon (post-race interview) and Robbie Simpson, Petter Engdahl of Sweden, as well as France’s Sebastien Capus. Also there, but at the back of this group, was multi-time second-place finisher Nicolas Martin (pre-race interview) of France going out a little easier in his trademark style.
At 49k, it was still a tight race for the top-six men, where they passed us within six minutes of each other. Martin had crept up into third position at this point, with only Albon and Spehler ahead of him. Things were shaping up for a very interesting last 30k of racing for the concentrated group in the men’s field.
At 70k, and with 11k of the course’s most challenging terrain left to run, Albon led the field by just over two minutes. He didn’t stop at the aid station, asked about how close behind his second-place competitor was, and charged ahead. It seemed he might have reason to worry as Spehler was right behind and also moving well. Now, enter France’s Benoît Cori, who had moved up from the second half of the top 10 into podium position; like Spehler, Cori’s a two-time Les Templiers champion.
But Albon excels on technical terrain, and the burly final 11k was his bread and butter. He continued to gap the field until he crossed the finish line back in Millau as the 2021 champion in his debut at Les Templiers. Spehler and Cori held their positions to complete the men’s podium.
Martin ran a strong race all day, finishing his ninth run of Les Templiers in fourth place. Engdahl rounded out the men’s top five, in what also looked like solid start-to-finish effort.
2021 Grand Trail des Templiers Men’s Results
- Jonathan Albon (Ultimate Direction) — 6:32:19 (post-race interview)
- Sébastien Spehler (Salomon) — 6:39:29 (pre-race interview)
- Benoît Cori (Scott) — 6:44:55
- Nicolas Martin (Hoka One One) — 6:49:23 (pre-race interview)
- Petter Engdahl (adidas Terrex) — 7:03:11
- Kevin Vermeulen (Altra) — 7:10:07
- Robbie Simpson (adidas Terrex) — 7:12:28
- Romain Maillard (Team Esprit Volcans) — 7:22:45
- Benedikt Hoffmann (Asics) — 7:23:03
- Henri Ansio (Salomon) — 7:24:59 (pre-race interview)
2021 Grand Trail des Templiers Women’s Race
It was not a surprise to anyone who follows trail and ultrarunning that Spain’s Gemma Arenas (pre-race interview) was the women’s pacesetter for most of the race’s first 35 kilometers. In fact, I think we all might have been concerned if she wasn’t there. It looked like Arenas was putting in a solid effort to run in the lead. At 10k into the race, where we got our first glimpse of the field as they flew through the dark forest, immediately behind Arenas were Frenchwomen Julie Roux and Fiona Porte. Also in the mix for about the top-seven women through 21k were 2017 Les Templiers champion Ruth Croft (pre-race and post-race interviews) of New Zealand and South Africa’s Meg Mackenzie (pre-race interview), both taking what looked like a more relaxed start.
At 35k into the race, however, things changed. Here, Croft, who looked ridiculously chill, moved up to take over the race lead. Arenas and Roux settled into second and third positions immediately behind her, which they would both hold through the finish line.
Just 14k later, at 49k, Croft was a full six minutes up on any other woman, having created a significant gap, which stayed the same over the next 21k. But in the race’s final 11k, Croft broke fully away from the rest of the field, moving efficiently over the course’s most burly section. When she crossed the finish line for the win back in Millau, it was a long 20 minutes until second place arrived.
While Arenas seemed to slow a bit over the last 11k, Roux charged hard both on the steep uphills and downhills. With 11k to run, Arenas held a 6.5-minute lead on Roux, but by the finish, her lead had shrunk to just 80 seconds. Give these women another two kilometers to race and things would have ended up mighty interesting. But close only counts in horseshoes, so Arenas held for second place while Roux took third.
Porte and Esther Eustache, of France, had super strong days, settling into fourth and fifth places respectively by about halfway through the race and holding steady in those positions through the finish.
2021 Grand Trail des Templiers Women’s Results
- Ruth Croft (adidas Terrex) — 7:51:19 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Gemma Arenas (Sport HG) — 8:10:38 (pre-race interview)
- Julie Roux (Salomon) — 8:12:03
- Fiona Porte — 8:27:58
- Esther Eustache — 8:34:30
- Maryline Nakache (WAA Ultra) — 8:45:50
- Megan Mackenzie (The North Face) — 8:51:03 (pre-race interview)
- Laure Paradan — 9:08:04
- Charlotte Dauchot (Brooks Trail Team) — 9:15:52
- Elodie Davy — 9:32:26
Thanks so much to the Vert.Run team of Kirsten Kortebein and Moisés Jimenez for helping us cover Les Templiers.