This year’s UTMB saw a French sweep on the men’s side and a new course record on the women’s side. François D’haene (pre-race and post-race interviews) of France won the men’s race, his fourth win of UTMB, and the USA’s Courtney Dauwalter (pre-race and post-race interviews) topped the podium for the women, breaking the women’s record, previously held by Rory Bosio, set on a shorter course in 2013.
The 171.5-kilometer (106.5-mile) race makes a beautiful yet brutal loop around the Alps with Mont Blanc at the center, passing through France, Italy, and Switzerland, while beginning and ending at Chamonix, France. Starting with 2,347 runners at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 27, just a bit smaller of a field than normal, the crowd was just as huge, with spectators ecstatic at the return of one of the most competitive trail ultramarathons in the world after a COVID-19-induced hiatus in 2020.
In a race with near-perfect weather conditions, competitors did not have to contend with the rain, hail, and high winds that sometimes plague the high mountain passes. D’haene and Dauwalter were both dominant, each leading their respective events for more than half of the race after steadily moving up from the gun.
But it was a race of attrition for many, which saw multiple high-profile racers drop out, including Jim Walmsley, Xavier Thévenard (pre-race interview), Tim Tollefson (pre-race interview), Dmitry Mitayev, Tom Owens (pre-race interview), Beth Pascall, Maite Maiora (pre-race interview), Audrey Tanguy, and Ragna Debats, many of them dropping out in the middle of the night as fatigue and the cumulative effect of difficult terrain set in.
This was also a race of incredible breakout and solid perseverance in front of the challenges of 100 miles. The balance of the men’s podium saw breakout performances from Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz (post-race interview)and Mathieu Blanchard (post-race interview). And on the women’s podium was emerging star Camille Bruyas (post-race interview) in second and the ever-strong Mimmi Kotka (post-race interview) in third. With the rest of this article, we’ll dive deep into how the men’s and the women’s races played out. You can also check out our 2021 UTMB photo gallery for another look at the event.
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2021 UTMB Women’s Race
With one of the most competitive line-ups in UTMB history, this year’s race could have been anyone’s game. Though a few high profile women did not start, the race was still full of talent. With previous champions, veteran talent, and new-to-UTMB-ers, this race could have been a close one. But as we see time and again in 100-mile races, stomachs are unpredictable, small niggles turn into major injuries, and the mountainous terrain over 20-plus hours can derail the healthiest runners with even the best preparation. That’s exactly what happened in the 2021 women’s UTMB. There was a huge number of high profile dropouts, the majority happening in the safety of the large Courmayeur checkpoint, at about 81 kilometers, a little less than halfway into the race. These eliminations allowed a number of other women to step up, leading to a number of great performances from previously lesser-known competitors.
The first 50 kilometers of the race were fairly relaxed and uneventful. By the time the women rolled into Les Houches, they had settled into their comfort zones and were mentally preparing for the long day ahead. Courtney Dauwalter (pre-race and post-race interviews), in her classic style, was out front, only a minute behind the men’s lead pack, and third through eighth places were only 90 seconds behind her. This pack included the American living in France Katie Schide (pre-race interview), France’s Camille Bruyas (post-race interview), Beth Pascall (pre-race interview) of the U.K., Audrey Tanguy (pre-race interview) of France, and Ragna Debats (pre-race interview) who is Dutch but lives in Spain. By the 20-kilometer mark, the Swede living in Chamonix Mimmi Kotka (post-race interview) had moved up to join them.
Coming into the 31-kilometer mark at Les Contamines, Kotka entered before Dauwalter, but the latter had a shorter aid-station stop, quickly refilling her pack and moving on. Bruyas was also under the shelter at the same time, making short work of her refuel. Fourth- through 10th-place women were all within eight minutes of the lead, still a very tight race. This aid station marked the first significant and emotional moment of the day, Tanguy was suffering severe stomach cramps, and dropped from the race here.
After dodging a traffic jam of goats and pushing through dense fog, the women summited one of the largest passes of the day, Col du Bonhomme, 43 kilometers into the race. Dauwalter continued to lead with Kotka close behind. This is when the field started to stretch out a bit, with Bruyas about 11 minutes back, and France’s Marion Delespierre in 10th, about 19 minutes back. It was clear the strain the previous climb of 1,160 meters (3,800 feet) had taken a toll on some. Now well into the night, runners’ headlamps lit up the mountainside as they descended to the 50-kilometer mark at Les Chapieux. Now past the marathon distance and starting the next big climb, it was here that runners needed to summon their focus and fortitude.
Dauwalter and Kotka continued to run a tight and fast race, both looking chill and composed in Lac Combal at 66 kilometers into the adventure, by this point over 20 minutes ahead of Bruyas and anyone else. Deslespierre and Luzia Buehler of Switzerland moved steadily, but others were suffering — Hillary Allen dropped out of the race near here, though it’s unclear why. Most made it up and over the Mount Favre summit after that, but after the long and steep descent, many decided to call it a day in the safe haven of Courmayeur, a little less than halfway into the race. Notable drops here included Pascall, Brittany Peterson, Kelly Wolf, and Francesca Canepa, whose ailments ranged from a turned stomach to straight-up exhaustion. Other women took extended aid-station stops, including Dauwalter, who spent over six minutes here.
Running over one of the tallest points of the course, Grand Col Ferret, at just over 102 kilometers, runners once again had to push through thick fog, donning jackets, hats, and gloves to keep their core warm over the high-elevation pass. By this time, Kotka had given significant space to Dauwalter, trailing 17 minutes back, but still looking very comfortable. Dauwalter never really throws down a dramatic pace, but she is like a freight train. She gains momentum and just moves up steadily, further and further the longer the race, and her experience is very apparent after the 100-kilometer mark of nearly every race she runs — including this year’s UTMB.
Coming into Champex-Lac, some 125 kilometers into the race leaving less than 50 kilometers left to run, Dauwalter was now in the top 10 overall, the course record well within her reach. From here on out, the places and distance between top women stayed relatively the same, with notable drops from Ailsa Macdonald, who had been running very strong in the top 10 for much of the race, and Delphine Avenier. By Trient, as runners loped past the pretty pink church, Bruyas came closer to Kotka, who herself was now one hour back from Dauwalter. Bruyas looked comfortable, while Kotka looked like she was already in a decent amount of pain from her knees, which were bloodied sometime before 66 kilometers into the race. Though there were two major climbs left, it seemed by now the top-five places were set: Delespierre in fourth was two hours back from the lead, and Buehler in fifth another 45 minutes back from her.
While there were no surprises in the end, it was a gritty finish for many. Dauwalter ran down the packed streets of Chamonix to huge cheers from the crowd – and for good reason. Finishing in an amazing 22:30:54, she ran the fastest time by a woman on the full course, a record previously set in 2013 by Rory Bosio, on a course three kilometers shorter, and without the Pyramides Calcaires climb in Italy. Dauwalter was all smiles, striding into her historic finish. Bruyas followed her an hour and a half later, with a bit of a limp but also smiling, holding back tears in an emotional finish. Kotka followed another hour after that, limping in obvious pain, but finishing with extreme grit and grace. To round out the top five, Delespierre and Buehler — the latter a big surprise as she wasn’t on our pre-race radar for such a high level performance — both had great races.
Just like in the back half of the men’s top 10, that of the women’s was super dynamic, with women constantly coming and going from the group from start to finish. When all 171.5 kilometers had passed, it was France’s Maryline Nakache and Lucie Jamsin in sixth and seventh, Schide in eighth, Claudia Tremps from Spain in ninth, and the Zimbabwean living in the U.S. Emily Hawgood in 10th.
2021 UTMB Women’s Results
- Courtney Dauwalter (Salomon) – 22:30:54 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Camille Bruyas (Salomon) – 24:09:42 (post-race interview)
- Mimmi Kotka (La Sportiva) – 25:08:29 (post-race interview)
- Marion Delespierre (On Running) – 25:54:22
- Luzia Buehler (Biberli/Capricorn Endurance) – 26:06:17
- Maryline Nakache (WAA Ultra) – 26:40:48
- Lucie Jamsin (MAC Sport) – 26:44:41
- Katie Schide (On Running) – 27:39:45 (pre-race interview)
- Claudia Tremps (Asics) – 27:55:36
- Emily Hawgood (adidas Terrex) – 28:36:48
- Linda Boldane – 29:11:59
- Uxue Fraile (Vibram) – 29:14:02
- Kaori Niwa (Salomon) – 29:47:25
- Daphné Guibert – 29:54:38
- Audrey Bassac (Vibram) – 30:33:49
- Molly Bazilchuk – 30:35:44
- María Silvina – 31:27:19
- Claire Heslop – 32:12:48
- Maija Oravamäki (Salomon) – 32:15:22
- Monique van den Boogaart – 32:28:35
2021 UTMB Men’s Race
The 2021 UTMB men’s race started like every edition of this event: a huge group of men go off like a rocket and run it out together for the flat to rolling eight kilometers to Chamonix’s neighbor village, Les Houches. Call it a warm-up, call it settling the nerves, call it a little road race, call it whatever you want, but it’s always fun to watch. And sure enough, some 30 minutes after the start, the men’s train steamrolled through Les Houches and headed for the hills.
While this race would certainly become controlled and then dominated by François D’haene (pre-race and post-race interviews), there were some early and middle players who kept this race entertaining from the start. Enter the likes of Spaniard Jordi Gamito, Russia’s Dmitry Mityaev (pre-race interview), Australian Morgan Pilley, Peruvian Remigio Huaman, American Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview), and — get this — eventual second-place finisher Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz (post-race interview) of France.
Early on, it seemed that several of these men took turns in the lead and setting the pace. But as early pacesetting in a 100 miler goes, well, let’s just say that it doesn’t always go. And, in this case, all of the men on this list save for Dunand-Pallaz were DNFs by halfway through the event.
Of all these runners, it was Walmsley who hung closest to the front the longest, running in second through nearly 90 kilometers into the event before dropping back and out of the race entirely. It will be interesting to hear Walmsley’s take on his day, because from the outside looking in, he seemed so much more calm and tempered this year than in previous editions, and that made him seem like a contender for the win. However, there was that helluva’ run at the 2021 Western States 100 two months ago and the injury he dealt with before that, as well as a host of other possible issues in the 100-mile distance.
So when everything shook out sometime after halfway through the race, there was D’haene putting on yet another masterclass performance in running mountain 100 milers. Over the race’s middle third, he built a small lead on his chasers that going into the end of the event, which was neither added to nor subtracted from in any meaningful way. We’ve seen and written this with D’haene so many times before: he breaks a lead and then moves with the necessary efficiency needed to maintain it. It sounds so simple, but anyone who runs 100 milers knows it isn’t. This is a honed skill.
In his pre-race interview with us, he said that he runs UTMB when he feels the passion for it, which helps to explain the gaps between his showings here in 2012, 2014, 2017, and 2021. Quite honestly, that passion was on full display at the finish line, where the sometimes reserved D’haene let his smile open into a huge grin and where he embraced his family and friends as well as his many fans in celebration.
It seems like these big 100 milers always have a breakout story, and this race has two of them in the men’s second- and third-place finishers, Dunand-Pallaz and Mathieu Blanchard (post-race interview) who is from France but who lives in Canada. While their end results were similar, the pair took different trails to success. For Dunand-Pallaz, it was pressing early, very close to the leaders. And for Blanchard, it looked like intentionally sitting back for the first marathon, letting the hot starters take it out, and waiting for the field to come back to him. Around the marathon mark, Blanchard slipped into the top 10, where he’d stay for the balance of the race. At the finish line, many miles and much effort later, the joy each showed for their breakout performance was a pleasure to watch.
What can we say about fourth-place finisher and first master, France’s Ludovic Pommeret? The 2016 UTMB champion is now 46 years of age and he was absolute magic to watch. For the race’s first half, he did some grade-A lurking, hanging out between 11th and 20th places, always within reach of the top 10. There seemed to be a few spells throughout the race where he looked a little rough, but then he came back each time. Starting around halfway, he made his way into the top 10 and stayed there for the balance of the race. Picture-perfect racing!
Another Frenchman in the top five, and this time it’s Germain Grangier who returned from his tie for ninth place in 2019 to nab a top-five spot for 2021. Grangier’s strategy felt evident from the start: get out, stay mixed up with those leading or close to it, and hang there as long as possible. I loved wondering each time we saw him if he was going to hold his higher positioning in the field this year over the last race edition, and he even gave us a bit of a stir where he starting dropping back in the race’s final third. Though he may have run as high as second place at times, he ultimately finished fifth.
The back half of the men’s top 10 was ever dynamic, shifting over and over again. In the end, it was Germany’s Hannes Namberger in sixth, France’s Gregoire Curmer and Switzerland’s Diego Pazos tied for seventh, France’s Mathieu Clément in ninth, and Hong Kong’s Ho Chung Wong in 10th.
2021 UTMB Men’s Results
- 1. François D’Haene (Salomon) – 20:45:59 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- 2. Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz (Compressport) – 20:58:31 (post-race interview)
- 3. Mathieu Blanchard (Salomon) – 21:12:43 (post-race interview)
- 4. Ludovic Pommeret (Hoka One One) – 21:38:44
- 5. Germain Grangier (On Running) – 21:52:47
- 6. Hannes Namberger (Dynafit) – 22:22:06
- T – 7. Gregoire Curmer (Compresssport / Scarpa) – 23:00:10
- T – 7. Diego Pazos (Compressport) – 23:00:10
- 9. Mathieu Clément (Asics Trail) – 23:08:05
- 10. Ho Chung Wong (The North Face) – 23:17:40
- 11. Yannick Noel (Normandie Trail) – 23:42:28
- 12. Giulio Ornati (Salomon) – 23:45:41
- 13. Aleksi Tolstenko (adidas Terrex) – 23:56:20
- 14. Jon Larrañaga (RaidLight) – 23:57:07
- 15. Vincent Viet (New Balance) – 24:16:25
- 16. Ugo Ferrari (Duc Army) – 24:34:36
- 17. Benjamin Bublak (Trail Magazin) – 24:37:06
- 18. Javier Dominguez (Vibram) – 24:39:18
- 19. René Rovera (Garmin Adventure) – 24:49:02
- 20. Bruno Sousa (FurFor Running) – 24:54:19
Thank you so much to iRunFar’s UTMB office team of Alex Potter, Marissa Harris, and Ellie Greenwood. Thank you also to all of the members of iRunFar’s UTMB field team, who hiked, ran, drove, and rode public transit all over the race course to report live, including Chas Myers, Shez Myers, Nelson Coomans, Francis Choquet, Fabrice Van De Cauter, Tom Van De Cauter, Craig Murphy, Simon Mawby, Gina Atwood, Greta, Stéphane Tournié, Antonio Grassi, Olivia Rissland, and Heidi Nadeau. We so appreciate each of you!