Petter Engdahl and Blandine L’Hirondel both set course records as they stormed to victories in the 2022 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (UTMB CCC).
Both runners opened up early leads on their closest competitors, with the Swedish and French runners proving simply too good on the day.
But while Engdahl never looked too threatened by second-place and pre-race favourite Jon Albon, Nepalese newcomer Sunmaya Budha ran an incredibly impressive race to push L’Hirondel all the way and just fall short of an incredible comeback.
Men’s race – Supreme Swede storms away
Engdahl quickly set out declaring himself the CCC’s main character, and even by the first checkpoint at Tête de la Tronchehe, he was in pole position.
He crossed every single checkpoint of the race before anyone else, excluding the third one at Arnouvaz where he was just a second behind Andreas Reiterer.
But, almost as if offended that anyone could possibly reach a checkpoint even just a second before him, Enghdal began to storm off from there. He showed incredible mastery on the climb up to Grand Col Ferret, leaving Reiterer a minute and a half behind him. The Italian never came as close to the Swede again.
Engdahl trains alongside Albon and It was Albon who was the favourite going into the race, having previously won the OCC in 2021. At around the halfway point of the 2022 CCC he looked as if he was chasing Engdahl down as part of a comeback many would have fancied him pulling off.
By Plan de L’Au, the 60km point of the 100km race, the gap was just one minute and fifteen seconds between, but the climb towards La Giete illustrated Enghdal’s considerably superiority on the day.
The gap was restored to over five minutes, and it grew from there.
He was 15 minutes ahead of Reiterer, who re-took second place from Albon, at the 80km mark of Vallorcine. That became 20 minutes at the final peak of La Tete aux Vents, and even stretched further at the penultimate checkpoint halfway down Enghdal’s victorious descent to Chamonix.
Chasing CCC record
But attention was no longer on how far back his nearest rival was. Instead, he and those following him looked forward; a ten-hour CCC had never been done, and as he headed down to Chamonix, it became clear that was to be the case.
The UTMB had set off less than an hour before Enghdal entered the finishing town, and some of the largest crowds of the event had been at the start to see off those competing in the famous event.
But while they may have hoped to go and get food or a drink before greeting the winner of the CCC at the finish, Enghdal had other plans.
His record pace ensured they stayed in their places, making as much noise as they could, to herald the Swedish record maker as he crossed the line with a time of 9:53:02.
That was nearly 20 minutes ahead of second-placed Albon, himself breaking the course record despite revealing in his post-race interview he had stomach problems.
He bowed in respect to Engdahl as he crossed the line, having regained his position from Reiterer over the final third of the race with the Italian finishing third.
Women’s Race – L’Hirondel leads the way
Just as Engdahl had strived to enforce dominance on the men’s pack, L’Hirondel sought to build an insurmountable lead over her nearest competitors.
Her lead over the nearest woman was at one point over 30 minutes, such was the scale of her early attempt to create clear space between her and the rest.
Cheered on by choruses of ‘Allez Allez’ from the French-speaking walkers she cruised past, the question inevitably became about whether she had the capacity to hold on and who, if anyone, could threaten her lead.
Budha closes on leader
The latter was answered by the Nepalese runner Sunmaya Budha who soon emerged as the only real contender, her fast up-hill times helping her narrow the gap to the leader.
She made her way along the rocky up-hill paths of the winding CCC route at an incredible pace.
The North Face athlete, competing in only her second international race, managed to cut Blondine’s lead down to 10 minutes by La Giete, the 65km mark, and she stayed hot on the leader’s tails for the rest of the race.
L’Hirondel, however, was just as impressive. Predominantly a racer of the 50k to 70k distance, the CCC was a step up in distance for her after she won the 2021 OCC. She had run a 100k in 2017, but this was her most recent competitive race at such a distance since then.
That made her pace even more impressive. Downhill towards Trient, she opened a huge gap once again, taking everything in her rapid, almost free-falling strides.
Cat and mouse in closing stages
With every uphill Budha managed to close the gap but L’Hindel’s ability downhill let her re-gain any lost time, the two engaging in a breath-taking game of cat and mouse.
But in her mind the French runner was no longer racing the other opponents, but rather history; a course record was once again on the cards for the second time that day with L’Hindel potentially in line to best Yao Miao’s 11:57 set in 2018.
That was the challenge that faced her as she pushed up the final ascent to La Tête aux vents, from which she would steamroll down towards the crowd.
But then, out of nowhere, Budha burst forth again. Down the home stretch, the gap was just two minutes and there was suddenly an exciting finish.
Pursued by the incredible Nepalese runner, L’Hirondel had to dig even deeper than she had thought. The two pushed each other right to the end, and whilst the French woman crossed the line first (doing so with a click of the heels) both smashed Yao Miao’s record, previously thought unbeatable.
L’Hiondel set the new record at 11:40:55, with Budha just five minutes behind at 11:45:44.
CCC at UTMB Results
Friday August 26, 2022 – 101km
1. Petter Engdhal (SE) 09:53:02
2. Jon Albon (GB) 10:16:26
3. Andreas Reiterer (IT) 10:23:16
4. Jiasheng Shen (CH) 10:29:20
5. Peter Frano (SK) 10:35:03
1 Blandine L’Hirondel (FRA) 11:40:55
2. Sunmaya Budha (NEP) 11:45:44
3. Abby Hall (USA) 12:12:56
4. Jazmine Lowther (CA) 12:19:55
5. Rosanna Buchauer (DE) 12:24:25