After relocating to the French Alps and resisting the temptation of chasing a fourth victory in the Western States 100 two months before, all the pieces were in place for Jim Walmsley’s quest to win UTMB.
For a legend of the sport, Walmsley had strangely struggled to produce his best form in his previous attempts to land what is surely ultra running’s most coveted prize.
Even he admitted beforehand: “I’d like to frame a couple of events that are higher than the others. I think UTMB is right up there. Career-wise, it’s huge. It seems like a capstone and goal. But me being American, I would put it up with Western States as well.”
Fifth in 2017 was his highest placing in Chamonix, with DNFs in 2018 and 2021, but things were different this year and for a long time it looked as if he would become the first American man to triumph.
Giving it his all
He’d made a huge mark on the race, setting the pace at the front with Kilian Jornet – who would go on to claim a record-breaking win – before putting a gap into him and the rest. That left him seemingly in perfect position.
But then the wheels came off and he’d end up not only missing out on the win, but was also overtaken in the final 18km of the 170km epic by Britain’s Tom Evans for the third and final place on the podium.
Reflecting on it afterwards, Walmsley explained: “The plan was to try and keep some pressure on Kilian, but I guess that’s easier said that done!
“We had a really, really strong group early with Tom, Zach [Miller] and then Kilian and myself.
“And then Kilian made a little move and I was able to follow that so we broke away from the other two at that point.
“And I was trying to put some pressure on Kilian on the downhills but it wasn’t the best strategy after Champex-Lac!”
That was the moment he slowed to a walk – and it was actually worse than that.
“From Champex-Lac my quads were just completely shot. So every uphill, I had absolutely nothing – I could barely even keep a straight line trying to walk on the rocks, it wasn’t even a hike.
“But I was eventually able to get a flow on the downhills.
Taking the positives
“Tom just zipped past me – it was a bit of a bummer to get knocked off the podium after being out front all day, but that wasn’t happening for me – he played his cards really well.”
And while fourth was clearly not what Walmsley wanted, it was at least his highest finish to date and he confirmed he’ll be staying in France for the next 12 months, determined to return stronger than ever for the 2023 race.
“I was just so happy make it back here back to Chamonix – it’s positive momentum to bring back next year and we’ll give them hell again!
“We’re looking to stay here through the winter and throw some skis on and let’s build some quads for UTMB! Then we will attack the downhills again.”