20 September 2013

Tor des Géants race report Stage 1

 Stage 1  Courmayeur to Valgrisenche  49km  3996m D+ (10 hours 57 minutes)

Three major Cols already the first day

On the morning of Sunday September 8, 2013 I woke rested and eager. My body felt better than it had done before almost any race and I felt completely prepared for the adventure waiting. I ate a normal breakfast at my hotel Maison St Jean before checking out and storing my bag in the ski storage room. The hotel owner joked with me and said I’ll see you on Wednesday – I replied that Saturday was more likely. I actually at that time had no goal besides just finishing the race before the allotted time of 150 hours and had no idea how long it would take me.

I walked the few meters to the starting line under dark skies. I was happy that I had dropped of my drop-bag at the sport center outside the Courmayeur center already the night before. When waiting for the start it actually started raining quite hard and I saw a lot of people putting on rain coats over their backpacks – I realized that not bringing a rain cover for the pack was probably the first of many mistakes during this long race. It was quite a long wait before we were allowed to start as the presentations of the elite racers appeared to go on forever.

Eagerly waiting on the starting line
At last at 10.17 am we were allowed to start and all started running through Courmayeur. I was as always when starting a race completely filled with adrenaline, but really tried to restrain myself and only jog slowly out of the city. Quite quickly we came into the forest on the other side of the river and started the first climb of 1347 meters up to Col Arp. The pace was comfortable and very few tried to rush past on the single-track lane that had been formed.

Comfortable pace up the first climb

The rain abated on our way up and when reaching the summit the sun was again up. It was only the last part of the ascent that was really steep and the descent was very comfortable. I was still completely full of adrenaline and happiness – it really felt that the adventure now had started and that I was running on clouds.

The first descent following the yellow TDG signs

Running on clouds

I reached La Thuile at 19.5 km on 13.33 in the afternoon after 3.16 hours. I got my first taste of the local Fontina cheese, oranges, white bread and coke before setting out for the second climb of the day up Paso Alto. The weather got gradually worse and when I reached the Rifugio Deffeyes just before the final climb it started pouring down again. I had already noticed that I was quite strong in climbing, gaining places in the field uphill, while I was really slow in descending and this was something that would follow me through the week. Just after reaching the col at 2860 meters my iPhone 5, with the camera I had planned to use during the race, died due to the wetness and cold in the rain. It woke up later in the day, but it did not work properly until after the race – hence the few own pictures I have from the race.

The first taste of high alpine country up to Passo Alto

The first high pass over 2800 meters

The descent from Paso Alto was the first really step descent and it felt that we almost immediately were on our way up again, this way to the Col Crosatie pass. I am no mountaineer, and the last parts of the climb where quite scary in the rain as they involved climbing  a stone path carved into the granite using a rope. As I was not used to climbing like this I had difficulties deciding what to do with my poles and how to progress, but as I was not overtaken by any other runner I must have continued in good pace over the top anyway. The descent was again steep, but felt quite safe and I reached the small town Planaval just before it got dark and I had to put on the headlight for the first night. Out of Planaval I took the back of a runner with a Finisher Bib of 2012. All finishers from previous year had named bibs and this runner’s name was Vigneron Dominique. We happened to meet each other at many of the aid stations along the route and he later finished just two hour after me on Friday morning. It felt somehow very reassuring  to follow a former finisher – it must mean that my pace was not too bad. At 21.14, after running in close to eleven hours (10.57) I reached the first life base of Valgrisenche.

Not my picture - this is the climb of Col Crosatie under non-rainy conditions

The first life base in Valgrisenche

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