For three days, Millau, its gorges and its Causses (limestone plateaus), has echoed to the rhythm of the Festival des Templiers. In the middle of nowhere, this gathering sees runners, who are fans of wide, open spaces, flock to the area from right across France and from overseas. Having been the precursor for the discipline in metropolitan France, over the years Les Templiers has gradually become the model race. The most eagerly awaited competition of this event is undoubtedly Le Grand Trail des Templiers, which was contested this morning from 5:15am. Some 2,500 participants took the start of this assault of the limestone plateau Causses in what was a fantastic 74-kilometre run with some 3,450 metres of uphill sections. For the 20th edition of this epic, the competitors became embroiled in an international confrontation in the form of a France / Europe / United States match. A novel concept in France, this France – United States – Europe clash is reminiscent of the events organised in the United States within the context of the famous Penn Relays and during the prestigious Edinburgh Xcountry in the UK.
Frenchman Benoit Cori triumphed in a time of 6 hours 36 minutes and 49 seconds ahead of Sylvain Court: 6hr39’15’’ and American Alex Nichols: 6hr43’14’’. It’s worth noting here that the former, a young 32-year old runner and a native of the Basque country, won Saintélyon back in December. Among the women, Spaniard Nuria Picas won this legendary race for the third time in a row with a time of 7hr51’46’.
In terms of the “France/Europe/United States” Match, which grouped together no fewer than 27 big names from world trail running, the United States (Sage Canaday, Alex Nichols, Chris Vargo, Matt Flaherty and Zach Miller) secured victory among the male contingent. Team Europe (Nuria Picas (SP), Holly Rush (GB), Magda Laczak (PL) and Jasmin Nunige (CH) topped the leaderboard among the women.
At start time this morning, the atmosphere was electric among the elite squad. Never before had the organisation gathered together such an extraordinary line-up. Between the 27 runners invited within the context of the international match: France Against the World, plus the very best of the French trail running circuit, it seemed very likely that the spectacle would be of high quality and the competition looked set to be somewhat faster than usual too.
Indeed, according to the predictions of the organisation, who certainly aren’t lacking statistics after 19 years’ experience, the leaders were expected to reach the first refreshment stop some 21km into the race at 7:05am. In reality the front runners made the first pitstop 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Among them was the young Yankee, Zach Miller, who has only just turned 25 but has already racked up some fine wins.
Immediately recognisable by his chubby face, so much so that his mates call him “Babyface”, he powered off the start line, carrying in his wake the Polish runner Marcin Swierc, Sylvain Court, Sage Canaday and a number of others.
Would they be able to sustain this crazy pace all the way to the finish, or was a bitter failure on the cards? This must have been at the forefront of everyone’s minds given the comment from the creator of this event, Gilles Bertrand, during last night’s briefing for the overseas athletes: “Be careful, the race begins at around 50km in”.
Keeping going, the latter protagonists hit the 42km point in 3hr40. Surely a crazy rhythm on what is reputed to be a highly technical course and given the numerous difficulties linked to its shark-teeth profile.
In the last 30 kilometres there were some leaderboard upsets and a generally slowing up in the final 10km, but not all the main players from the start of the race crumbled.
That said, they did succumb to the law of Benoît Cori. Having set off at his own pace and without envisaging victory initially, with every kilometre and every obstacle overcome, the Basque gradually picked off his fellow competitors one by one. And so it was, in the last 6 kilometres, that he finally caught up with a fading Zach Miller and went on to take the win in front of a jubilant crowd. Just moments after crossing the finish line, his crown of laurels around his neck, he shouted: “I’m dead. I can’t take any more. I can’t believe it!”
Another happy runner was second placed Sylvain Court, who admitted: “After being the first Frenchman, to finish 2nd here is fantastic”.
Whilst the top two congratulated each other and the spectators readied themselves to applaud Zach Miller, the Kid of the Boulders, powering over the line, everyone was taken by surprise when another member of Team USA, Alex Nichols, was first to appear on the horizon.
The latter explains: “I stuck to my initial strategy. I immediately got the feeling that the pace was too quick at the start, but I didn’t panic. The day before, I did a recce of the course on the bus and I realised that the second stage would be full-on so without ever picking up the pace, I ended up making the podium. It was terrible though. The bumps were horrible and on top of that it was hot. I’m keen to come back and do it again though. It’s fabulous and it makes a change from the American trail runs. Les Templiers is full-on. Back home, a trail run with 2,900 runners doesn’t even exist. On Saturday I watched the other events and it was really great. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
With regards to an exhausted Zach Miller, 5th in a time of 6hr51’01’’, he had this to say: “I don’t think I set off too quickly. I ran as normal, but I did make a mistake. At the last refreshment stop, I didn’t eat enough and all of a sudden I had terrible sunstroke. The last 5km were horrific. I’m not disappointed though. It was magical.”
In terms of the female contingent, Nuria Picas dominated Les Templiers for the 3rd consecutive time. Radiant, the Catalan runner gave out a heartfelt cry on finishing: “I feel at home here. I love Millau and I confirm that I’ll be back again next year!”
At 28, Juliette Benedicto, a former triathlete who began trail running 2 years ago, surprised everyone by surprising herself: “I was hoping to make the top 5 so it’s great. At the start, I tried to keep up with Nuria, but she was too quick for me so I chose to let her get away from me. I’m surprised to have beaten Magda Boulet, who ran the marathon in 2hr26’.” Otherwise, in terms of France against the World, among the men, USA 12 Pts (Alex Nichols, 3rd, Sage Canaday, 4th and Zach Miller, 5th) beat France 31 Pts (Sylvain Court, 2nd, Nicolas Martin, 14th, Fabien Antolinos, 15th) and Europe 37 Pts (Marcin Swierc, 9th, Jonas Buud, 10th, Didrik Hermansen, 18th).
Among the Women, Europe secured 16 Pts (Nuria Picas, 1st, Holly Rush, 7th, Magdalena Laczak, 8th), dominating the USA 18 Pts (Magdalena Boulet, 3rd, Aliza Lapierre, 5th, Cassadra Scallon, 10th) and France 19 Pts (Maud Gobert, 4th, Stéphanie Duc, 6th, Aurélia Truel, 9th).
|1||Benoit CORI||TEAM ENDURANCE SHOP BORDEAUX||06:36:49|
|2||Sylvain COURT||TEAM France||06:39:15|
|3||Alex NICHOLS||TEAM USA||06:43:14|
|4||Sage CANADAY||TEAM USA||06:45:00|
|5||Zach MILLER||TEAM USA||06:51:01|
|7||Manu GAULT||TEAM ASICS TRAIL||07:01:10|
|8||Clement PETITJEAN||TEAM ASICS TRAIL||07:01:11|
|9||Marcin SWIERC||TEAM EUROPE||07:02:43|
|10||Jonas BUUD||TEAM EUROPE||07:04:06|
|1||Nuria PICAS||TEAM EUROPE||07:51:46|
|2||Juliette BENEDICTO||TEAM SALOMON||08:00:33|
|3||Magdalena BOULET||TEAM USA||08:02:40|
|4||Maud GOBERT||TEAM France||08:20:18|
|5||Aliza LAPIERRE||TEAM USA||08:20:35|
|6||Stephanie DUC||TEAM France||08:24:53|
|7||Holly RUSH||TEAM EUROPE||08:25:33|
|8||Magdalena LACZAK||TEAM EUROPE||08:26:44|
|9||Aurelia TRUEL||TEAM France||08:28:39|
|10||Cassandra SCALLON||TEAM USA||08:36:15|