A stormy wind is blowing across the Ultra-trail du Mont-Blanc, the most prestigious race in the world. Kilian Jornet, four-time winner of the event (2008, 2009, 2011 and 2022) but also Zach Miller, 2nd in 2023, sent an email to the fifteen best male and female ultra-trailers on the planet, inviting them to boycott the race This year. Their message was revealed on social networks by a British coach, Martin Cox, who does not support this approach, quite the contrary. The latter even denounces a “hypocritical” approach on the part of the Spaniard and the American.
The news, which has the effect of a bomb in the world of long-distance running, is not necessarily a surprise. Already in August 2023, Kylian Jornet and other athletes had already denounced the naming of the UTMB with Dacia and the marriage with a car manufacturer “whose activities are entirely capital-intensive and destructive of the environment”. The development of business around the UTMB, the biggest ultra-trail media event of the year, once again seems at the heart of this approach by Jornet and Miller.
In their email, the two riders therefore address the best specialists in the discipline, asking them to put pressure on the organizers. “Perhaps the best way to communicate our discontent and apply some pressure is to come together and all run a different race. The absence of the first fifteen runners on the UTMB starting line would speak volumes. This would make them understand that we are not satisfied and this would push them to make changes,” indicate the two champions who assure that their motivation is neither “malicious” nor “hateful” towards the UTMB.
“The current direction taken by the UTMB, the UTMB group and Ironman worries us,” specifies the duo who nevertheless recognize that the event taking place in Chamonix every year at the end of August-beginning of September for a week “does a lot of good for ultra-trail, attracting some of the sport's best runners as well as sponsors, media, and fans from around the world. But the development of this increasingly hegemonic event worries them.
“There are a multitude of things that we could point to that are concerning but above all, we have the impression that they are not managing their events in the best interest of the sport and the participants. We understand that race organizers want to make money. However, we believe there is a way to do this without mistreating people and crushing anyone who gets in your way. In other words, we want them to run their business well. We want them to be considerate. We don't just want them to ask, "What can we do to get more benefits?" But rather: “What can we do to improve this sport as a whole?” », We can read in this email.
In 2021, the UTMB Group reached a new milestone in its development by uniting with the American giant Ironman (organizer of the largest triathlons on the planet) to form a global circuit, the UTMB World Series. To maximize your chances of being drawn and obtain a bib at the UTMB (you can sometimes wait several years before having your chance), you must acquire points, called Running Stones, in one or more of the 36 events spread across five continents. The organization has also adopted certain codes of professional sport by rewarding, since 2019, its winners with a sum of 10,000 euros. This development has made the ranks of purists cringe, who regret the erasure of the original spirit and the adventurous side.
The organizers of the UTMB reacted to the publication of this email which could have serious consequences for the 2024 edition. It will certainly continue to be full of competitors from the four corners of the planet but it could suffer from the absence of headliners and a longer-term popularity deficit. “Although we would have appreciated a direct conversation on this subject with Zach and Kilian before becoming aware of this email, we contacted them both to understand their position and discuss it directly,” said the UTMB World Series before 'add: “We value the opinions of the entire trail community and are always open to discussion and collaboration.”