“The curse of the Bonatti”
Races finish only when the finish line is crossed: everyone comes across a crisis and at times it happens even when they are only a little way from the finish. Last year Couleaud was fourteenth overall at the top of Malatrà, the last major difficulty of the Tor des Géants, before the final swoop to Courmayeur.
Euphoria, excitement, simple destiny: during the decent the thighs muscles of his right leg locked froze. It was impossible to go on in those conditions, even if the finish line was there at his finger tips, he could almost smell it.
It took fifteen hours for Stephane to complete the last ten km, thirteen of which were spent lying on a cot at the Bonatti refuge, with an ice pack on his thigh.
This year “Ultra-Steph” returns to the Tor with the aim of finishing among the first twenty and with the dream to enter within the first ten.
He is in exceptional form, as he always is, and the ‘top’ competitors in front of him retire one after the other. At Malatrà he is virtually third after the disqualification of Gazzola and Le Saux in front of him is dealing with a crazy crisis.
But the “curse of the Bonatti” is waiting for him a little further on. There is a great chill on the Malatrà after a heatwave in the afternoon in St. Rhemy: Stephane enters the shelter shivering. He would like to stop, but the volunteers give him a festive welcome, telling him “You are third! It isn’t long now!”. He sets off again, but less than a quarter of an hour later he falls to the ground exhausted. “I gave everything I had” says Stephane, “I have never been so happy to have with me all the necessary material”.
The first to help him is the Spaniard Pablo Criado who accompanies him to the refuge, where Couleaud will abandon the race. “The Tor is a already a very tough race to manage. If then you face it with a sports purpose… it is like running on a razor blade. Two souls live within me, one is that of a prudent and thoughtful mountaineer and the other is that of a “competitive athlete, ready for anything”. With the loss of clarity due to lack of sleep, you end up doing things which are completely absurd. Which means dangerous. And in every case totally irrational.”
Bib number 37 of the Tor des Géants 2011
Spirito Trail, November 2011 / extract