What can I say… How to summarize a race lasting 134h and 10', 5 days and 6 nights, full of faces and the meetings. It takes a long time to rewrite.
The race starts on Friday evening, at 8 pm at the Jardin de l'Ange in Courmayeur, to make a ring of 450 km and about 32,000 m in altitude. The first should be back in about 96 hours, on Tuesday at 8:00, my schedule foresees arrival on Wednesday at 20:00 and I hope to finish before the end of the sixth night. The best would be to finish, at first, possibly only 24 hours after the first, these are my ambitions. Winning remains a beautiful dream, impossible for me to run so fast! What I have always said, the base: “Do your race, yours, listen to yourself, have fun… Others will take your place, your place does not belong to you, and if you push the limit, you risk losing your race. "
So I leave calmly, at the second km it is a big mess, I turn around because the whole group has followed the opening vehicle and left the route, good beginning.
And yes, we navigate without signs, only GPS at the Tor des Glaciers.
We begin to climb and little by little everyone joins us on the path, some come from right and left, the important thing is to meet again.
The first night is fine, light refreshment at the Maison Vieille, Elisabetta and Deffeyes huts, and the first big difficulty at the end of the evening at the Planaval pass: this pass is very difficult at the end of the climb, with exposed passages, a wall with chains on the climb and also at the beginning of the descent which is very technical and with a path that is difficult to understand, with wet and icy rocks In the village of Planaval the path passes in front of a bar: the opportunity to drink a cappuccino (yes, we are in Italy) before tackling the climb to the Rifugio degli Angeli at 2916 m and the pass that accompanies it. At the refuge we get there as a group, I'll do this whole part a little with a French friend and a little with Luca, an Italian, two long-distance habitués, we have fun. In the previous huts we have met a few runners. These are the only moments on this first day when we will meet a few people in the race. I tell myself that we must take the opportunity to chat a bit because after that the distances will widen.
10:40 we arrive at the refuge and we are entitled to our first hot meal, pasta.
The first is already around 1.30 in front of us,he is progressing well.
We leave quietly after 10' with Luca, approximately in 5th position, from memory, we advance slowly because it will be long. A beautiful ring in the next valley, we go down to the bottom of the valley before starting the ascent to the Bezzi Refuge, it is at the beginning of this climb that I take leave of my partner, and I enter this false plane towards the trotting refuge, the terrain lends itself to and I feel good, the sensations are very good.
Neither one nor two, here is the refuge with the 2nd and 3rd at the refreshment point, a plate of pasta, some drinks and here I am in front of them! Now I am about 1 hour behind the Spaniard who is in first position, I wasn't hoping for much, I don't push a lot and there is still a lot of time, I keep my pace (over 1050 m / h uphill is not that bad).
Nice climb then nice descent, rather undulating, towards the Benevolo Refuge, a nice refuge in a nice corner, I meet Joachim, a journalist with whom we had spoken the day before, he takes pictures.
Always a great welcome at the refuge, managers and volunteers always so welcoming, happiness! And my delay on the first one which dropped to about 30 ', fantastic! After yet another plate of pasta, I leave at a good pace towards the next climb, near the Col du Nivolet.
The next surprise I will have at Col Rosset 800 of d + e 6 km after the refuge, where I see a competitor just a few minutes in front of me. it is the Spaniard who has been in the lead for some time. I join him in the descent that will lead us to the next refuge, where we will have dinner with the clients of this refuge between Italy and France. We will leave together at the beginning of the night and we will make a common trip for a long time, we speak well, he is a good guy.
We finish the descent and cross the Valsavarenche bridge, bottom of the valley, then a small piece of runable plain, the runners behind me shouldn't be very far, everything is fine.
On the way up to the Vittorio Emanuele II refuge, I decide to resume my cruising speed and leave my travel companion behind: at this moment I am leading the race alone, just over 24 hours have passed, the road is still long, we are just over 100 km on the total 450 km and behind there are some excellent riders, like Masahiro Ono, several times top 5 of the TOR330 and very experienced. In short… The first goal remains the top 100, that is to say, with 98 starters, the goal is above all to finish. The only thing I tell myself at this point is that the real race has just begun. And that I have to prepare myself to have fun alone.
So I arrive alone at the Vittorio Emanuele II Refuge, where I find Luca's assistant, we chat for a while while I eat a plate of pasta, then I head to the Chabod Refuge, also here a very warm welcome, I refuel quickly, I leave, and quickly I climb this technical part and so feared by many people: the Grand Neyron. Not having prepared my race or made an inspection along the route, I am looking forward to it, Luca and other competitors told me about it during the race. And I won't be disappointed! The end of the climb is quite vertical, made difficult by the snow recently fallen. At the top two guides await me who check my state of form. And they show me the way: "beyond" showing me a chain, which descends vertically between two rocks, I don't see the end of it.
Well then let's go, especially since there are a lot of ice stalactites and it's starting to snow. And a descent of 1 km begins in 52 'and a few hundred meters along a beautiful frozen via ferrata, what more could you ask for? The end of the descent in a beautiful scree, also very steep, made practically impassable by the snow: happiness!
At the end of the descent I find the TOR330 route, and despite the snowstorm at the end the Loson pass suddenly seems like a nice walk, a rest after the difficult part! I climb quickly and then descend from the top of these 3299m before the snow covers the path. I arrive at the Sella Refuge at a good pace, a quick breakfast is waiting for me, I chat with the volunteers for a while and leave, I'm not tired, I haven't slept yet, everything is fine.
The next part is a nice path along a balcony that will take me to the valley floor and then to the first life base: Cogne, at km 160, I get there around 8 or 9 in the morning, I have no idea where the others are.
In Cogne I refuel well. I eat a Japanese apple that a nice Asian gave me before the start, from her garden, it is very good and juicy. I add yet another plate of pasta but above all cheese, yogurt and grapes. Everything is great!
Céline, Vivien and mum arrive shortly before my departure, I change my socks and put on my new shoes, then I leave calmly. The next passage will be 20 km long with 1800m of d + and 800m of d-, I will spend a good moment there. I am not tired yet, I have not yet put on anything other than the anorak over the shorts and the shirt, I got a little cold during the night but nothing more and everything is going very well. So I go ahead.
So here I am, restarted after a nice break (about 45 '), well recharged, it's day, nice but not too hot, everything is fine. The next stretch will be relatively short (60-65 km between the two life bases) but the next refreshment, the Miserin Refuge, is not nearby, you will have to go there from another side, different from the TOR330 path, always passing through the Fenetre de Champorcher, but in any case it is 20 km by 1800m of d + and 800m of d-, which means that it is not exactly next door.
So I attack this first and long climb of 13 km and 1300 m that will take me to Pas de l'Invergneux, it will take me just over 2 hours, I always advance at a good pace, after this first step it is cold again, I recover the anorak, the ground is very undulating, a little flat, then I start the last climb up to the Fenetre de Champorcher where a hiker is waiting for me: he will be a volunteer at the weekend and wanted to see at least the first runners pass, I follows the descent to the refuge, makes me a little 'company. Yupie!
I arrive at the refuge around 14 or 14:30 I would say that's okay. The staff is very very kind as everywhere and in addition I am entitled to the whole menu. Neither one nor two is my choice, it will be polenta with sausage, a little spicy but what do you want it to be! I eat it quickly and go to bed: first real break from the walk, after just over 40 hours, eating hot helps, but the moment of truth will come when I wake up: if I can stay in my rhythm and take a refreshing nap, then I can continue without problems! The volunteer takes me to a dormitory, empty because inevitably at 3 pm there are no tourists, and 1h40 later she wakes me up, I fell asleep almost instantly, a deep sleep, with many dreams, perfect! It's like I've spent a whole night! I retrieve the watch that was winding and after greeting and thanking everyone I leave quietly downhill. 3 km after a new shelter, I don't need much, I stop to say hello and take the opportunity to make me a good hot chocolate as only in Italy we know how to make, indeed, two hot chocolates! And I leave immediately in the next stretch, even quite long, which will take me to the dormitory of the Vieux Crest up to Chardonnay then up the Fricolla pass, for a total of 23 km, 1700 m d + and above all 2700 d-, I hope that the descent after the pass is not too technical.
The first descent, towards Chardonnay, I know it and it's fine, it's easy, and in the village here is the first nice surprise: Céline, Vivien, my mother and Rossano are there to see me pass and encourage me! A few words, a few photos and here the morale is high and ready for the climb! So I start this climb, long and easy up to about 2 or 3 km from the summit, where I am on a good scree, the night begins to descend, I have difficulty in advancing in the last km because I have difficulty in finding references, but that's okay , I arrive at Col Pile when it is dark, it must be around 20:30, I go down to the refreshment point. The descent is once again very difficult at the beginning with large stones, I advance well, at the bottom of the descent you skirt a canal, the path makes a comma back and forth of 50 m which is useless and so I continue on my way, 500m flat then you climb well ... 2km later and 300m of d +, 30 to 45 ', I have the good idea of looking at the road book ... the useless comma was the turning point towards the refreshment point, I simply jumped! The next one will be roughly 8km, 1500M + and 1000M-… I could go on because I have a freeze-dried dish to drink and I'm near a fountain. I call the organization to find out if I don't have to go back to the point, it would be a shame to be excluded from the race for that! Phone call: "we saw the light of your front, they saw you pass in the distance ... if you are not hungry you can go on!" Forward! It is 11:45 pm, the night is beautiful, everything is fine. The goal is to get to the Bonze Refuge before 4am because that's the time I might want to sleep.
The start of the climb is steep but okay, it follows a series of meadows where the path is not marked, I slow down because I have to follow the track on the GPS. The progression is slow: a first step, the descent, then sleep arrives well before the refuge. I don't remember much about this stretch of road, apart from the small interruption sitting on a rock after which I started in the opposite direction (seeing the distance to the finish line increase on the GPS I noticed it immediately) and the moments of drowsiness while walking, then the occasional awakenings on the edge of the escarpment. The arrival at the refuge is my salvation: a warm welcome with an excellent soup and the essential 1h30 nap, I just have to leave!
The descent to Donnas is pleasant, I took the opportunity to spend 2 hours on the phone with my friends, yes I have been alone for 36 hours now and suddenly I take care of myself as much as I can, I need to talk a bit.
The arrival in Donnas at km 226 is also a good party, there are people, it's about 9, I refuel, full of food and water, there are grapes, pasta, parmesan, salami… well… it's a dream! The family arrives a little later, I have my feet treated by the volunteers, not bad, only 2 or 3 blisters due to wet feet, I change my shoes and here I am back on the track, it is about 10:20 am, Vivien (the my 20-month-old son) pushes me to leave.
The start of the next stage is difficult, it is 20 km with 3100 m of altitude difference and 1200 m of descent. It's hot. In Perloz I find the TOR330 refreshment point. They are waiting for the first one. I buy myself an ice cream (a liuk: lemon sorbet and licorice stick) then I leave like a nice little train: the goal, up to Gressoney, is clearly to distance Masahiro Ono, the Japanese who follows me, 3 hours after me, for 2 days. 3h is nothing, even if I don't play the ranking I'm still first and it would be nice to keep the place!
The second part of the climb (12km and 2200m cumulative) I will overcome it relatively quickly, the goal is to go on and above all I want to get to the Coda Refuge, at the top of the climb, before the first of the TOR330 because from there we will take the same path and it would be nice see him pass!
Mission accomplished, I arrive first at the Coda Refuge. Many people are waiting for me in this refuge which on one side overlooks the plain, on the other towards the mountains, is an emblematic place of this valley and the atmosphere is excellent! There are a lot of people because even Oliviero Bosatelli, at the head of TOR330, is coming! Time to drink my glass of milk with cookies (memories of my childhood and previous TOR) and here it is! We shake hands, then I let him refuel, he is in the race, followed by two other competitors and even though he is friendly and looks nice to me I don't want to waste his time. I leave him immediately.
1km after the refuge, Bosa joins me, I try to follow him… and I do it! Now we are together, the first two, and I manage to keep the pace imposed by this champion, which is followed by the next two at 10 'max. This part, in the past experience at TOR330, was one of the most difficult for me. Bah ... now I'm doing very well, Tor des Glaciers is really one of the easiest!
We advance together to the next refuge, a good plate of pasta with tomato and Parmesan cheese then we leave at three, the Frenchman who follows him joins us, after about 30 'Bosatelli starts to go faster, I stay with the second until the first bivouac, then I stay a bit 'behind, on my step I arrive at Niel alone, it is 9 pm, and at this moment my pursuer has just left the Coda Refuge .. I am more than 5 hours early!
In Niel there is always a good climate. There is Lisa Borzani with Paolo, her beloved, we sit down at the table, the pasta arrives. Lisa helps me fill my backpack with tarts: shortcrust pastry cakes with chocolate, another childhood memory.
In the climb after Niel, the paths separate for a while, just to lengthen a bit, before resuming the path from TOR330 to Col Lasoney, I will remember this detour for a long time! Right here, through a flock of sheep and a patou appears in front of me, a sheepdog ... then another ... and in a few seconds I find myself surrounded by 8 cute white sheepdogs. It is dark and my headlamp is on, I stop, I bow my head in submission but it does not work, they do not see my eyes, you should never look back because it is a sign of weakness, but it is difficult when you are surrounded, I do not I panic and face them, 10 'later I'm always in the midst of this herd, I despair, I try everything and do everything that shouldn't be done: I put the front to the maximum, I raise the sticks and hit them one against each other and rush towards what appears to be the dominant, shouting insults in Italian. A trained patou would have devoured me and instead here they were running away! After a stop of 15 'I can resume my way, it's midnight and with the adrenaline rush I have served all night, it's nice and I'll be able to stay awake even after Gressoney.
The descent is long but without difficulty, the Ober Loo restaurant is always well stocked with cheeses and the welcome is excellent, I stop shortly and leave in the direction of Gressoney, I have to choose my equipment well because there are 170 km left and this is the last life base and therefore the last time I can dig into my bag: no margin for error for the next 2 days! The 4th of the TOR330 arrives, it is a bit shabby, I go out trotting, everything is fine, it is 6 in the morning and I am not sleepy, next stop in Sitten 14 km and 900m higher, a nice piece!
At 3km from Gressoney my GPS crashes for the only time of these 450km, it places me 1km further on, the same for my mobile phone. The time taken to realize this and relocate me earns me an extension of 2 km and 25 'spent looking for a path that does not exist. Anyway ... it can happen, patience!
The rest of the route to Sitten is fine, around 7 in the morning I spend my 1h30 of usual phone calls, my darling and my mom were asleep, we will meet at the finish line, they did not have time to come to basic life and later it will start a stage too high for them to follow me.
Around 9 am I arrive at the refuge, the welcome is excellent as everywhere here, I take enough provisions and then I head to my room: it's time to rest a bit! 1h30 and a few dreams later, someone wakes me up: I'm in great shape! They made me a sandwich with excellent roast beef for the trip and off we go!
Uphill I find myself in the fog, it's cold but it's ok, I'm always in my shorts and t-shirt, and only my anorak, and it's going well. I do some Facebook live to share my adventures with those who follow me, time passes! The next surprise will be at the top of the climb, after Col Bettolina Superiore: I finish the climb, still in the fog and the track sends me down a descent where I find 30cm of fresh snow. There is a stony and very steep descent, made even more difficult by the fact that there are no tracks! It's up to me to guess where I can put my feet, obviously I slow down and waste time not to put myself in danger, I think about who will pass after me, once frozen the path will be dangerous, so I call the organization to warn. I even thought for a split second to go back but no, I really didn't want to! The descent will be 1 or 2 km on the snow and finally there will be a nice scree of another 2 km, for a total of 2 hours! 2 hours for 4 km!
The rest of the descent is beautiful, a beautiful lake, beautiful landscapes, around 2 pm I arrive at the Ferraro Refuge, pasta in white, a sandwich for the road and off again, the pursuers are leaving Gressoney, I have some leeway!
The next climb is beautiful and wild, with meadows full of cows, and ends on the slopes of the Matterhorn, 3000m, where there are some bumps before arriving at the Duca degli Abruzzi Refuge, it's 9:30 pm, night has just fallen.
I eat well, polenta then turkey breast and spinach, it's great! A second dish, an herbal tea and I go to bed, I wake up 1h30 later, ready for the night!
I leave at midnight after a last herbal tea and take an extra ride because I have forgotten my sticks, the road to the next refuge is going very well, there are still 16 km and 1500m of elevation gain +. I arrive around 4.30, and the Perrucca Vuillermoz Refuge is there, perched at almost 3000m: light meal, milk and biscuits then I sleep until 6 in the morning and I return to the pass accompanied by two volunteers from the refuge, the descent is at first frozen then trotting, we continue to the pretty lake at the bottom of the valley to the Prarayer Refuge 1000 m below where I eat a nice plate of pasta with pesto before leaving! It's 10, it's Wednesday!
The next part is flat and then uphill, it starts again for 15 km and 1400m, 500m from the refuge, Malga Bionaz, a farmer, Elvio, greets me, then compliments me and invites me to stop, it is 12:30 the refuge is in sight but I know I'll have fun! And that's right: there is a large table, everyone eats and Elvio offers me to join them! I will spend a good hour there and discover that Elvio's brother is an acquaintance of my mother, so I set an appointment for Friday at noon: after the race I will come and eat at their house with the whole family! At the refuge I take a plate of pasta and lie down for 5 '.
The descent of the Col du Mont Gelé is technical, I waste a lot of time because there is really no path and the scree is difficult, then a nice descent and 6 km of plain that I swallow in 35 ', before the last climb in Champillon, the refuge where I will meet the runners of the TOR330 and the last of the TOR130 - Tot Dret and where I will eat a good plate of pasta all'amatriciana.
I start in good shape and advance fast, there are 50 km left and the second, Victor Richard, Belgian, who has now overtaken the Japanese, is only 3 hours away from me, so I don't have to stop! The Col Champillon is going well, even the descent and the ascent to the Col du Grand Saint Bernard I do almost all at a trot, it is rather uphill. The last part is difficult, steep, with wind and fog, and when I arrive I cannot find the refreshment: the path takes us between the few houses, not a traffic light, no one in sight ... I call the organization, there is no net, so I proceed, no hot chocolate this time! The message from the organization giving me information on the refreshments will be able to arrive when I am now at the Frassati Refuge 10 km later, I am authorized to continue after having checked the GPS track. I find Lisa who helps me to recharge my backpack, she pampers me, we talk a bit then I leave, 30 km remain. Col Malatra is not far away! It is 4 in the morning, I leave motivated for the last real climb, which passes very fast! The descent is fine but I get tired, I stagger, I fall asleep. I struggle to get to the valley floor bivouac where I take my last 20 'nap, the rescuers are adorable!
Last climb then descent to the Bertone Refuge, among the volunteers I find familiar faces of people with whom I have volunteered for other races. I leave quickly, it is daylight, the weather is beautiful and it is full of people who go up to the refuge while I go down, the right opportunity to chat a bit. On the descent I remember many moments of the race, I tell myself that soon I will find myself with the family, I begin to believe that I will really finish this journey and that I could even win it! This is exceptional!
The arrival in Courmayeur, at the Jardin de l'Ange, will be unforgettable! Many people are waiting for me there, it's a great party! And Céline and Vivien are waiting for me immediately after the finish line! That's it, I sign the finisher sheet, I receive my medal: I am a finisher of this TOR450 - Tor des Glaciers! It is the first! Incredible! I don't even know now if I realize the extent of the performance achieved, I just ran, I often went ahead and had a lot of fun during the trip. If I had to do it again I would leave immediately!
I cannot thank this great organization enough for making me discover this magnificent valley, and I thank everyone on the route, volunteers and Valle d'Aosta for the unique and exceptional welcome!
Thanks to everyone who helped, followed and supported me during this wonderful adventure!
TOR eXtraordinary | Luca Papi - TOR450 winner
What can I say… How to summarize a race lasting 134h and 10', 5 days and 6 nights, full of faces and the meetings. It takes a long time to rewrite.