The second day of the inaugeral European Athletics Off-Road Running Championships was all about France. In the trail running event over 47.7km of arduous and undulating terrain, their men won silver and bronze in the individual race and their women topped that that by taking gold and silver on Saturday (2).
Not surprisingly, France also got the top spots in the respective team competitions to augment their medal haul.
The only exception to a French clean sweep of the medals was Belgium’s Maximilian Drion du Chapois, who had tears of joy in his eyes of as he crossed the men’s trail race finish line.
“I cannot believe it yet,” the Belgian runner said, right after the race to the waiting media. “I had hoped for a top 10 finish, but this medal, and the victory, came so unexpected.”
Drion du Chapois covered the course, which included 2550m of vertical gain in 3:43:01, winning from France’s Arnaud Bonin by 54 seconds, the latter clocking 3:43:55, with Bonin’s compatriot Thomas Cardin third in 3:45:42.
The Belgian tactics were superbly astute. He started slow and was in 16th place at the early 3.5km marker and then moved up to tenth place at 12 kilometres.
“That was what I wanted,” he explained. The soon-to-be champion picked up the pace from the halfway point started to overtake runners who had started more ambitiously. At Pernada after 31.8km, he was in second spot, but running together with the Spanish local favourite Zaid Ait Malek, who eventually slipped back to fourth over the final 15km.
Arnaud Bonin moved up to challenge Drion du Chapois at 40 kilometres and the pair duelled for the next five kilometres before the Belgian broke away with two kilometres to go.
This important international success for Drion du Chapois was perhaps even more surprising given that Maximilian does not compete in road races or cross country events in winter but prefers ski mountaineering instead. “But it’s actually the same sport, just with skis,“ he joked.
El belga Maximilien Drion ???????? campeón de Europa con un tiempo de 3:43.— ReventÓn El Paso (@ReventonElPaso) July 2, 2022
Carrerón del atleta belga que se impone con claridad en este primer #EAORCHelpaso2022
¡CONGRATULATIONS! ????????#ReventonFredOlsenExpress @EuroAthletics @atletismoRFEA @FOexpress pic.twitter.com/bnPFu5iu3A
Placing three in the top four – with Kevin Vermeulen just missing on an individual medal by 18 seconds – helped France to a comfortable team victory ahead of Spain and Italy.
Blandine L’Hirondel less unexpectedly won the women’s race on the same track.
The French athlete had been one of the big favourites for the title and it was clear she was taking the championships very seriously because she arrived in La Palma 10 days before the race.
However, the Frenchwoman had an operation on her abductors two months ago and subsequently had to rest for six weeks and so there was a question mark over her fitness.
“The French Federation had called me up before the operation and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take part at all. But I started to feel more confident again during the first training sessions after the break. And now I’m standing here as the winner. I am overjoyed,” reflected L’Hirondel.
L’Hirondel clocked 4:11:22 and came home more than eight minutes clear of Spain’s iNuria Gil, who was second in 4:18:16 with another French athlete Mathilde Sagnes third in 4:22:42.
Despite the huge gap over her nearest rival at the end, it wasn’t all easy going for the winner. “I had real difficulties at the start,” said L’Hirondel, who was 2019 world trail champion.
“And I didn’t cope with the first uphill as well as I had wanted. The field was also really strong, and you can’t take it easy for one minute around so many great athletes. So, I had to always push and push and push.”
Great Britain’s Eleanor Davis missed out on an individual medal in fourth place bu has some compensation as she led the British women to bronze in the team competition behind the winners France and hosts Spain.
The final day of the European Athletics Off-Road Running Championships on Sunday features the up and down races and eight full sets of medals are up for grabs for both men’s and women’s elite and U20 categories, in both the individual and team events.
Full results here.
Egon Theiner for European Athletics