UTMB 2020 CANCELLED: INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE POLETTI BY ABEL AND MAYAYO.
Today, the organization of UTMB has made the decision to postpone all the events for UTMB week in 2020. After the shock, Trailrunningspain.com and carrerasdemontana.com have been able to talk and interview Catherine Poletti, the director and co-founder of Ultra Trail Montblanc, that has opened her house’s doors to explain the reason of taken this decission. The Ultra Trail Montblanc, an event hosted in Chamonix the last week of August which congregates about 10,000 runners every year. A cancellation which will also impact the tourism in Chamonix. It has been probably a hard decision that will not make happy to everybody, but this is how it is.
Let’s have a look a the interviewed by our colleagues Abel de Frutos and Sergio Mayayo with Catherine Poletti (english & spanish) and aftewards the transcription below.
UTMB 2020 CANCELLED DUE COVID-19: INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE POLETTI BY ABEL DE FRUTOS AND MAYAYO
May 20th, the day every trail runner was waiting for, today we had the announcement from UTMB about what would happend with UTMB 2020, and the decision was taken about 11:00 CET. Every signed runner received an email explaining that UTMB 2020 is cancelled due the COVID-19 outbreak. In trailrunningspain.com and carrerasdemontana.com we had the opportunity to interview Catherine Poletti, the co-founder and director of the Ultra Trail Montblanc, that has opened her house to answer all of our questions, we do thanks her so much for explaining our readers what is the situation and why they have taken this decision. Please find below the transcription from the interview.
Sergio Mayayo & Abel de Frutos: Hello everyone, we are here with Catherine Poletti, co-founder of UTMB together with Michel Poletti. The decision was finally made today. A few weeks ago we were talking to Michel in carrerademontana.com and trailrunningspain.com, in that interview, he told us that you were studying three options for the 2020 event… but first of all, how’s it going? How are you doing in Chamonix?
Catherine Poletti: Today is a fantastic day, the mountain is beautiful, so Chamonix is perfect, although very quiet because there is no one around. A little annoyed because we can’t go outside, but…
Sergio Mayayo & Abel de Frutos: How are the things over there? Can you go out for sports, run, or move outside?
Catherine Poletti: Well, we are allowed to move about 100 kms around, but we can’t move for example to Italy or Switzerland because the borders are closed for now.
Abel de Frutos: Perfect, let’s go and talk about the UTMB. Everyone was anxious about May 20th, in order to know was going to happen with UTMB 2020, as we already know, many races have been cancelled or postponed along this year and when we spoke to Michel, he told us that they were valuing three different options: a reduced UTMB, we still do not know how you were planning it, postpone the race to autumn or winter, and finally the one that has finally been chosen, cancel the event in 2020 and move it to 2021. What was the main reason for making that decision?
Catherine Poletti: Well, as everyone knows, there are restrictions with flights, if we want to go to Spain, or if the Spaniards want to enter France, and at the moment, when we decided to cancel the event was because the other two solutions were not a good option, and the latter was the “least bad” (sorry to say this). If we had decided to postpone it to winter it would have been very difficult to climb the Grand Col Ferrer for example because of the snow, It would have been too late to organize the Mont Blanc tour, if we had done just after August/September, it would not have been a good idea for the Commune because the summer season would have been closed, without tourism, the schools would reopen and kids going to school, and would also have harmed our Partners, such as Columbia, since the summer collections season would have already closed and the winter one would have begun. So it would have been a bad solution for everyone. In addition there would be many runners who could not come, without vacation and could have trouble finding flights, lodging, etc.
Abel de Frutos: There were other options, such as making a reduced UTMB, it was an option they had spoken about (Here Catherine misunderstood the question… she understood us, if they planned to do anything replacing UTMB at the end of August)
Catherine Poletti: Well, we still have 3 months left and we haven’t made a final decision, we’re sure we’ll do something, we still don’t know the conditions, but all the trails around Mont Blanc are open, plus we can take advantage of new technologies and make a great meeting around the world to do something different, maybe every person from their country , since not everyone will be able to come to Chamonix, so we want to do a great solidarity event, and do something different which hasn’t been done before, with the possibility that everyone can get together and do something together.
Abel de Frutos: Tourism in Chamonix is already open, how it affects the cancellation of UTMB to tourism in Chamonix?, since as everyone knows, the impact of UTMB week in Chamonix is huge, you will probably have talked to tourism and the authorities, could you tell us if you measure the impact that this cancellation entails?
Catherine Poletti: In principle and in the short term the impact is very negative, but in the long term, we believe that the impact will not be so negative, what is certain is that we can not associate Mont Blanc with a negative image so we hope that many of the runners if they can not postpone their trip, come to Chamonix to spend those days that they had booked doing other kinds of activities and not UTMB. Unfortunately, the situation is what it is, and this year we won’t be able to be a UTMB 2020 finisher, but we will be in 2021.
Abel de Frutos: In relation to the previous question, UTMB will reserve the place to the runners for 2021-2022-2023, but of course, the question that every runner has, I was going to run the race myself, what will happen with the UTMB points?, will we keep the points achieved for 2020? Will we have to look for a race, when most of them are canceled? How are you going to do it for next year?
Catherine Poletti: We understand the situation and know that there are practically no races around the world in 2020, so we’re the first to understand it, so that’s why, to run UTMB 2020, the runner had to have scored his points in 2018-2019, so for next year, we’ll allow points in 2018-2019 and even 2020 if the runner could have run any races.
Abel of Frutos: Let’s imagine that all these runners who can’t run this year, they may want to run in 2021, but considering UTMB’s registration systems, it could be the case that putting together runners who go from 2020 to 2021, plus those who already have a place secured in 2021 for having races like By UTMB or simply because they have a secure place , do you anticipate that the number of bibs can be increased by 2021? How did you plan to do that?
Catherine Poletti: What is clear is that we have a commitment to the runners who were registered to the 2020 edition, and therefore they will be given priority to come and run to UTMB in 2021, and if for some reason, the places were covered, the runners who had a place secured in 2021, would be moved to the 2022 edition.
Abel de Frutos: Thank you Catherine for this time, we have covered many the questions that our readers have, we are very unhuppy for not being able to run, but… now we will have 15 months to train and run UTMB 2021.
Catherine Poletti: “Keep connected”, all I can tell you is to “Keep connected”.
Abel de Frutos: Thank you very much, and we will be looking forward to the news of this virtual race that can be held at the end of August.
Catherine Poletti: Thank you very much and goodbye.
Sergio Mayayo: We are going to ask Catherine about the economic impact of the cancellation of the UTMB in Chamonix, I have been talking to the cable car managers of the AIGUILLE DU MIDI this morning and I have been told that if it is normal to have 2000 people daily by these dates, today they had 200, considering that they opened to tourism on May 16th. Let’s see how much money Chamonix loses, since mountain racing is a great development lever. In 2008 it was my first participation in CCC, finishing and with you there clapping hands to all the finishers, how many years was it doing it?
Catherine Poletti: Oh, now it’s impossible to spend a week like this doing it because I’m human, so I do as much as I can, but there are so many people organizing with me, this team is very strong now and they do very good work, but UTMB is not just me and we have a lot of support.
Sergio Mayayo: The economic impact today is brutal. By my reckoning, when I first went in 2008, I had a hard time finding even a hotel since 1sep it closed almost everything. Now that week is the biggest week of the year in Chamonix, with more than 10,000 runners, plus 50,000 families and company, about 250,000 overnights…what is the economic impact? 30-40 million euro? Is there a study?
Catherine Poletti: We haven’t made that calculation, all we’ve done is send a survey to the runners, but we haven’t asked them about the economics. Of course there is a big impact, but not only in shops, hotels, restaurants, but especially the people who work during the summer, it gives them one more week of work for all these related jobs. Many people have a job because of UTMB. But as you say, even if it is open people can’t travel, the same thing happens in Spain, in certain places you have to quarantine for 14 days, the same with Italy and Switzerland, maybe these borders will be open from June.
Sergio Mayayo: How did you set that 55% refund? Because the reference we have in Spain, is that most races have refunded100%,. It is true taht in our country, some events have been supported by a public authority, others by a Sponsor who has covered the cost, or even races like Ehunmilak that has directly endured it to losses the same organization, when possible. Why not return 100% in UTMB as well?
Catherine Poletti: Since there are 3 months left for the event, UTMB has to pay a big team working every month since the beginning of the year, agencies, etc., Analyzing the data, we think that the expenses we have already made are around 45% of what was entered for registrations, that’s why we have returned it as well. For example if you look at the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, they refunded only 28% but canceled only a month before, so we think we have to look through the corridor and consider that 55% is just considering the internal expenses to date, along with the reservation of place in the next three years and the maintenance of the points , considering 2020 as a “blank year”.
Sergio Mayayo: In Spain many of the races have launched a virtual race so that fans can live it, and even in the USA a organization has created the race that crosses Tenesse and charges $64. Today it already has more than 6,000 enrolled so that virtual race could generate a profit that can reach half a million dollars. Has UTMB considered making a virtual career? and if he does, will he do it for free? Or will it be a paid race for solidarity or business?
Catherine Poletti: We’re preparing a great virtual event for everyone, that’s for sure. Currently I can not give many details, of course, we will look for a good solution with technology, but not to do business in UTMB but something more supportive, something for the planet, trail running, as soon as we have a decision, probably not before June, but we would like to do a great event throughout the planet for the cause we decide.
Sergio Mayayo: Last question, when we spoke to Michel, he told me that they saw UTMB as a legacy for their children and not to sell it as Ironman, for example the organizers of Andorra Ultra Trail have left it, do you think it could be a lot of stress for your children, to pass the legacy, by the pressure?
Catherine Poletti: We are transmitting everything to our children, but clearly we are not very young now, so at the moment we will work with them but being somewhat less operational and working in the shade, we are very connected with our Partners, we all work together and we are talking to all our Partners to find the best solution for them and for us.
Sergio Mayayo: Thank you very much. I have a personal final question: After going to UTMB the last 12 years since 2008, I got several finisher vests the CCC 2008, the UTMB 2013, the TDS 2016…., Do you have any favorites among the vests of all these years?
Catherine Poletti: The first Columbia of 2016 you’ve showed me, it was a very new product very waterproof and breathable. It is true that many runners did not appreciate it at first, but months later they did so in view of the very usable under different conditions. Keep Connected.
UTMB 2020 CANCELLED DUE COVID-19: OFFICIAL STATEMENT
After having carefully examined all the options in compliance with the government’s regulations, but also after having consulted with the runners, local authorities and partners, the UTMB® Mont-Blanc organization team regrets to announce that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 edition, which was scheduled to take place from August 24 to 31, has been cancelled.
This decision was also taken after consultation with the UTMB® Mont-Blanc Medical Committee, and it was deemed the most responsible action to preserve the health and safety of all involved. This includes 10,000 runners from 111 countries, the 100,000 visitors and inhabitants of the Mont-Blanc regions, the 500 service providers, the 60 partners and the 2,300 volunteers.
“In the mountains, we are familiar with risk and commitment. When the conditions are not right, it’s more reasonable to turn back and go home. Risk taking is part of our culture, as is knowing your limits. To give up is to show courage. When you give up an ascent, you know that there will be other opportunities to come back, when the conditions are right, when you are ready, when the storm is over.” explains Catherine Poletti, founder of the UTMB Mont-Blanc.
Since its first edition in 2003, the UTMB Mont-Blanc has become a unique experience: a mythical route around the highest peak of Europe, a race that crosses 3 countries and 18 municipalities, incorporating 7 events ranging from 300km to 15km for trail runners of all levels. It is an experience that is sought after by more than 32,000 runners who registered for a place through the lottery. By choosing to cancel the event, the organization acknowledges that it does not wish to offer runners an experience that does not live up to their dreams.
“Trail running is about meeting other people. It’s taking the time to chat at the aid station, it’s the freedom of movement. Because of the current situation, it has become difficult to organize races that offer this pleasure and these possibilities. We have of course imagined an event adjusted to the sanitary rules, with staggered starts, less runners and social distancing at the aid stations. In such conditions, the UTMB® Mont-Blanc would not be the one we know, and above all, the one each participant would like to experience. Taking part in the UTMB® Mont-Blanc implies a long process for runners, each of them expects to experience a full and satisfying race. Let’s be patient.” commented Michel Poletti, founder of the UTMB Mont-Blanc.
By setting a date for next year, the organization wishes to show solidarity towards all of the runners who could not participate in the event this year because of the health, economic, social and territorial situation. The UTMB Mont-Blanc would also like to express its support to its Swiss and Italian friends, co-organizers of the event, but also to all those involved in events and outdoor sports, who have also been hit hard by the pandemic.
In compliance with the regulations of the event, 2020 participants will benefit from a refund of 55% of the registration fees. Cancelling the event is a real financial risk for the organization, which has already incurred great expenses across all areas. The organization has updated its website to answer all the questions from the runners.
For each runner, participating in the event is an adventure they have been preparing for several years between training, qualifying points and the lottery. Runners will benefit from having a place reserved for them in the same race in either 2021, 2022 or 2023. An exceptional measure that guarantees more flexibility. Runners will receive the terms and conditions for this reserved place by email before the opening of the 2021 registrations. This also applies to runners competing with a charity bib.
Despite the cancellation of the 2020 edition, the UTMB Mont-Blanc organization team is not giving up. The team is committed to mobilizing the global trail running community around a common cause. The final goal is to make the world a better place. UTMB Mont-Blanc has something in store and we’ll be sharing it on its social networks.
The 19th edition of the UTMB® Mont-Blanc will take place from August 23 to 29, 2021 and will cross France, Italy and Switzerland
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