Millet Tour du Rutor Extreme 2018
The mountain above us, magical.
Here we are, at the starting line of the 19th edition of the Millet Tour du Rutor Extreme facing a lineup of Lycra-clad athletes whose multi-colored second skins dot the white snow like Jackson Pollock’s paint drips. This being Italy, a Madonna is watching over the slopes that these men and women will tread.
The 363 duos came from 19 countries to face opponents over 40 kilometers uphill, and 32 down. They will don their spiked cross-country skis and seal skins to ascend over five kilometers of aerial crests, then lock their ski boots for dizzying descents through powder. This three-step race that can be beat in as little as seven hours took place over the first weekend of spring.
Welcome to Arvier, in the Aosta Valley, an autonomous region that is home to 27 inhabitants per square kilometer (total population 900). This is the sole Italian stage of the Millet Grande Course 2018 ski race, amid its tiny ancient homes, its stables, barns, wash houses, churches, fish scale roofing, tunnels, bridges and road – this is the quintessential Alp décor. On one side, the Mont Blanc, on the other, the visual and culinary delights of the Gran Paradiso National Park – Fontina cheese, spiced bacon, the local Enfer d’Arvier red wine, and the diabolical Génépi eau de vie. It’s on us!
Unless you’re one of our athletes, of course – you can’t defy gravity with a full stomach or a hangover.
Instead, until the race is over, the menu consists of training, constancy, endurance, stamina, and determination.
The reward will be a sensation of freedom, the satisfaction of the sportsmanship required to conquer the mountain: “for she is always the commander, mother and mistress,” according to a tifosi (fan) when we bring up the risk of trigger an avalanche by off-roading during training.
The local paper Alpage deems the extreme athlete to be “as useless as a poet,” within a capitalist society in which easy money and fleeting glory hold more value than self-sacrifice.
Human contact comes easily among the participants, who are all aiming at the conquest of the will topography before them.
The race’s champions are often alpine-trained military personnel, which implies a rigorous training and a balanced diet supplemented with generous helpings of carbs and vitamins during the races. As resilient as they are disciplined, they go head-to-head with this extreme sport, which harkens back to the very essence of modern skiing, as it was practiced in the 1850s, along with a philosophical quest to discover and push one’s own limits – and, of course, the pleasure of an adventure within. Are the “poets of the mountains” thus useless? No matter. This conscience is what differentiates us among animal, overcome our weaknesses, break with daily routine, and stretch out of our comfort zones. The corporate world has seized on this and has been sending groups of staff to extreme skiing retreats in the area.
As for this year’s rankings? The French team (Axelle Mollaret and Jennifer Fiechter) came in first, completing the race in 09:15:21 with a six-minute lead on Italians Alba de Silvestro and Katia Tomatis. Fifteen days after the Rutor, Axelle confirmed her dominion of ski mountaineering by winning the World Cup at Madonna di Campiglio, capping off a winning streak of a season (two European championship titles in Sicily back and February, along with her victory on the Pierra Menta).
On the Men’s side, World Champion Michele Boscacci (who was awarded a second World Cup title at Madonna di Campiglio on April 8th) and his young cohort Davide Magnini, representing the Centro Sportivo Esercito (the Italian military’s unit), came in at 07:16:56, ahead of fellow countrymen Matteo Eydallin and Nadir Maguet (+ 3:11) and Frenchmen Xavier Gachet and William Bon Mardion (+ 6:44).
Among the Juniors: three French duos made the podium, with Julien Ançay and Arthur Blanc taking home the Gold.
Pictures by Christian Lartillot
Athletica thanks Millet for inviting us discover the race.