The “alpini” (Italy’s alpine army corps) triumph at the 20th Mezzalama despite difficult conditions on Monte Rosa
Thanks to a brief let-up in the weather, it was possible to inaugurate the new Gressoney-Cervinia course marking the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
Rain, snow and blizzard lashed Monte Rosa’s grim, menacing glaciers right up until the eve of the race. Then, at the last minute, the perilously transitory weather window forecast by Luca Mercalli and staunchly sustained by the creator of the modern Mezzalama Trophy, Adriano Favre, enabled a sensational 20th edition to go ahead. An edition worthy of the epic race first run back in 1933, today part of the international Grande Course circuit and last leg of the Long Distance World Cup.
High winds buffeting the spur of the Lyskamm Nose at an altitude of 4100 metres made the first section of this legendary ski mountaineering marathon (45 kilometres long with 3500 metres of elevation gain) – this year with a new inverted route to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the conquest of the Matterhorn - extremely tough going. A real citadel of snow and ice to be conquered. A closely-fought race between the four leading rope teams who, tracing and retracing their way through the windswept snow, contended for podium places right up until the top of the Castore, the highest point of the course at 4226mt. Then came the final triumphal 12 km descent from the Breithorn col (3826 mt) down to the finishing line at Breuil-Cervinia (2020 m.) in brilliant sunshine at the foot of the imposing mass of the Matterhorn, as thickly covered in snow as a Himalayan mountain face. This year, more than ever before, the race winners’ victory should be shared ideally with Adriano Favre and his staff, the mountain guides from Monte Rosa’s three valleys, who equipped and practically “defused” the course - raced at altitudes of 4000 metres - of the glaciers’ hidden dangers under today’s extremely difficult racing conditions.
Victory was seized with great determination by the race favourites, a rope team from Courmayeur’s Centro Sportivo Esercito (Army Sports Centre) made up of Matteo Eydallin from the Val di Susa (his third success at the Mezzalama!) with the young Michele Boscacci from Valtellina and Damiano Lenzi from the Valle Ossola. The alpine soldiers completed the race with a time of 5h10’49’’ as a result of the increased elevation gain and strong headwinds. The winners broke away from the other leading teams on the Castore uphill stretch, obtaining a five-minute lead which they kept all the way to the finish. An extremely hard-fought second place was won by the Italia 2 team composed of Robert Antonioli, Manfred Reichegger and Lorenzo Holzknecht who on the long final descent overtook the team composed of Anton Palzer from Germany, with Martin Anthamatten from Switzerland and Pietro Lanfranchi from Bergamo , third with a 17’’ gap.
Amongst the women’s teams, a surprise victory went to newcomers Emelie Forsberg (Sweden), Axelle Mollaret (France) and Jennifer Fiechter (Switzerland) who were close behind the favourites Laetitia Roux (France), Mireia Mirò Varela (Spain) and Severine Pont Combe (Switzerland) during the first part of the race and overtook them at the Lyskamm Nose; they maintained a slender lead right to the line which they crossed with a time 6h35’09’’, with 2’51’’ over their rivals.
Almost 800 athletes in the competition, with 260 rope teams from 22 nations. Twelve women’s teams. Around sixty teams were eliminated at the half-way Quintino Sella cut-off point (3580 m.), “closed” after six and a half hours from the start, eloquent proof of the tough conditions of this year’s edition, the 20th edition overall and the tenth edition of Adriano Favre’s new Mezzalama (held biennially since 1997). An example of Italian excellence, made in Valle d’Aosta, which is unrivalled on the international ski mountaineering scene.
By 3 p.m. the providential weather window which favoured this twentieth Mezzalama had already re-closed and the Monte Rosa massif was once again completely hidden by clouds.
The Mezzalama Trophy will be raced on Saturday 2 May. The decision was taken after the latest consultation with Luca Mercalli and the Italian Meteorological Society.
Over the last few days the Mezzalama Trophy Foundation and its technical director, mountain guide Adriano Favre, have remained in close contact with Luca Mercalli and his staff to try and get an idea of what weather conditions will be like over the coming weekend.
The extraordinary edition of the Mezzalama Trophy, which this will be run over an inverted course starting from Gressoney La Trinité and finishing at Breuil-Cervinia, has had to be modified in view of the adverse weather conditions affecting Monte Rosa.
«Unfortunately, - said Adriano Favre – the bad weather forecast for 25 April, when the 20th edition of the “glacier marathon” was supposed to be held, arrived punctually and even now adverse weather conditions persist over the whole of the Monte Rosa massif. The course is ready. At altitude, the more technical stretches around the Naso del Lyskamm and Castore have been marked and secured with the help of more than 1200 metres of fixed ropes. Now we have to start studying the situation forecast for the first weekend in May. This morning we had a meeting with Luca Mercalli and his closest assistants: the forecasting models indicated that unstable weather conditions will persist for the whole week, leaving two intervals of fine weather on Wednesday and Saturday.
«The situation is not ideal – concluded Favre – but if we dedicate the whole of Wednesday to cleaning and clearing the more technical parts of the trail such as the Naso del Lyskamm and Castore (where it is snowing at this moment) we should be able to start the race at dawn on Saturday as planned».
All team accreditation procedures will start on Friday 1 May at 10.30 a.m. in the Sporthaus (sports centre) in Gressoney-Saint-Jean.
A spectacular first edition of the Mezzalama Jeunes
Cadets and Juniors, representing the future of ski mountaineering, battled it out over a technical course in the vicinity of the Canalino dell’Aquila.
This morning the first edition of the Mezzalama Jeunes, a team ski mountaineering competition for the Junior and Cadet categories. now part of the international Grande Course circuit, was raced from Gabiet (Gressoney La Trinité). The youngsters were blessed with a gloriously sunny day and spring-like temperatures even at altitude, the last bit of sun before the predicted worsening weather conditions which forced the Mezzalama Trophy Foundation to postpone the start of the 20th edition of the “glacier marathon” for a week.
The boys in the Junior category raced along a course with a 1500 mt elevation gain spread out over four climbs, with the technical stretch of the canalino dell’Aquila raced on foot with skis tied to their backbacks. Cadets and girls in the Junior category followed a shorter course with a 900 metre elevation gain and three climbs and the same stretch of the canalino dell’Aquila to be raced on foot.
In the Junior competition the race was won in the course of the third climb when Erik Pettavino and Enrico Cognein made their move and started to pull away from Mathias Trento and Andrea Dellavalle both from the Aosta Valley. In third place were Fabio Pettinà and Matteo Cuel, who were shoulder to shoulder with the leaders right up to the end of the second climb.
During the final climb the team from Piedmont/Aosta Valley composed of Pettavino and Cognein managed to hold onto their lead over Trento-Dellavalle and crossed the finishing line at Gabiet with a time of 2:04’30’’, Trento-Dellavalle confirmed their seconda position with a 2’05’’ gap. The podium was completed by the team from Venice made up of Fabio Pettinà and Matteo Cuel.
Enrico Loss e Daniele Carobbio came in fourth while Loïc Brouet and David Pérez were fifth.
As regards the Cadet category, the team from Cogne composed of brothers Sébastien and Fabien Guichardaz won with a time of 1:22’09’’ ahead of Marco Cunaccia and Michele Carelli. On the third step of the podium were Martí Torregrosa and Sergi Casabella from Andorra.
Amongst the girls in the Cadet category the team formed of Giorgia Felicetti e Melanie Ploner won with a time of 1:39’42’’, followed by Florence Buchs from Swizerland teamed up with Italy’s Giulia Murada. In third place were Elisa Pedrolini and Alessia Re.
Amongst the Juniors, victory went to the Swiss couple made up of Deborah Chiarello and Marianne Fatton. The Swiss girls closed with a time of 1:37’40’’. In second place were team-mates Giulia Gherardi and Debora Contrio.
The 20th Mezzalama Trophy has been postponed until next week.
Adriano Favre: «The forecast is pretty unequivocal and since the weather is expected to be bad for the whole of next weekend, we are forced to postpone the start of the Mezzalama until the 1st May». The competition for youngsters, on the other hand, has been confirmed for Friday morning.
The confirmation came just before 1 p.m. at the end of the operational meeting held in Gressoney to decide whether to the Mezzalama Trophy should be raced on 25 April as originally scheduled.
«This morning – announced Adriano Favre, technical director of the Mezzalama Trophy – together with Luca Mercalli we studied the latest weather forecast models for the coming weekend. Unfortunately, the weather situation on the Monte Rosa massif for both Saturday and Sunday leaves us with no alternative but to postpone the start of the Trophy to 1st May. With such a difficult technical course, raced for the most part at altitudes of over 4000 mt., we cannot let 300 teams set off if there is a risk of the meteorological conditions suddenly getting worse. Once again we have to think first and foremost of the safety of the athletes and race officials who will be working at high altitudes for the entire duration of the race».
As far as the race for young competitors is concerned, Favre confirmed that it will go ahead as planned in the area of the Canalino dell’Aquila.
The course of the 20th edition of the Mezzalama Trophy is ready. Adriano Favre: «Wednesday morning, according to the weather forecast, the final decision!»
The amount of work that has done over the last few days, at an altitude of over 4000 metres, is incredible. Adriano Favre, technical director of th Mezzalama Trophy and the more than fifteen mountain guides present on the glacier have marked out and secured the trail for the 20th edition of the Mezzalama Trophy which will start from Gressoney La Trinité at dawn on Saturday 25 April.
«We have been working at high altitude for more than a week now - said Adriano Favre – conditions on the glacier are fairly tough, there’s not much snow and the wind we had this winter has uncovered the ice in some places. The more technical parts have been equipped with fixed ropes –we’ve got about 1200 metres of ropes in all, distributed over two lines on each stretch. For us the most difficult part was preparing the Naso del Lyskamm downhill section: apart from the “steamer” we had to use to make holes in the ice to anchor the fixed cords in, we also had to cut steps in the ice in the central part to make it easier for the athletes to get by. And it is because of these “mountaineering” conditions that we decided to make the use of steel crampons obligatory».
«As far as the Western wall of Mt. Castore is concerned – continued Favre - as well as preparing two lines of descent to avoid any possible holdups, we have already deployed the ladders required to cross the bergschrund just below the crest. Last week we brought up all the bivouacs to be set up along the trail which will provide support in case of need».
Having finished preparing the race route, Adriano Favre’s attention turned to the weather forecast. «We have finished laying out and preparing the trail - said Favre – and I am very pleased with this course that goes from Gressoney La Trinité to Breuil-Cervinia; it’s a very difficult, technical course in which all the competitors will have to make good use of their mountaineering skills. Now our thoughts go to the forecast for the weekend. Unfortunately, the forecast for Saturday and Sunday is not great. Tomorrow morning, thanks to weatherman Luca Mercalli’s forecasting models and advice, we will have a more reliable picture and can decide whether to confirm the start for Saturday morning at first light of dawn or opt for another possibility».
Finally, Ariano Favre advises members of the public venturing onto the glacier to watch the race to take the greatest possible care. «Thanks to the collaboration of the companies running the Gressoney and Cervinia ski- lift systems – concluded Favre – the public can ride up to the top to cheer on the competing teams. In Gressoney the ski-lifts will open at 4 a.m. while at Cervinia it will be possible to go up to Plateau Rosà from 6 a.m. onwards. My advice, particularly for those going up to the Naso del Lyskamm from the Mantova hut, is to have the standard ski touring equipment with them».