Mud, cold and rain continue to play a major role in the Zegama Aizkorri. However, perhaps today they were on Kilian Jornet’s side after he won the Basque event for the eighth time. All expectations were met and the 45km and 2,075 climb, in what Jornet considers “the best mountain marathon in the world”, played its part, allowing the 400 runners to enjoy a technical and very muddy course.
Jornet arrived at Zegama having chosen it as part of brief calendar of only two mountain races. He also arrived unsure of his physical readiness as right up until this week he was skiing in Norway. However, the Aizkorri mountains and the Aratz range were the perfect allies in his victory in a time of 3h50m, just two minutes shy of the record that he himself set in 2014.
Jornet made a gentle start, without too much pressure, aware of how the first stages put each runner in their place. As on other occasions, the Basque Aritz Egea led the peloton in the early stages. However, he was soon overtaken by Kilian Jornet and the Swiss Marc Lauenstein, who took the lead and arrived at the Sancti Spiritu (km 20) food station with a 10-second advantage before taking on the mythical climb of Sancti Spiritu where a crowd of spectators withstood heavy rain to cheer the runners on. This spurred Jornet on as he overtook Lauenstein and arrived at the summit of Aizkorri, the race’s highest point and also the halfway mark, with a 90-second advantage. From there Jornet began his descent on ground thick with mud after the previous night’s heavy rain. The Cerdanya runner said: “For me the best thing is the cold and the mud which is the essence of Zegama, so I’m happy with this year’s conditions. In spite of the bad weather in Zegama people still go up to cheer you on. There’s an incredible atmosphere and you get goose bumps as soon as you leave the square.”
Having climbed Aitxuri and the Andraitz, the last two summits, Jornet flew back towards the village of Zegama, crossing the line in first position, ten minutes ahead of Marc Lauenstein and Luis Alberto Hernando, who came in second and third respectively. “It was a hard race, very cold and with lots of rain. Up on Aizkori you really noticed the cold and we struggled, but really that’s what makes us passionate about this sport. We started out well with Marc and up on Sancti Spiritu I saw a chance to escape and so I did and from then on I felt good all the way back to Zegama. As I always say, Zegama is Zegama, it’s an event I carry in my heart in which I first participated in 2008. I don’t think this will be the last time I take part.” That’s what all the aficionados of the mountain marathon hope and that the names of Zegama Aizkorri and Kilian Jornet will continue to be inked for many years.