XVI Mezzalama - the hardest ski mountaineering competition in the world
On 29/05 the Swiss-Italian trio comprised of Giacomelli - Pellissier - Troillet won the XVI Mezzalama, the most challenging ski mountaineering race in the world. The women's event was won by the extraordinary Martinelli - Pedranzini - G.Pellissier, who in doing so also set a new course record.
THE COMPETITION by Simone Bobbio
Last weekend the new Swiss-Italian Team Valtellina comprised of Guido Giacomelli, Jean Pellissier and Florent Troillet won the XVI Mezzalama, just missing out on setting a new course record despite having to descend the final 700m on foot (the current record was set in 2005 when snow conditions enabled a ski descent all the way to the finishing line at Gressoney). Francesca Martinelli, Roberta Pedranzini and Gloriana Pellissier formed the dream team to win the women's event: not only did they win by an impressive margin, they also shattered the old record by a staggering 26 minutes.
The extraordinary 16th edition of the Trofeo Mezzalama could not have been a more fitting conclusion to this long ski mountaineering season. Even before the start it was going to be a record Mezzalama, seeing that as many as 795 athletes from 14 different nations had signed up for the event. The race proved highly exciting and the men's event, true to predictions, as uncertain as ever: after 1800m height gain the French team Perrier, Gachet and Blanc clocked first at the first chrono at Colle del Breithorn, 3826m, just a few seconds ahead of Giacomelli, Pellissier and Troillet. This year's World Cup dominators Dennis Brunod and Manfred Reichegger teamed up with Denis Trento to form the Team Esercito and, fighting against the altitude and great length of the race, opted for a more prudent strategy and clocked in third, somewhat behind the first two teams.
At first Team Valtellina seemed to suffer from the lack of harmony which sets the tried and tested French trio apart. But Giacomelli's desire to win after losing the Pierra Menta so unluckily to Perrier and Gachet, Pellissier's home experience and young Troillet's nerve soon made the difference. Team Valtellina overtook the Frenchmen on the plateau beneath the Breithorn, and they soon took a 3 minute lead up the steep ramp towards the Castore summit at 4226m. They extended this lead during the descent to Rugio Quintino Sella, the ascent back up to the Lyskamm Nose and the descent to Gressoney, producing an immense 10.39 minute gap.
The disastrous snow conditions during the final 700m, carried out on foot due to complete lack of snow (another record, albeit negative), forced the trio to relinquish all hopes of setting a new course record. Their time - 4 hours 22 minutes and 41 seconds - was a mere 4 minutes slower than the 2005 course record which had been set with extraordinary snow conditions all the way to the finishing line. Many had considered 4:18 as unbeatable, but in the light of this achievement they will now have to think again.
The outcome of the women's competition proved less uncertain, since even before the start the Italian athletes had a nigh unbeatable curriculum. Francesca Martinelli and Roberta Pedranzini are not only the current European and World Champions, but they also won this year's World Cup and Pierra Menta. They were joined by the most experienced Mezzalama athlete, local Gloriana Pellissier who won the comp in 1999, 2001 and 2005 (she had skipped 2003 because of maternity). Understandably closest rivals Favre, Bourillon and Lathuraz from France had little chance of overall victory. The best the could do was hope for an Italian debacle, like last year's Patrouille des Glaciers when they were beaten for reasons apparently unconnected to the competition.
But the XVI Mezzalama held no surprises in store: at the first chrono Martinelli, Pedranzini and Pellissier checked in more than 10 minutes ahead of the French team. Their rhythm was devilish and the team proceeded in great harmony, overcoming all course obstacles including the slender Castore crest and the rocky descent to Gressoney. Given their complete dominance, the “Wonder Woman” raced against the clock to overwhelmingly win the event, in less than 6 hours, 26 minutes faster than the previous female course record, and 30th overall. Ladies and gentlemen take note: Martinelli and Pedranzini from Valtellina and Pellissier from Valle d'Aosta stopped the clock at 5:37:48, and we daren't think how fast they could have been given better snow cover. The fact is that they were quite simply unbeatable. For the record, the French team finished second, while the Germans Grassl, Koch and Treimer finished third.