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The colours of the second day are blue-white-red: France rules at the EAORCH in La Palma

The second day of the EAORCH in El Paso, La Palma was all about France. In the Trail running, the men won Silver and Bronze and the women Gold and Silver. The French also got the top spots in the respective team competitions.

SMLLong Trail LOCBut let’s start from the top.

There were also some tears of joy when Maximilian Drion du Chapois crossed the finish line to become the first ever European Off-Road Champion in today’s trail competition. “I cannot believe it yet,” the Belgian runner said, right after the race to the waiting media representatives. “I had hoped for a Top 10 finish, but the medal, the victory, came unexpected.”

Drion du Chapois had to cover 47.7 kilometres and 2550 m of vertical gain before he crossed the finish line in solitude after 3:43:01 hours. He preceded France’s Arnaud Bonin by 54 seconds (3:43:55) and Bonin’s fellow countryman Thomas Cardin by more than two minutes (3:45:42).

The Belgian selected almost perfect tactics to win this historical inaugural gold medal in continental Mountain and Trail Running. He started slow and was first in 16th and then in 10th place after 10 km. “That was what I wanted,” he explained. At half-time, the new champion picked up the pace and overtook other racers, who had started more ambitiously. At Pernada after 31 km, he was in second spot, but already running together with the Spaniard Zaid Ait Malek, who finished fourth.

Then, it was the turn of Arnaud Bonin to challenge him for victory, but the Belgian broke away with two kilometres to go and celebrated the most important success of his career to date. This first place seems even more surprising given that Maximilian does not compete in road races or cross-country events in winter but is active in ski mountaineering. “It’s actually the same sport, just with skis,“ he said and looking into the future: “Yes, the 2026 Olympic Winter Games are also a goal of mine. But we are a long way from that and I’m just enjoying this moment.”

SMLLong Trail Egon TheinerOn the same track, Blandine L’Hirondel won the women’s race, which was not unexpected. The French athlete was one of the big favourites for the title and it was clear she was taking the Championships very seriously because she arrived in La Palma 10 days before the race. However, there had been a major hurdle for her to overcome. The Frenchwoman had an operation on her abductors two months ago and had to rest for six weeks. “The French Federation had called me up before the operation and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take part at all. But I started to feel more confident again during the first training sessions after the break. And now I’m standing here as the winner. I am overjoyed.“

Her victory was secured after 4:11:22 hours, in front of the Spaniard Nuria Gil (4:18:16) and fellow French athlete Mathilde Sagnes (4:22:42). Though her advantage over the next runners seemed large, or at least it appeared that way, it wasn’t an easy race for the winner.“I had real difficulties at the start,” said L’Hirondel, who was Trail World Champion in Portugal in 2019. “And I didn’t cope with the first uphill as well as I had wanted. The field was also really strong and you can’t take it easy for one minute around so many great athletes. So, I had to always push and push and push.”

The Briton Eleanor Davis missed out on an individual medal with fourth, but led Team GB to Bronze in the team event, behind the winners France and Spain. There was also Gold for “la Grande Nation” in the men’s event, ahead of Italy and Spain. Thus, Italy is still leading in the medals table (3/3/1), but only just slightly ahead of France (3/1/3). Spain is third (1/3/5) before the competitions on Sunday.

The final day of the EAORCH features the Up&Down race. Eight full sets of medals are up for grabs for both men and women in the elite and U20 categories, both individual and team events.

Then, France want come to the forefront again. “We are so strong because we have an unbelievably good team,” said Blandine L’Hirondel. “We train together and we feel happy as a group and we transfer knowledge. That’s why we’re so good.”

Written by Egon Theiner for European Athletics. Photos courtesy of Egon Theiner and Reventon El Paso.

Full results of all the weekend's racing can be found here: ETCh-19-2022-LaPalma-ESP.pdf

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