Now it is “more” than being associated with UTMB/Ironman…it looks like to be in the club you have to sell you race:
To be part of the UTMB World Series circuit, the races must be sold to the UTMB or The Ironman
by Nicolas Fréret, co-editor in chief
May 12, 2021, 11:45 a.m.
The news caused a stir in the trail industry last week: the UTMB Group and the American company The Ironman Group are joining forces to create a new world trail circuit, the UTMB World Series (UWS), at the same time. time they scuttled the Ultra-Trail World Tour. What has not been announced, and that Distances + has understood by asking many questions, is that, to be part of it, trail running organizations will have to become the property of one or the other of the two corporations. At least one major French trail running event, the Festival des Templiers, has already said no.
The Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT), which existed since 2014, and whose rights had belonged to the UTMB group for two years, will no longer exist at the end of the 2021 season. The UTMB Group claims to have invited all the races of the schedule (25 in total if we exclude the CCC, TDS and UTMB) to integrate the UWS, which will begin in January 2022.
“The races must be 100% affiliated with the UTMB,” said Hugo Joyeux of the UTMB communications team. “Yes, it’s an acquisition logic,” confirmed Marie Sammons, director of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, who is working on the transition from the old to the new circuit.
“Nothing will change on the organization of the race itself,” said Marie Sammons. The organizers will continue to manage this as they know how to do with their volunteers and keeping local teams ultra involved. We will provide guide lines that must be observed so that all races have the same standards as those of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, especially in terms of safety. "
Even if the races will keep their name and visual identity, they will have to add the mention “by UTMB” at the end of their name, like four races which were already under this label, namely Val d’Aran by UTMB in Spain, Thailand by UTMB, Panda Trail by UTMB and Gaoligong by UTMB, in China, which automatically join the new UWS circuit.
Please note that the Ushuaia by UTMB and Oman by UTMB races do not appear in the preliminary list of UWS races and no longer appear on the UTMB World website.
Who, Ironman or UTMB, will win which race? “With Ironman, basically, we split the world,” says Marie Sammons. Ironman will approach races in the Americas, Asia (excluding China and Hong Kong) and Oceania. The UTMB will be everything else. "
In terms of communications, a single web platform is planned to bring together member races, with dedicated pages that they can manage directly, explains Marie Sammons. There is the idea of pooling resources, knowing that not all races manage their digital communities homogeneously. Some are very dynamic and generate a lot of interaction, others less. For tracking races, the LiveTrail application should be common to everyone.
“We have six months to build the circuit,” explains Hugo Joyeux. Because even if the project is tied up in terms of marketing, it is still at the construction stage: all the races approached by the UTMB group have not confirmed their participation in the circuit. The full schedule will be announced in the fall. You should know that only the races that are members of the circuit (the Events and Majors races) will allow access to the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc races, which will constitute the “finals”.
Among the races of the current Ultra-Trail World Tour, the organizers of the Mozart 100, in Austria, had already announced last fall the purchase of their event by Ironman. It will thus become part of the UWS.
“Thanks to the Ultra-Trail World Tour, the mozart 100 has become the biggest trail race in Austria with participants from more than 70 countries,” they say. We are proud to shape the future of our wonderful ‘Life Project’ with a strong, professional and global event. "
Two other UTWT races, already acquired by Ironman, will also be part of the circuit. These are the Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB, in New Zealand, and the Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB.
The Ultra-Trail Harricana of Canada, in Quebec, for its part publicly expressed doubts, explaining on Facebook that the organization "would look carefully at what the UTMB World Series wishes to offer, but that its organizational values are not aligned. right now to join a private tour of this kind ”.
In Spain, the organizers of the Penyagolosa Trails told Distances + that the talks with the UTMB were very recent (only two weeks) and that they had not been concluded. “We need to listen to them again to give us a full opinion,” they said.
Several other UTWT races have so far remained silent on their position. We do not find any publication about the UTMB World Series on social networks or on the websites of the Western States, the Ultra-Trail Cape Town, the Hong Kong 100 or even the Ultra. -Trail of Mt Fuji, for example.
The Templars, that’s no!
Even if she did not want to be precise on the question, Marie Sammons does not hide that several French races are also in the sights of the UTMB Group, so that the trail runners of France benefit from a real choice if their objective is to run the UTMB. The group hopes to convince them to embark on its project with, among other arguments, being one of the few races in France to offer access to the prestigious Chamonix races.
Several organizations contacted by Distances + confirmed that they had been approached, but did not want to be mentioned while negotiations were underway, even though their decision has already been taken.
The famous Templar Festival, which is not part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour or any other circuit, has also been approached by the UTMB Group, but the event, which brings together more than 10,000 participants each year, prefers to remain independent.
“I am in a different current of thought,” commented calmly Gilles Bertrand, the founding president of the Festival des Templiers for more than 25 years. He exclusively told Distances + that he had sent an official rejection letter to the UTMB earlier this week.
Gilles Bertrand likes the popular and “accessible to all” side of trail running and wishes to “cultivate positive communication” with his community by continuing to manage his races with Odile Baudrier, his wife. “The UTMB is playing the globalization and modeling card,” he observes. I say this without animosity, but we do not recognize ourselves in such a system, which is why we prefer to keep our independence and stop there. "
Putting an end to the rumors, the director of the Maxi-Race, Stéphane Agnoli, replied to Distances + that he had not been approached by the UTMB and that if that had been the case, the answer would have been “no” , without denigrating this competitor. "The UTMB being the benchmark international event in the field of trail running, it seems logical that they increase their international development by creating their own challenge with their own qualification method. They are, in my opinion, the only ones or almost who can do that on the trail planet ", analyzes Stéphane Agnoli.
“So far, I don’t feel any rejection,” said Marie Sammons, confident that “99% of all deals will be closed on time to announce the schedule in September.” “There is a real desire not to miss the boat,” said Hugo Joyeux of the UTMB.
However, several organizers with whom Distances + spoke believe they feel a certain discomfort with this new circuit. “We ask ourselves a lot of questions,” said one event director, for example. “We don’t understand everything,” said another. “We do not want to lose our identity”, we have also heard several times. “Our DNA is unique and non-negotiable,” hammered a popular organization. “The pressure is intense”, summed up a race director who feels “his ass between two chairs”.
As for the issue of UTMB or Ironman acquisition, the terms were not clear to anyone Distances + spoke to.
The competition of world circuits
In recent years, the Ultra-Trail World Tour has seen some setbacks, although it seemed in a dynamic of expansion and development. The Grand Raid de la Réunion left the circuit after a few editions, as did the Marathon des sables. More recently, the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, the Transgrancanaria and the Patagonia Ultra Trail left ship to join another newborn in the field of private global trail circuits, the Spartan Trail World Championship.
Note that, in the latter case, Spartan’s avowed intention is to become a shareholder (and not 100% owner) of the races that make up his circuit.
Another player, Salomon, founded the Golden Trail Series world circuit, with several prestigious partner races, but positioned on shorter formats (maratrail distances and less).
The promoter of races Xterra also inaugurated this year its international trail running championship with races in marathon format (42 km): the Xterra Trail Marathon, made up of 10 stages around the world.
The weak point of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, according to Marie Sammons, “is that it’s a structure with independent events. So that limits us. We want to do something more “inclusive” with a common marketing plan. We want global communication. That’s what will make the circuit so powerful, ”she said. Every race needs to feel like it’s part of a whole. "
“Even if it stops at the end of the year, we’re going to go to the end of the story and end this season as it should be,” Marie Sammons promises. I really want to stress that the UTWT is not a failure. I have forged a strong bond with the various organizers and we have succeeded in creating a racing community that has grown everyone. "
“We also helped events in their development, and to be better known internationally,” assures the director of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. The year 2020 has been super complex [due to the pandemic, editor’s note]. I kept in touch with disillusioned and disoriented organizers who wondered what would become of them. I must say that this fed our thinking. That and the initiative of Spartan, who picked up races from the UTWT. I was personally frustrated of course, because I had contributed a lot to the relationship of trust with all these races. "
Marie Sammons is also honest in recognizing that the goal of the UTMB World Series is to be a “more dominant circuit.” The alliance with Ironman will consolidate this desire, since it presents itself as the “world leader in the organization of endurance events and mass events, with teams established in 26 countries, on all continents” . The two partners make no secret of their intention to create “the world’s largest trail running circuit”.