We first wrote about this competition in August of last year, after the event, but alerting possible contestants to the fact that entries were now open for the 2011 event with the reminder that potential athletes must prove to a selection committee that they have outstanding paragliding skills, top-level endurance and extensive Alpine experience. 32 of the world’s best endurance athletes and paragliding pilots have been chosen to participate in the 864km race, which begins in Salzburg on 17th July, 2011.
The Red Bull X-Alps is the event where athletes race non-stop through the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea, with just a paraglider and a pair of hiking boots to help them, their every move tracked by advanced technology and broadcasted to an audience of millions. The route will take them through 864kms of treacherous mountain terrain.
The race stops 48 hours after the winner arrives at the goal – Monaco.
The first running of this race was in 2003 and it opened up a whole new dimension in adventure racing. There were only 17 athletes and 35-year old Swiss Kaspar Henny grabbed an early lead and hung onto it reaching Monaco in 11 days and 23 hours. But the record time for the event is held by Chrigel Maurer (SUI) who, in 2009, completed in less than 10 days.
That’s the history… right now intense training is underway as athletes prepare themselves for this ultimate adventure race.
Russian contender Evgenii Griaznov, taking part in the event for the second time, is spending the winter in the Indian Himalayas where the flying conditions are perfect for his training requirements. Every day come rain or shine he climbs 900 m out of his valley which is already at about 1,500 m with full kit and flies for several hours – or for as long as the weather permits. Soon he will be heading south but will continue his training in the Goa/Panchgani region before heading north again to Pokhara, Nepal and Bir, back in India. However, in May he will move back to the Alps where he will spend time working out his route to the south. “This time I decided to get myself more deeply into the route and trainings. Taking into account all the invaluable experience of the Red Bull X-Alps 2009, we hope for a better result in the race. After all, I’m really glad that I can participate in this fascinating race once again,” he says.
Over a third of the Red Bull X-Alps participants fail to finish the event, but Alex Hofer from Switzerland has taken part 3 times in the past and has won twice (2005 and 2007) and the third time, in 2009, he came second. That’s a pretty impressive record. Why does he do it? “The hiking, the flying, the team-work with the supporter, the nature, the adventure. Last but not least the competition!” You can’t beat that for a reason can you.
The Red Bull X-Alps allows one team member/supporter for each athlete. This person’s role is vital. He is there as back up and support all the way. This race is as much about mental endurance as physical and the team member comes into his own here. As 36-year old Martin Romero from Argentina says about his team member, his brother Diego, when discussing the race and its challenges: “Perhaps the length scares me most. 860 km are not for everyone. The psychological and the physical components are very important. Diego has what it takes to help me in this race. He is an excellent athlete who will keep me motivated and help me to make the right decisions.”
Why would you want to push your body to the very limits of its endurance? 48-year old Steve Nash, England, says, “I can clearly remember reading the ‘Toughest Pilots in the World’ article about the first Red Bull X-Alps in the Oct/Nov 2003 issue of Cross Country magazine. The images and words started a small fire inside me, which has grown and grown ever since. Being someone who has regularly competed in mountain Marathons and ultra runs for more than a decade, combined with a long-held interest in lightweight paragliding, the Red Bull X-Alps is the perfect fusion of the two activities. The event is without doubt the most challenging paragliding/adventure running competition ever.”
45-year old Lloyd Pennicuik is coming all the way over from Australia to compete in his third Red Bull X-Alps. Why does he do it? “Maybe I have a screw loose in my head. I really can’t think why, it’s just an amazing race and really addictive.” Fairly succinct! His supporter, Paul Underwood, is also from Australia and has virtues much appreciated by Lloyd: “He has a good head on his shoulders and is a very good pilot. He is organised in his approach to flying cross country which is exactly what I need because I am hopelessly unorganised.”
There is only one American in this race, atmospheric science student Honza Rejmanek, 35-years old. He was placed third in the 2009 event. He also took part in 2007. And why is he coming back a third time? “It is the perfect game. It is also an addiction,” he says.
This is not a unstructured race. I mean… you don’t start in Salzberg, Austria and get to Monaco as quickly as possible. There are rules and these include, most strictly, that each athlete must travel past 8 pre-determined turn points: Gaisberg, Austria; Dachstein, Austria; Grossglockner, Austria; Tre Cime; Matterhorn, Switzerland; Mont Blanc, France; Mont Gros, France and so to the goal – Monaco. And no short-cuts through tunnels – this is STRICTLY prohibited!!!
Have I tweaked your interest? This is an amazing endurance race, probably one of the toughest out there. We will be watching it with interest and good luck with the training everyone.