They started at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday, 17th July in the Mozartplatz, Salzburg, Austria. Their destination is Monaco, 864 km away. The terrain inbetween is almost entirely treacherous mountains.
32 of the world’s best endurance athletes and paragliding pilots will either fly with their paraglider or hike, carrying their equipment with them through eight turnpoints in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. The athletes can choose what route they want but it is obligatory to pass all 8 turnpoints.
There is no real time limit. The aim is to get to Monaco as quickly as possible and the race officially ends 48 hours after the first contestant arrives at the goal – a Red Bull pontoon in the harbour in Monaco.
Here’s a bit of eye candy to give you an idea of life for the next few days for these incredible athletes:
In the past the race has only allowed for 30 athletes taking on this challenge, but due to the very high standard of the 2011 applications it was decided that 2 more names would be added to the list and the honours fell to Austria’s Paul Guschlbauer and Britain’s Jon Chambers.
Race organiser Hannes Arch said: “For the 2011 race, we had so many high quality applications that we decided to take two extra athletes in addition to the normal 30. We want to guarantee the quality of the event and encourage the strongest possible level of competition. The selection of Paul and Jon is based on their excellent sporting abilities, experience and professionalism.”
There are few rules to this adventure apart from no shortcuts, ie: no taking a tunnel through a mountain! and only one back-up crew is allowed for each athlete. A paraglider, harness, rescue parachute, helmet, emergency signal rocket, reflector belt and tracking device must be carried at all times and International Visual Flight Rules (VFR) air regulations must be obeyed.
David Dagault, a renowned paraglider designer, competed in the first Red Bull X-Alp. He was placed 2nd. “Back then we took 20 kg of equipment including sleeping gear with us and there were no turnpoints,” he says. “Now the level is so high.” But he relishes the new challenges and the fact that this race can be won on tactical decisions. He lives in the south of France near Monaco and has twice flown from his home up into Switzerland. He holds the record for the longest mountain flight – 333 km.
Conditions have been difficult in this first week, but things are looking promising come the weekend when better conditions are expected in the French Alps. An epic fast finish is being predicted…
Today has seen the field split as flyable weather finally arrives. Jon Chambers (GBR) has rounded turnpoint 4 and seems to be favouring a more southwesterly route to the next turnpoint. Race leader Christian Maurer (SUI) who won the race in 2009 and second placer Toma Coconea (ROM) have selected the more northerly route, and third place athlete Paul Guschlbauer (AUT) favours the southwesterly route. Maurer took a risk yesterday in flying in some difficult weather but it paid off. After a stunning four-hour flight he surfed within spitting distance of the Tre Cime. This morning he awoke in a high mountain hut, took the 4th turnpoint, and continued on his way. Will he make Switzerland by this evening?
4 down, 4 to go…
Yesterday was not a good day for five athletes. Sprungli (FRA1), Latour (FRA3), Sandsta (NOR), Pethigal (BRA) and Virgilio (POR) all infringed the buffer zone of airspace near Salzburg on Day One. The race committee did a thorough check of their back-up track logs and, as per race rules, applied a 24-hour penalty to each. A 24-hour penalty is bad enough but after a detailed evaluation of Kaoru Ogisawa’s (JPN) track logs, Race Director Christoph Weber announced he had infringed airspace while en route to the Dachstein and was eliminated.
Christian Amon (AUT2) also had a bad day. He had to quit the race due to a knee injury. Amon was leading for parts of the race yesterday, and was “extremely disappointed” but the long road sections of yesterday had taken its toll.
Also a bad day for back runner Ivar Sandsta (NOR) who was also eliminated. According to the rules of the race the last athlete in the field is eliminated 72 hours after the race starts, and the next elimination takes place on Friday July 22 at 0700hrs.
It’s harsh out there! Good luck to all the remaining competitors.