The Red Bull X-Alps is on…

Six days of hardcore walking and flying sees Maurer scorching the pack. Read all about it here…

If you live anywhere near a computer you’ve probably been riveted into paragliding’s most outrageous event: the Red Bull X-Alps. This year, its fourth race, the competition has already been extreme, as has the flying. This is the story so far…

The race is on...

The race is on...

The event kicked off in Salzburg last Sunday with a ground race to the first turnpoint on the Gaisberg mountain above the city – South Africa’s Pierre Carter showed his form arriving first and scooping the prize of a free holiday in the region sponsored by Salzburderland. Carter’s joy was to be short lived.

Toma Coconea (ROM)

Toma Coconea (ROM)

Windy conditions meant many elected to play safe and walk down. As anticipated, Toma Coconea, AKA the Romanian Running Man, began to mow down the field with his super human stamina as the pack headed to the Watzmann and on to the Grossglockner mountain.

The next day saw the first casualty of the Red Bull X-Alps’ punishing schedule fall. Austrian Christian Amon was forced to retire with a nasty Achilles tendon injury sustained when his foot slipped down a hole on the side of the road.

Coconea was leading the ground assault, with the Swiss paragliding stars of Hofer and Maurer hot on his heels. But nobody, not even Coconea was going to be safe once the flying turned on. By day three it did.

Chrigel Maurer (SUI3)

Chrigel Maurer (SUI3)

Maurer, the triple PWC champion, laid down a scorching flight that literally smoked the rest of the field, even ex-World Champion and double X-Alps winner Alex Hofer. In rough, difficult conditions Maurer punched out an awesome flight around the Marmolada and out into the Trento valley. The move, which saw him cover 130 km by air, leapfrogged him into a 70 km lead over Hofer. Meanwhile, unable to match the mighty flying skills of Maurer, Coconea floundered.

With the third day the cruel elimination process that now knocks out the last pilot every 48 hours began. First to feel the cruel axe of elimination was Slovenia’s Primoz Susa who was said to be “crushed” by the blow. At the same time Italy’s Leone Antonio Pascale threw in the towel, suffering from sickness and exhaustion.

Alex Hofer (SUI1) launches

Alex Hofer (SUI1) launches

Day four saw Maurer continue his brilliant performance, pulling away from the rest of the field with ease. Hofer, having rounded the Marmolada, found the winds so strong from the south west that he was forced to turn north to cover any distance at all. The move took him down a different set of valleys towards the next turnpoint at the Matterhorn, considerably lengthening his route. Coconea, hell bent on catching the Swiss stars, began to push himself to the extreme, prompting the Red Bull X-Alps medical team to check him out. With failing blood sugar levels the Romanian was warned that he was close to dropping.

Meanwhile at the back, Pierre Carter, who started the race so positively was suffering after being dumped hard on rocks and sustaining a nasty cut on his foot that required stitches. Combining with his blisters the injuries had him “crawling along at 4 km/h!”

Vincent Sprungli (FRA1)

Vincent Sprungli (FRA1)

By day six of the Red Bull X-Alps you really start to sort the men from the boys. Honza Rejmanek, still looking strong in the second gaggle with last race’s ‘quickest man to Monaco’ Martin Muller, French veteran Vincent Sprungli and Austria’s PWC star Heli Eichholzer, reported his knee was close to collapsing as he was reaching the Trento valley where Maurer had been the day before. Minutes later the mid field gaggle of four was reduced to three when Sprungli was ripped off a launch, clipped a tree and slammed back to earth damaging his back. Result: Sprungli out for a second race in a row with injuries.

Meanwhile a new X-Alps star was being born. Pal Takats, acro king and star of the recently released brilliant film, Adrenaline and Turbulence, had been showing that his flying skills weren’t confined to acro by ploughing through the field on his paraglider in very difficult conditions. Having passed the Marmolada, Pal turned north to follow the Hofer route into the bigger hills, whilst the rest of the mid field players followed Maurer’s southern route towards Lake Como.

Maurer pressed on, drawing the other athletes along like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn led his rats. Already in Switzerland and 40 km from the Matterhorn, Maurer has a comfortable 85 km lead on Hofer, who’s committed to a different, more lengthy trek out of another valley system.

Meanwhile, Coconea is back on full form and charging down the same valley system towards Maurer. However, he has 185 km to make up if he is to stand any chance of even getting near him. Don’t forget though that Coconea stunned the world last race by covering 130 km on foot in 24 hours, and with bad weather ahead he may still have a chance to eat into Maurer’s lead.

Towards the end of this afternoon Ronny Geilsen called it a day, reporting he could barely stumble 100 metres. As Honza Rejmanek told me yesterday, “Your body can fail you in all sorts of ways in this race!”

Next report Saturday evening…

Watch the race live on www.redbullxalps.com

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