2015 Red Bull X-Alps: How the race was won
Chrigel Maurer was chased all the way to Monaco but still made it in for his fourth win in a row. We look at how he did it
Was this the most exciting Red Bull X-Alps ever? Yes it was, and here's why. First, it was a race – a proper race. Chrigel Maurer (SUI1) has won three times in a row, and each time he has won by a big margin – setting up a clear lead between him and the others.
This time, he couldn’t do that until the very end – and it was the mistakes of others that allowed him to get away.
Day one saw the best race start the Red Bull X-Alps has ever experienced. As temperatures soared in Salzburg athletes had to race to the top of the Gaisberg. Sebastian Huber (GER3) got there first, showing his mettle early.
On what then turned out to be the best day of the summer athletes then took to the air for a 100km flying day that saw them soaring at 3,800m above the glaciated peaks of Austria's northern Alps. It couldn't have got off to a more stunning start.
By Day 2, the race leaders had already tagged Turnpoint 3, Aschau Chemsee Kampenwand in Germany. A storm rolled through the courseline early and kept everyone grounded, but by the afternoon they were flying. Paul Guschlbauer (AUT1) was already chasing Maurer down, surfing the flanks of the mighty Zugspitze in a bid to make Turnpoint 4, Lermoos Tiroler Zugspitz Arena.
But Maurer beat him to it, taking another more direct line on the other side of the mountain. He wasn't happy though – when he arrived he heard the shock news that 80% of the field would get a time penalty for going off course on the run through Salzburg. Under protest, that was reduced from six hours to two, but it was unsettling for all.
Day 3 started high above Lermoos as Maurer and Guschlbauer both headed south towards the Oetz Valley. Struggling in the wind both athletes were forced to land – but Guschlbauer's landing spot meant he couldn't re-launch easily, and he was soon back in fifth as others flew in overhead.
A race for the front then played out as Sebastian Huber (GER3) took the lead. Hot on his heels was Maurer, Stephan Gruber (AUT3) and the young Czech pilot, Stanislav Mayer (CZE). Racing each other they headed for the highest mountains in Austria, destination Italy.
Once across the main spine of the Alps they slowed down. It was a battle with the elements as rain swept through. And it was a forced march into the mountains to tag the next Turnpoint at Brenta Cima Tosa. Maurer got there first, just, and picked up the Salewa Brenta Trophy for his trouble.
He didn't hang around long to pick it up though – he was soon off, back in the air and heading west to Switzerland and Turnpoints 6 and 7.
The race towards the Matterhorn was harder than many had predicted. Strong west winds made it difficult to make progress and it was rough in the air. Maurer descended in a straight line as he hit 50km/h winds. In the chasing pack Michael Witschi (SUI3) hit the strong westerly wind and found the air so turbulent he had to deploy his reserve parachute. That worked fine, but the wind then blew him into a lake where he had to get out of his harness and swim for shore.
Other athletes stopped to help, showing the true spirit of the Red Bull X-Alps, and Witschi was back on track again the next day, none the worse for his cold evening swim.
Out front, Maurer led again, tagging the Matterhorn Turnpoint by surfing in low along the valley. Behind him Guschlbauer was taking a gamble on another route. He landed high on the Matterhorn and spent the evening in a mountain hut. That morning he hiked to 3,450m to launch. He wanted to fly through the big mountains to Mont Blanc, but it wasn't to be. Instead, a strong northerly wind pushed him south into Italy.
Sebastian Huber ended up there too, on the wrong side of 4,800m high Mont Blanc. Athletes must pass the Turnpoint to the north, but they were on the south.
Undeterred, both athletes completed stunning flights the next day. Guschlbauer hiked up to a high pass and flew for 15km down to the valley floor at 6am. Huber meanwhile hiked up to 2,400m on the flanks of Mont Blanc and then completed a near circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc Massif at altitude.
Further back in the pack meanwhile things were shifting. Gavin McClurg had started strongly but then slipped back. He took a westerly line to get to the Cima Tosa Turnpoint but it didn't pay off. Toma Coconea was running round the mountains, showing incredible stamina, and Nick Neynens (NZL), who had ended the first day at the back of the pack, was slowly pulling himself back up the rankings to eventually finish 10th.
With wind still an issue Maurer spent a long and frustrating day on the ground – highly unusual for him. He then a took a northern route past Mont Blanc, avoiding the Chamonix Valley, before dropping on to the Aravis mountains, the gateway to the next Turnpoint in Annecy. He would arrive in Annecy the next day through the 'back door', hiking up from the valley floor.
After a slow start in Annecy he eventually got away, using the thermals to gain height in the stable air of the Annecy basin. As he was going out, heading south on the 250km leg to Peille and Monaco, Guschlbauer was heading in. He and Huber were not far behind. Maurer was in their sights.
But it was not to be. Guschlbauer made a significant route choice decision, and it was to prove fatal to his plans. Rather than follow the direct line south as Maurer had done, Guschlbauer went west. At first this seemed sensible as it followed the wind, but it also added distance. And it was ultimately too windy. It meant Guschlbauer was grounded while Maurer skipped away into the lead.
From there it was a home run for Maurer, despite Huber chasing hard. Maurer got to Monaco on Monday afternoon, Huber got in the next morning.
Behind though, Guschlbauer was engaged in the race of his life. With silver gone, it was suddenly a question of whether he could hang on to a podium spot at all. Gaspard Petiot (FRA4), Antoine Girard (FRA2) and Antoine Durogati (ITA) were flying together and making fast progress south.
Herculean efforts from all saw them arrive literally within minutes of each other. Guschlbauer landed above the Turnpoint, his glider snagging in bushes. Stuffing it into his bag with the help of fans he ran down the hill to Peille to take third – with just half an hour to spare.
In the air, Girard was still flying – and he flew right to the finish line, overtaking his countryman Petiot who was on foot in the very last stretch. He thumped down on launch 3m 16s ahead of Petiot, who was gobsmacked but still smiling. A little further back, Durogati hiked in an hour later for sixth place.
The race for the finish line couldn't have been closer and the Top 6 were all in. All the athletes had to do now was fly down to that raft in Monaco, and then lie back and wait for the rest to arrive.
And get there they did – by the race end on Friday at 12 noon 19 athletes had arrived at Peille and flown down to the raft in Monaco. Only three of the athletes were still on course when the clock ticked over past 12 and the race stopped.
The 2015 Red Bull X-Alps was over and won. Athletes had nothing more to do except dry out their glider, pack their bags, and soak up the warm Mediterranean sun.
1. Christian Maurer (SUI1) – 8 days, 4 hours
2. Sebastian Huber (GER3) – 8 days, 22 hours
3. Paul Guschlbauer (AUT1) – 9 days, 4 hours
4. Antoine Girard (FRA2) – 9 days, 5 hours
5. Gaspard Petiot (FRA4) – 9 days, 5 hours
6. Aaron Durogati (ITA) – 9 days, 6 hours
7. Ferdinand van Schelven (NED) – 9 days, 22 hours
8. Gavin McClurg (USA2) – 10 days, 4 hours
9. Manuel Nübel (GER4) – 10 days, 17 hours
10. Nick Neynens (NZL) – 10 days, 18 hours
11. Nelson de Freyman (FRA3) – 11 days, 2 hours
12. Stanislav Meyer (CZE) – 11 days, 8 hours
13. Peter von Bergen (SUI4) – 11 days, 12 hours
14. Chi-Kyong Ha (KOR) – 11 days, 15 hours
15. Honza Rejmanek (USA1) – 11 days, 17 hours
16. Pawel Faron (POL) – 11 days, 20 hours
17. Erik Rehnfeldt (SWE) – 11 days, 21 hours
18. Michael Witschi (SUI3) – 11 days, 22 hours
19. Stephan Gruber (AUT3) – 11 days, 6 hours
20. Dave Tuner (USA4) – Distance to Goal: 140km
21. Steve Nash (GBR) – Distance to Goal: 178km
22. Gerald Gold (AUT2) – Distance to Goal: 302km
23. Dawn Westrum (USA3) – 375km to goal - eliminated
24. Tom de Dorlodot (BEL) – 499km to goal - withdrew
25. Pascal Purin (AUT4) – 531km to goal - withdrew
26. Toma Coconea (ROU) – 555km to goal - withdrew
27. Stephan Kruger (RSA) – 575km to goal - eliminated
28. Michael Gebert (GER1) – 575km to goal - withdrew
29. Ivan Colas (ESP) – 611km to goal - withdrew
30. Alex Villa (COL) – 635km to goal - eliminated
31. Samuel Vurpillot (SUI3) – 755km to goal - eliminated
32. Yvonne Dathe (GER2) – 840km to goal - eliminated
Photos © zooom.at/Felix Woelk