Red Bull X-Alps

Chrigel’s winning secrets "revealed"

There is one man who knows more than anyone about what it takes to win the Red Bull X-Alps. That man is Thomas Theurillat, Chrigel’s official supporter from 2009 - 2015. Here he explains what it takes to win...

SUI1 150714 HT XAlps 0002

A good performance doesn’t just come down to having incredible endurance fitness or being a great pilot, explains Thomas Theurillat, who’s shared the winning podium with Chrigel Maurer four times in a row.

“In the end, everyone has strong legs and is a good paraglider pilot. The difference is in the mind.”

He says that the right mental approach is vital. “The challenge is to keep motivation high. It’s like a fire – you have to keep it burning.”

And the key to that, he says, is for athletes to set realistic goals based on their known average and then focus on their own performance – not their ranking. “Do this and you can be very happy every evening. You can’t influence the ranking, only your performance.”

He says it’s the same with competition sailing – the good teams will know exactly where they can expect to be in any given conditions.

For example, he says that Chrigel (and everyone else) knows that his average in 2013 was 140km a day, which this time would have him in Monaco in just over 7.5 days. Knowing this is key to gauging performance, he says.

Theurillat has often been described as the perfect supporter. A mountain guide, sports psychologist and pilot, he and Chrigel were the first to show that the Red Bull X-Alps really was a team event, applying ruthless Swiss efficiency to every level of their planning and race campaign.

He may be stepping down this year as an official supporter to concentrate on building his performance coaching business oneday.ch, but he’s still advising Chrigel – and not just him. He’s also been working with Paul Guschlbauer.

One method to keeping motivation and performance high is to look back at the end of the day and see what you’ve accomplished, instead of looking ahead and seeing how far you still have to go, he says.

“If you climb a mountain you can see the summit and say, ‘I’m still not there,’ or you can look at the valley and see how far you’ve come. In our society it’s more common that people know better on a Monday morning what they have to do than know at the end of the Friday what they have done.”

As football players take time out at half time, so should athletes, he says. “In mountain climbing success is the difference to the valley. In the Red Bull X-Alps it’s the distance from Salzburg, what you have already done, the fact you have no blisters or are feeling good. If a team can focus on performance and not be influenced by ranking it is likely they will have a stable performance.”

Measuring against the average performance is also more important than looking at the distance to go or distance behind another athlete.

But the winner ultimately he says is not necessarily the greatest athlete. “The Red Bull X-Alps is now on a level where you have to learn. Like the America’s Cup in sailing or Formula 1, it’s a developing thing. The one who wins is the one who learns the fastest. There are so many talented people out there, but the only question is whether they have the ability to learn.”

Also like offshore sailing and Formula 1, he says the race is also getting to the stage where it’s the guys behind the athlete who make the difference. “The only things the athlete should do is walk, fly, eat, sleep and sh*t. Everything else is done by the supporter.”

“Their job is endless,” he adds, “organizing equipment, tactics, maps, pictures, dealing with sponsors, race organizers; they’re responsible for the mental mindset. The supporter is the hidden champion.”

It will be interesting to see how Chrigel gets on without his.