Red Bull X-Alps

Learning lessons, the hard way

If the key to success is to make mistakes and learn from them, then Stephan Kruger (RSA) has the makings of a champion. In an interview from his home in Cape Town, he tells us how his race didn’t go quite to plan…

© zooom.at/Vitek Ludvik
 © zooom.at/Harald Tauderer
 © zooom.at/Vitek Ludvik

The Red Bull X-Alps didn’t work out so well for Stephan Kruger. He was knocked out just over a week into the race and finished in 27th place. “I still have mixed feelings about it,” he says.

It’s no secret that the Red Bull X-Alps favors the homegrown talent, anyone who has the time to recce and spend time getting to know the route, which usually means the Europeans. Preparation is everything. Every athlete knows it. Kruger certainly knew it and was even blogging about its importance before the race. He now admits: “We were not prepared enough.”

He also suffered his fair share of bad luck. First his gear didn’t turn up and he spent the first week in Europe trying to track it down, losing valuable flying time. Then when his glider did show up the weather turned.

“The areas we did manage to fly, we did really well. The rest we went in blind.”

Then there was the really big misfortune. On race day Kruger and supporter Konstantin Filipov woke up to discover their Skyroam, their only means of getting online, was missing.

“We were in a complete panic,” he recalls. Some lively discussions then followed between the pair. Relations didn’t improve as the race went on.

“For the first five days of the race we did not have internet!” says Kruger. “It was very difficult for my supporters to help me navigate. They had to phone friends to find out where I was and where I needed to go. I was pretty much lost. That’s the area of preparation that is absolutely key – your navigation and knowing exactly where you are.”

“My supporters would try and figure out which direction I needed to go and I ended up going in completely the wrong direction and then spend five to six hours trying to figure out where I was. We had some interesting screaming matches!”

His biggest mistake was going too far south before the Zugspitze. He ended up having to hike 82km the next day.

After Yvonne Dathe was eliminated, the race organisation was able to give her Skyroam to Kruger. But it arrived too late to save his race, or salvage his relationship with his supporter. “When you’re down you need someone to say the right thing at the right time. Once, after I landed, my supporter said: ‘I think you should quit’. I completely lost it. You just need someone to say the right things.”

The other bit of bad luck was assuming Ivan Colas would not quit. “When I passed him, he said to me, ‘don’t worry, I won’t quit’. Then he did and I found myself at the back with not much I could do [to avoid elimination], even if I pulled a nightpass. I was under impression I did not have to fly in those conditions and risk injuring myself. We had a gentleman’s agreement! That was quite disappointing.”

But it wasn’t all bad for Kruger. In fact, he says he got in a couple of great flights and for two days he teamed up with Dawn Westrum. “That was amazing. We flew over some big peaks at 3,600m at cloud base. That was a special moment for me, thermalling with her. That captured what the race was about.”

Would he come back again? “I would love to do it again,” he says, “just to prove that I can finish the race. From a fitness point of view, I was in top shape.”