Maurer: It’s going to be difficult – I don’t know this route.
There’s one big question the new route poses: how will it affect Chrigel Maurer? Below, he tells us why it will be more challenging than ever to stay ahead of the pack; while Gavin McClurg and Ferdy van Schelven give their take on the route options.
Look closely at the route of the 2017 Red Bull X-Alps. Now look again...
There’s a country it seems to bypass, and it just happens to be the country from which every winner from 2003 to 2015 hails from – Switzerland. That significance has not been lost on other athletes. At the unveiling, Paul Guschlbauer couldn’t hide his glee: “I don’t like [flying in] Switzerland,” he told us, “maybe because that’s where the winners come from but also because it’s very tricky.”
So how does Switzerland’s homeboy and four time champion Chrigel Maurer feel about the new route? He confesses that at first, his reaction was not so positive: “I was sure organisers would do a new route but I was really hoping for one of two Turnpoints in Switzerland or France so when I saw this I was a bit disappointed. But it’s a new challenge, it’s good to see a new area in the south of Austria in the race and I’m looking forward to the new adventure.”
His disappointment was not just because the route now avoids familiar territory but because it bypasses the popular paragliding base of Annecy which is a good hub for fans to cheer on athletes before the final leg to Monaco.
But one man who is happy to bail south at the Matterhorn is Gavin McClurg. At the end of the 2015 race he made no secret of his dislike of the run south over the Maritime Alps.
“In my mind I’m hoping that’s going to be easier as that leg is quite treacherous but that’s also the one part of the course that I know very little of,” he tells us.
“There are tons of options,” says Ferdy van Schelven. “You could fly over Italy or fly into France. It gives more choices to pilots.”
But the route from the Matterhorn is far from straightforward, cautions Maurer: “This area has much steeper valleys and high mountains so it’s much more important to take the right line.”
What is also new to athletes is the route to Slovenia but, perhaps surprisingly, it’s not seen as too demanding. “I don’t know this area at all,” says Maurer, “but it looks like there are lots of hills and it’s not a big problem to take the best line.”
For McClurg, it also looks straightforward. “It’s basically the same there and back.” However, he predicts the race pack could split between those who manage to stay in the air and those who have to hike up to the Triglav Turnpoint.
He says there are plenty of other places that will separate the men from the boys. “I like the fact we’re crossing the spine of the Alps four times – that will chop a lot of the guys off.”
But he also noted, besides Slovenia, the similarities with last edition’s race, particularly from Aschau to Lermoos to Italy. “From Lermoos to Brenta it’s exactly the same, you’ve only got that bit of an extension [to Monte Baldo] and it’s not that complicated.”
From Monte Baldo the route gets interesting again, he and other athletes agree. Almost certainly most will be tempted to venture north into the mountains and pick up lines not so far from those in 2015. McClurg even believes we could see athletes flying close to St Moritz and the 2015 route to the Matterhorn.
“There are a lot of options that will make it interesting,” adds van Schelven.
Those options also include staying south and taking a direct line over Italy’s lakes and approaching the Matterhorn from the south, but as every athlete is quick to caution: it all depends on the weather. Both 2013 and 2015 races were blessed with great weather, even if the wind was quite spicy in 2015, so what 2017 has in store is anyone’s guess.
“If it rains it will be a different race,” warns van Schelven. McClurg puts it more bluntly: “It will suck.”