Red Bull X-Alps

Servus! Say hello to the Austrian lineup!

The Austrians have always fielded strong candidates – and 2017 is no exception, with Paul Guschlbauer, Stephan Gruber, Pascal Purin and rookie Simon Oberrauner all vying for a place on the podium.

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At various times during the 2015 Red Bull X-Alps it looked as though the race was not going to be won by a Swiss national for the first time. (Before Chrigel it was won by Alex Hofer and Kaspar Henny). And the athlete to do it could well have been an Austrian. 

At first it was Stephan Gruber who looked very threatening. He was leading for much of day two and was very much in contention the first week before falling back. (He fell back even further after being handed down a 48 hour penalty for paying an uninvited visit to the Princess of Monaco.) 

Throughout the race Paul Guschlbauer looked very dangerous, constantly fighting at the heels of Chrigel before a costly mistake nearly lost him the podium. His comeback and fight for third place in the final stretch to Monaco against Antoine Girard and Gaspard Petiot was one of the most dramatic moments of the race. 

Interestingly, Guschlbauer has not been focusing on paragliding recently, having taken to motorized flight. Earlier this year he logged over 200 hours in a 1959 Piper Super Cub in Alaska’s wilderness.  

However, he says that he is now 100% focused on the Red Bull X-Alps.

Both he and Gruber are very strong in the air and on the ground. But now there’s a new guy in town too, and he looks very threatening: 26-year-old Simon Oberrauner.

"He is really interesting," says Ed Ewing, Cross-Country editor and long-time Red Bull X-Alps watcher. "He’s a young guy and has been junior pilot of the year as well as winning the Bordairline a couple of times. He’s got the adventure racing and paragliding background and he knows the Alps."

He’s also completed a 259km triangle after just two years of flying. "That’s a remarkable achievement," adds Ewing. "But will he have the stamina?"

That’s also a question for Pascal Purin, who had a bit of a disappointing Red Bull X-Alps last time around, pulling out after injuring his foot. 

"I’m really happy to be selected again," he tells us. But it’s not without a sense of foreboding.

"I feel like I’m back at school after passing the first year and about to enter the second one. You are not the youngest anymore; you know the rules and challenges and have a better idea how to prepare better for the ‘exams’."

But this time he’s stronger and fitter than ever. Earlier this year he succeeded in completing a hike and fly record, climbing 9,400m in 24 hours. It seems there’s no trouble with the feet then.

"Honestly I feel pretty strong at the moment," he says. "My endurance and mental power is good."

The race is wide open. Can one of the Austrians deliver?