Red Bull X-Alps

The Comeback Kiwi

Tom Payne talks to Nick Neynens (NZL) on launch at Peille

© zooom.at/Harald Tauderer

"So, Nick, they're calling you the comeback Kiwi," we asked when Nick Neynens (NZL) arrived yesterday. "Awesome," he replied, dryly.

"I made a tactical error on the first day which threatened to get me eliminated." On the booming day, Nick chose a route that had worked brilliantly in training, but on race day put him down on the ground while others disappeared into the distance.

For the solo adventurer, the first to launch from the Gaisberg above historic Salzburg, it was a huge setback that would leave him fighting at the back of the field to stay in the game.

Nick, however, no stranger to adventure flying in tough conditions, was already mentally prepared for the setback. "I didn't want to focus on the elimination," he explains, "I wanted to focus on doing things in my style and doing the best I could.

"Competitions are about just getting ahead of someone else, but I want to discover the best way. A lot of most sports comes down to confidence, and it's hard to be confident if you're just trying to copy someone else. If you can believe in yourself then you'll end up flying and hiking better."

Nick's style worked: neck-and-neck with Dathe (GER2) at the end of the day, he used his Led Lenser Night Pass to assure his position.

Nick continued to climb the rankings – "It was good after I'd overtaken a few people, and I didn't have to think about elimination anymore" – and went to make some of the longest flights of the race. Many of these were on the marginal flying days which are his favourite. He puts this down in part to the month of preparation he spent in the Alps where he focused on understanding the mountain environment.

How did Nick handle the strong wind conditions in the middle third of the race? "Wind is like me," he smiles, "it's lazy. If you want to avoid the wind, then you have to avoid the easiest way. You get into the big terrain. The wind doesn't go there, it goes around."

A key move was going through a high mountain pass after the Matterhorn. Many athletes had a long hike along the valley floor, but Nick explains how he did it in the air. "It was partly to take a shortcut, but also to avoid the strong winds in the Rhone Valley. There was still wind coming through that pass, but I could hide behind the mountain and sneak through." 

As one of only two Southern Hemisphere athletes, did Nick feel disadvantaged?

"People talk about home advantage," he says, "but coming from elsewhere means that you see the adventure with fresh eyes. I really like a quote that I read on Chrigel's blog: 'everyone said it was impossible, but then someone came along who didn't know that, and just did it.'"

Some athletes have arrived exhausted in Monaco, but Nick, having sprinted the last hour, bounded across the finish line - it looked like he could keep going for weeks.

His feet are in good condition ("the main thing is keep your feet dry"), but there's more to it than that. As a child, his Dad took him tramping in New Zealand and taught him how to take care of himself: food, warmth, shelter, health. "I shudder when I hear people talking about 'pushing through the pain barrier'. My approach is to work with my body, not against it. When I'm walking I'm aiming for maximum speed for minimum energy."