There has never been a race like this at the front of the pack
Day 6 of the Red Bull X-Alps started with an elimination from the back: Nick Neynens (NZL), in his fourth edition of the Red Bull X-Alps, was out. A pre-race ankle injury had seen him hiking slowly and made launching and landing tricky. He ended the race with 927.6km to go.
The next upset in a day that saw several was Nicola Donini (ITA3) who was given a 48-hour time penalty for an airspace violation on Thursday. He has to sit out the race for a long two days at the end of his next rest period. That prompted him to pull out his Night Pass, deploy it and then fly and hike for the rest of the day like a man determined to stay in the race and not be cut from the back. He finished the day in 20th.
News of the third upset came late in the evening when it was announced that Thomas Friedrich (AUT3) was withdrawing from the race because of injury. He'd had a hard landing on his third flight of the day and his team medic had him checked out.
The official statement came through at 9:30pm: "Thomas Friedrich encountered an injury during a hard landing this afternoon, which makes it impossible for him to continue the race. Thomas decided to withdraw from the race. The whole Red Bull X-Alps community wishes him all the best for a fast recovery!" And we do. He finished his race with 731.4km to go.
In between, the day saw some amazing hiking and some hard-won flying. Out front the leading pack of five athletes pushed hard together, always within 10km of each other.
Getting round the windy corner at Martigny in Switzerland proved to be a crux, and Patrick von Känel didn't make it. Pushed to the ground by the strong valley winds he said he knew his mistake would cost him. "Sometimes a single mistake can change a lot but such things happen," he said. By the end of the day he had lost 20km on Maurer and was down in 6th.
Benoit Outters (FRA2) led for a while; then it was Maxime Pinot's (FRA1) turn to take the lead – literally flying over Maurer's head as they converged on TP8 Dent D'Oche. From the ground Maurer merely looked up as he chewed on a sandwich, taking in energy before the next push.
An evening of classic hike-and-fly tactics followed, with the pair of them finally converging on the Pas de la Bosse where they sat together for awhile, about 4km from the TP8 before Maxime flew down and ended the day in first place, exactly 1km ahead.
In the morning the plan is to fly around Turnpoint 8 and then tackle the next one 60km south: Mont Blanc (4809m).
The weather forecast is for an excellent flying day on Saturday with thermals rising to 4000m cloud base. That is perfect conditions for flying around Europe's highest mountain. Under the rules of the race they must go round it anti-clockwise, to the south.
This is terrain Maxime Pinot knows well – he lives nearby. But all the leading athletes know it too. Swiss, Italian, Austrian and French are all in the leading pack. Expect big things from all of them in the air – long flights of 200km or more.
At the back, the battles for Top 10, in the mid-pack and further back continued. Racing for his life Gavin McClurg (USA1) spent the day closing down the 30km gap between his closest rival – US teammate Cody Mittanck (USA2). At the end of the day he was only 6km behind.
Given a good flying day the rankings can all shuffle, from bottom to top. The race has passed its mid-point, yes, but the temperature is only going to keep rising.
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