The day that changed it all
Day 8 started out with the front-of-the-pack athletes very close together and Chrigel Maurer (SUI1) and Maxime Pinot (FRA1) in the lead, but finished with Chrigel Maurer out in the lead and a seemingly untouchable 166km ahead of the second-placed athlete, Benoît Outters (FRA2).
The deciding factor was the route chosen by the athletes heading from TP9, Mont Blanc to TP10, Piz Palü. Chrigel decided to make his way via the northerly route, retracing his route along the south of the big mountains. The chaser pack of Simon Oberrauner (AUT2), Pinot, Outters and Patrick von Känel (SUI2) all opted for the shorter, more direct route through Italy, but it Chrigel’s decision proved to be better.
The weather forecast had been for plenty sunshine and warm weather, with a risk of thunderstorms but also strong föhn winds from the south. Patrick’s supporter Andi Jäggi explained their decision to head through Italy: "Usually you don’t fly in the föhn, where winds are up to 40 - 50kph. There were also thunderstorms forecast in the afternoon, which did not happen.” He added that the Gotthard pass and area around Andermatt can see some of the strongest föhn winds in Switzerland and usually flying there is a strict no-no. “You don’t do that,” he added. “So Chrigel was chased by thunderstorms and föhn but made it through."
The forecast föhn also influenced Gavin McClurg, (USA1), who was between Turnpoints 6 (Säntis) and 7. He took a route north of the big mountains to Innertkirchen to avoid the föhn, and then made his way down the Grimsel pass during the afternoon, which was something of a deviation. He managed to fly 78km, and hiked a further 51km but still found himself at the back of the field as the day came to an end, five kilometres behind Kaoru Ogisawa (JPN1). Laurie Genovese has had very little flying today, but a nice flight late in the day put her a few kilometres closer to Turnpoint 7, Fiesch - Aletsch Arena, and a couple of kilometres ahead of Kaoru.
Gavin’s compatriot Cody Mittanck retired from the race around lunchtime due to injury, taking the field of athletes down to 23. There is no elimination tomorrow morning, but Gavin has already used his Night Pass and the athletes closest to him still have theirs, so he will be hoping to make some good flying moves tomorrow to put him out of danger.
From the close-run thing we have been using to seeing on the scoreboards during this event, suddenly there is a huge gap between first and last places: Chrigel Maurer is just 166km from goal at 10pm. He and Maxime Pinot both pulled their Night Passes for tonight. Today has not been the best for Pinoy, who finds himself in fifth position and 178km behind Chrigel. Outters is in second place, 220km from the finish and 166km behind Chrigel, with Oberrauner hot on his heels.
French athlete Damien Lacaze (FRA5), who is currently in 9th position, has a late start tomorrow as he has to serve a 12-hour penalty for violating airspace on Day 7.
Tomorrow’s forecast is for good flyable weather. Can Chrigel reach Zell Am See tomorrow? The float is already on the lake!