What are the big takeaways from the route reveal? We take a deep dive into some of the main talking points of the 2023 route.
New Kitzbühel-Kirchberg start is welcome
Starting in Kitzbühel is good news for athletes and fans alike. “There are no airspace issues, unlike Salzburg,” says Patrick von Känel. The Hahnenkamm Turnpoint also looks set to be an exciting place to watch the action too. Athletes will all know this area well – the Pinzgau valley is a known superhighway when it’s flyable.
Familiarity does not mean easy
The route from Wagrain-Kleinarl to Chiemgau-Achental may be familiar to many athletes but it’s not without difficulty as athletes will be fighting against prevailing winds coming in from the German plains and battling the frustration of not getting as far as they’d like. “Expect an initial separation of the field in this leg,” says Payne.
Mind the Oberalp ‘policeman’
The route from Piz Buin to Fiesch could be very fast if the weather’s good, following the two superhighways of the Rhine and Rhone valleys. “But there’s a ‘police stop’ in the middle,” says Payne. The stop sign takes the form of ‘strong headwinds funnelled through the pass,” he says. “Clever teams will dodge left or right to avoid."
The Turnpoints mean it’s a race track
The high number of Turnpoints in the first half of the route help to slow the action down. “They’re like traffic lights,” says former athlete Nick Neynens. They also prevent athletes from taking divergent paths. That means it’s going to be neck and neck initially, before anyone gets the chance to break away.
There are some high mountains to cross
The Bernese Oberland, Mt Blanc and Monte Rosa massif – these are not small mountains to cross. “The crossing from Fiesch over the Aletsch glacier will be one of the most interesting parts. All the lower passes in this area are higher than 3,000m and even with the best weather, flying in this area will be difficult,” says race director Ferdi Vogel.
But look closely says former athlete and race watcher Tom Payne, and it’s not so intimidating. “The back-up option of gliding down the Rhone valley to Visp, and then hiking over the Lötschenpass to then glide to Frutigen will actually be pretty quick. It's scary on the map, but will be barely an inconvenience.”
Team France will be super motivated
The route does not penetrate deeply into the French Alps, to the disappointment of many French. But although the French section may be short, it’s one of the most challenging, says Payne. “They do not have many of the kilometres but the ones they do have are amongst the hardest and most spectacular. The section involves crossing the entire Massif, a formidable achievement in the air. And if it’s bad weather, athletes will find themselves running and hiking the equivalent of the UTMB."
The route back across Italy presents some challenges
The route around Dufourspitze is another matter however. “The leg through Northern Italy from the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard to Cima Tosa will be extremely complicated,” adds Payne. “The final podium will likely be decided here, with the athletes able to successfully navigate the complex aerology, airspace, and terrain gaining a huge, possibly insurmountable, advantage.” At issue are multiple factors – descending air from Mt Blanc in the Aosta valley (4,000m) peaks with impossibly high ridges and difficult route choices to avoid the Italian flatlands and lakes.
There’s an added element of adventure
The via ferrata at one of the most iconic landmarks of the Dolomites – the birthplace of the sport – adds an exciting new dimension to the route. Athletes have to take the Luka Innerkofler via ferrata to the summit of Paternkofel (2,744m). The route leads through tunnels dug during the first world war before climbing up steep and exposed ground to the summit. It’s a 300m climb with a guidebook time of 1h30m, but expect athletes to be much quicker. From the summit, the views across to Tre Cime de Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen) are spectacular. If conditions are flyable, athletes can launch down the committing and steep east face. “It’s nothing particularly difficult,” says Vogel of the climb, “but of course something interesting for this adventure race.”
Zell am See means another loop course
With Zell am See back as the finish, this year’s route once again stays high in the mountains. Some may mourn Monaco but it’s hard to find an athlete who had a positive experience during the final approach to the Mediterranean with its poor landing options and maze-like roads. Zell am See means pure mountain flying and a hero’s welcome at the finish line. “What's really nice about this route is that the athletes will complete a full loop of the Alps,” says Payne. “On the [first] southeasterly leg they'll all see the finish line. Every athlete will know where they are racing to, which will be a strong motivator in darker times.”
Check out the route in detail here.
Top picture © Daniele Molineris