A day of high drama on the mountains and in the sky sees Chrigel Maurer emerge triumphant, laying down a marker to the rest of the field that he means to keep his crown.
The world’s best endurance athletes, adventure racers and paraglider pilots returned to Wagrain-Kleinarl today for the Prologue of the Red Bull X-Alps.
In scorching heat, 29 athletes from 15 countries set off on the one-day 30km battle around the scenic mountains of the Austrian mountain resort, about 65km south of Salzburg. The athletes set off at 10:00am, the first objective being a 900m ascent on foot to the top of Mooskopf (1,888m).
The first athlete to reach the summit was Maxime Pinot (FRA1), who reached the Turnpoint shortly after 47m 24s.
Aaron Durgati was second, finishing 30s behind and Chrigel Maurer reached the summit in 49m 20s. But this was just the start of the adventure.
From here, athletes raced to unfurl their wings, then launched into the sky to tag the second Turnpoint of Grafenberg, a 1,700m peak 6km to the west. With good flying conditions, all athletes were able to tag the Turnpoint in the air without hiking, meaning they were then able to fly onto the third Turnpoint of Hochgründeck, a further 8km to the north. Here athletes turned around and raced back to the finish in Kleinarl.
In a closely fought battle Pinot and Maurer were neck and neck, swapping leads as they pushed to the finish line in Kleinarl. The race’s youngest athlete, Thomas Friedrich (AUT3) meanwhile was engaged in his own battle with France’s Benoit Outters (FRA2) for third.
In the end, Maurer emerged triumphant and won the race, landing in Kleinarl to huge cheers from the crowd in a time of 1h 49m 30s. Pinot arrived exactly a minute later and Friedrich arrived in third place in the time of 1h 57m 40s. In a moment of drama that could have cost him the podium, Friedrich forgot to run through the finish arch, his supporter yelling at him to run before Outters beat him to it.
“It was hard at first in the beginning, Maxime and Aaron pushed really hard so I had to push,” Maurer said. “I knew that the first in the air would be the winner of the Prologue. Maxime took a big risk [launching first] but he showed us that it worked. We spent some time turning in the beginning to climb but then we had a brilliant thermal, which was 8m per second climb. Then Maxime started to push and I realized, ok, it would be good to fly straight. In the end, the body worked well and finally it came good.”
Race Director Christoph Weber said: “I knew that in good conditions this could be a very and very fast Prologue and that certainly proved to be case. Maurer may have emerged the winner but the time between athletes was very little, which shows that the level is very high this year. There are some very strong athletes in this race – male and female, and I think it’s going to be interesting who will succeed in the main race.”
The first three athletes all gain an additional Night Pass for use during the main race, which starts on Sunday. Normally race hours are restricted to 05:30am to 10:30pm. Each athlete gets one Night Pass which allows them to hike through the night. But the Prologue winners each gain an additional opportunity to break the mandatory rest period, which they can use to gain a strategic advantage. The results also impact the starting order of day two, which has a staggered start. The Prologue winner sets off at 5am and athletes follow according to the time they finished behind the winner during the Prologue.
This was the second time the Austrian mountain town of Wagrain-Kleinarl has hosted the Prologue. A popular ski resort in winter and hiking destination in summer, its grassy alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks provided the perfect location for a hike and fly battle.
For now, athletes can enjoy two days rest before the main race begins on Sunday in Salzburg. Wagrain-Kleinarl is the second Turnpoint so athletes could pass back through the resort as early as Sunday afternoon if flying conditions are good.
Tune in to Facebook from 11.00am on Sunday to go behind-the-scenes with race reporter Tarquin Cooper before the race start in Salzburg. Then follow all the action on Live Tracking.
Get ready for the action! The Prologue takes place on June 17 at 10:00AM (CEST) and the main race starts on June 20 at 11.30AM (CEST). You can follow everything via Live Tracking.
Top image © zooom / Lukas Pilz