These were the highlights of the first day of the world's toughest adventure race.
Hundreds of spectators and fans were rewarded with incredible scenes on top of the Gaisberg today, as one after another, athletes unfurled their paragliders and took to the skies at the start of their epic journey to Monaco.
Amid rousing cheers and whistles, every athlete managed to get away – a psychologically important moment – even if flights did not last long.
Most athletes managed to make the Osterhorn mountains, about 20km south-east of Salzburg before coming in to land. Another short flight then took them to the foothills of the Tennengebirge, a huge mountain plateau and natural barrier which athletes skirted around to the east and west, like a cycling pelaton going around a roundabout – just a bit slower.
By 8:00pm, many athletes, including the Romanian running man Toma Coconea (ROU) who was leading the field on the ground, were within touching distance of Turnpoint 2, Wagrain-Kleinarl, and it looked like several athletes would make the Turnpoint before the mandatory rest period began at 10:00pm.
Interestingly many of those leading the charge all afternoon were not young hot-bloods but the more experienced athletes, such as Gavin McClurg (USA1) who is 47 and Evgenii Griaznov (RUS), 46, who was also in the lead pack.
In Wagrain-Kleinarl, his waiting supporter said his previous penalties for airspace infringements meant he was determined to do well this year. “Perhaps that is a reason why everyone is following him,” he said.
Three athletes have each pulled a Night Pass on the first day: Benoit Outters (FRA1), Kaoru Ogisawa (JPN) and Helmut Schrempf (AUT3). They will all use the opportunity to hike through the night to get ahead of the pack or move up through the rankings. Outters, who was joint first in the Prologue, still has another Night Pass to use later on in the race.
Earlier in the day, the action kicked off in Salzburg’s historic Mozartplatz. Under the watchful eye of the city’s most famous son, 32 athletes from around the world set off on the world’s toughest adventure race at 11.30am.
The first Turnpoint was the 1,288m Gaisberg. First to arrive on the summit to be crowned King of the Gaisberg was Maxime Pinot (FRA 4), who once again demonstrates he means business in this race. He arrived in the time of 1h 05m 50s and was quickly followed by Paul Guschlbauer (AUT1) in 1h 06m 24s with Simon Oberrauner (AUT2) just behind in third.
Trailing the field at the back by early evening was Nick Neynens (NZL) and Rodolphe Akl (LBN). Neynens will be hoping this is not a repeat of his first experience in 2015 when a bad start nearly led to him being the first to be eliminated from the race.
“Tomorrow it could be flyable,” race director Christoph Weber told us. Expect the pack, which already stretches out for 25km, to stretch out even further.
Follow the athletes on Live Tracking for the last two hours of racing on this first day of the Red Bull X-Alps!
Photos © zooom / Honza Zak, Harald Tauderer, Sebastian Marko, Vitek Ludvik