Route research begins
With the route now revealed, athletes are switching focus to study the course. But these days, it’s all about researching the route online – and not trying to fly every stage.
There was a time when route reconnaissance meant spending weeks in the Alps before the race, flying the different legs to understand all the different options. But today, athletes do most of the work online. As New Zealand athlete Kinga Masztalerz explains, for her, it’s the only option. “To fly the whole route? The logistics would be quite difficult.”
She adds: “What I’ve learned is that unless you know the area very well – like how well Chrigel, Patrick and Sepp know Frutigen – then it’s more confusing than helpful. You may fly a particular route in the morning or evening and experience the wind and cloudbase and you have a pre-programmed idea that it will work, and the conditions are completely different during the race and you have to make different decisions.”
Maxime Pinot agrees. “I don't believe scouting the route is really helpful for the race. So I do basically everything on mapping apps. To collect information about it. It takes quite a lot of work.”
"I am checking the route virtually a lot, like one to two meetings per week with the team," says Eli Egger. The Austrian athlete studied earth mapping and previously did the navigation for Aaron Durogati. "We go through every different segment of the route and talk through different strategies, different weather situations what could change and which options there are, even taking into account the airspaces for example or if you expect over development in the higher mountains."
But while online maps and overlays are great, she says she's also a fan of paper maps. "I also create a printed 2D map. I think it's good if you have something on paper you can rely on during the race and to keep the big picture because if you just work on your phone or on the computer, you only see the little part. But if you have the whole map, I think it's also quite powerful to see okay, where I am, in relation to the whole route."
"It's more about home office"
These days mapping tools display detailed information, from airspace restrictions, thermal overlays and the tracks of previous flights so athletes can see where the obvious lines are. But mapping tools aren’t just used for researching the flying. “We look for the next take-offs from each of the Turnpoints where there’s a signboard,” says Chrigel. “We calculate the hiking trail so we know how far and long it is so we can easily choose the next option.”
There is another reason why athletes do not spend weeks flying the route. “I remember in 2009 we went to test the route and flew from Geneva to Monaco,” adds Chrigel. “It was really interesting. But [back then] I did not have children. Time is running so for us it’s more about home office!”
Tom de Dorlodot agrees that you can study the route online but he still says it’s important to spend as much time as possible in the areas of the route. “There are now some incredible (online) tools but you will never replace being there and seeing it for yourself. For me, it's always interesting to try to spend as much time as I can before in the Alps. It helps you to visualize where you have to go. Sometimes you can also gather a lot of local knowledge – the breezes, the conditions and locals know better.”
He adds: “If I was a rookie, I would go and check the first part of the route so that you already have a clear understanding of what's coming and you don't get so stressed in the beginning.”
Connect with the environment
Kinga agrees that it’s important to spend time in the Alps before the race – but less to focus on the route, more to acclimatise to alpine conditions generally. “It’s helpful to connect with the environment,” she says, “to get used to the air, the spring conditions and to feel good with my gear.”
“It’s not very important for me to fly the places I don't know,” adds Max Pinot. “The most important is to feel in shape in the air (and on the ground too) before starting the comp.” As anyone who follows Max knows, he seems to be in the shape of his life. “Preparation is going great,” he adds.
Eli also says that knowing the route well can even be a disadvantage. "I realized that sometimes the better you know the area, the more mistakes you're going to make because you trust in things which always work, but maybe this stuff is not working. So it can be a benefit to know the route, but I think it's also sometimes good if you see it in a new way and just trust your gut feeling."
Top image © zooom / Sebastian Marko