Tarquin Cooper has been covering the race live and updating these news pages since 2013. He reveals some of the highs and lows of life on the road – and that time he tried to catch up with Maxime Pinot on a hill climb.
The veteran reporter reveals why trying to catch up with athletes in the mountains is a terrible idea – and the moment he drove through the wrong tunnel. Twice.
What’s the best part of the job?
Just to witness up close this amazing adventure race is such an honor. Honestly, I’ve met and interviewed hundreds of adventurers and explorers across many sports but the Red Bull X-Alps is truly unique and the athletes some of the most remarkable I’ve ever met. This year working with Gavin McClurg was awesome, I think it really upped our coverage – not to mention my own understanding of the race.
Any favorite moments?
There are so many it’s hard to choose. The starts on top of the Gaisberg and last year in Kitzbühel are always wild. Being on the water to watch athletes land on the float is also incredible – if sometimes stressful – I’m always worrying about the signal and terrified I’m going to miss the moment. But for me, the best moments are always the quiet times with athletes in the mountains. Sometimes it can be a real challenge finding them – working out where they’ll be at a certain moment requires good guesswork, a real understanding of hiking speeds, and great navigation. The satisfaction of finding them somewhere really random is always massive. Often I’m invited for a coffee or something to eat with the support team and that’s special. That camaraderie between athletes, supporters and photographers is really cool. You don’t get that in other sports.
"The camaraderie between athletes, supporters and photographers is really cool"
Most frustrating day ever?
Imagine the scene. It’s late afternoon of Day 7 of the 2019 Red Bull X-Alps and I’ve been on the tail of Maxime Pinot for the past couple of hours near the ski resort of Mègeve, France. While sorting some gear I momentarily lose him. By the time I’ve worked out where he is he’s 500m ahead and hiking fast. No big deal I think, naively. It’s the start of the hardest and fastest 800m climb I’ve ever done – and I’ve done a few vertical K races. I had no water, no food. Catching Maxime in speed-hike mode is an impossibility. The best I can do is hope to catch him at the top.
By the time I get there, I’m dying, drenched in sweat and so out of breath I can barely speak. I’m praying he hasn’t taken off. My luck’s in. I see he’s getting ready. Quickly, I set the camera up to go live while approaching. Everything's good! Max starts to inflate his wing and I see to my horror that the live feed cuts out just as Max takes off.
“F*&!…” It was all for nothing and a very long walk back down. And this day just got worse. That year I was driving an e-car and after writing up my daily report I went off in search of a high-speed charging point. It was nearly midnight when I got there. And it was out of order. I plugged into the slow-speed got two hours miserable sleep while it gave me enough charge to get somewhere else.
"Last year, I pulled a Night Pass’ myself and hiked through the night"
If I had to pick a moment it would have to be the epic Chrigel chase where I managed to catch up with Chrigel atop Titlis in the 2019 race. I’d just missed him in Davos (long story) and had to drive like a lunatic to get to Engleberg. I went live in the cable car not knowing if he’d still be there. It was a long ride and the anticipation was massive. Would I find him? As soon as the doors opened I sprinted for the exit and almost ran past him. He was quietly sat on a window bench, checking the weather. Chrigel is such a pro and always has time for interviews. He was the only one to top-land at Titlis. To observe him as waited for a squall to pass was amazing. He was like the king of his domain and then as soon as it was clear he launched his wing back into the sky, knowing he’d got away from the pack.
Craziest thing you’ve done for a Live?
Last year, I ‘pulled a Night Pass’ myself and hiked through the night, following Damien Lacaze to the top of Schmittenhöhe. For over two hours I was broadcasting live as he hiked along the road, in the dark and then up the mountain. Most videos these days are super short and everyone is used to seeing crazy takeoffs and landings – maximum thrills. I thought it was important to keep the cameras rolling during the less glamorous side of the race – hiking for hours on end. Occasionally someone in Australia would say hi in the comments to let me know I did have a viewer.
Worst part of the job?
How could there be any bad parts? The challenge of trying to be in three places at once can be stressful. Besides going live I’m often juggling other tasks, writing reports for example. Comments in recent years – like everywhere on social – are less civilised and that can be hard to deal with when you’re busting your ass on little sleep. This year at one Turnpoint I was asked to cover for one of the filmers who was stuck in traffic, instead of going live. Imagine my surprise when I see him filming beside me – he’d turned up just in time. I went live immediately but got some haters in the comments saying I’d missed the previous athlete. That was frustrating.
Any standout moments behind the scenes from 2023?
This would have to be Gavin’s crash. The funny thing is, I barely knew about it. I remember him saying something about crashing in trees and all I cared about was, are you still good to go live? It’s a funny story, and one he tells in typical Gavin style on the recent podcast we recorded together.
I couldn’t do this without my wife Sarah supporting me, doing all the driving and cooking. She’s an ex-adventure racer so knows the importance of looking after yourself during an endurance event. We work really well but sometimes there can be fireworks. One time in 2017 I was driving at about midnight and took a wrong turn. I ended up driving through an Italian tunnel for about 15km in the wrong direction. She took it well, until I got back to the roundabout and did exactly the same again. It’s a pity I didn't record the moment – the swearing that followed… We saw it as a sign to find somewhere to sleep.
Top image © Daniel Schulz