The moves that cost Tommy a top 10 finish

Thousands of critical decisions have to be made correctly to finish fast – here’s a breakdown of just a few

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The non-stop, rapid excitement of the 2023 Red Bull X-Alps meant that we’re only just beginning to dig into all the little micro-battles of the race. And it’s not even over yet!

It was day eight and the athletes were about to come into the finish in a never-ending stream. It got crazy. But, at around 05:00, 65km away, a group began their last push towards the finish in Zell am See. The choices they would make would decide the top 10.

This group was made up of Aaron Durogati (ITA2), Tanguy Renaud-Goud (FRA5), and Tommy Friedrich (AUT3). Tommy hiked on ahead at 05:10 with the group following at 05:30. While they hiked, Damien Lacaze (FRA2) and Max Pinot (FRA1) reached goal to take 2nd and 3rd.

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© zooom / Vitek Ludvik

Tommy reached the top first but it was still only 07:15 – the conditions wouldn’t be working well enough to make a long flight. There were athletes following up behind him, what should he do? He decided to burn off his altitude in a long glide down – turning the height he had gained into distance towards goal. The following group made a different decision and chose to wait for the conditions to be working better. They waited and watched as Tommy’s flight gave him a 15km lead.

In the meantime, Tommy packed up and began to hike up to another launch. While he hiked and the group waited, Pál Takats (HUN), Patrick Von Känel (SUI2), Simon Oberrauner (AUT1), and Tim Alongi (FRA4) landed on the float to take positions four to seven.

Aaron and Tanguy launched just before 10:00 and joined Markus Anders (GER1) in the air to form a gaggle. A real danger for Tommy: as a group they could fly faster and catch him. Tommy launched and took a parallel line just to the East of the gaggle. They could almost see each other on opposite sides of the valley. They all headed North to cross the main divide of the Alps for the last time and then on to the final Turnpoint. Schmittenhöhe.

The gaggle was moving quickly, but Tommy pushed on ahead and gained the lead again. But then, at around 11:30, there was a fork in the route ahead. A North-Easterly ridge and a North-Westerly ridge. Left or right? Another key decision for Tommy.

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© zooom / Christian Lorenz

He went left, but the chasers went right. The ridges both led to the final valley crossing in front of Turnpoint 15, Schmittenhöhe. If they could cross this valley and find lift on the other side, they would be able to reach the Turnpoint – and complete the race – without hiking.

Tommy crossed the valley first and made the turn East, taking direct aim at the final Turnpoint. The group made the crossing soon after, and arrived on the ridge between Tommy and the Schmittenhöhe. It was like Tommy’s F1 car had gone wide on the bend, leaving just enough of a gap for those behind to overtake him on the inside of the final turn.

Aaron, Markus, and then Tanguy raced down the final straight and tagged the Turnpoint in front of Tommy – and the finish. Tanguy reached the finish in 10th place, less than three minutes ahead of Tommy. It was so close. Tommy finished in 11th, but the excitement and relief of completing the race was still plain to see. After competing in 2021 – and coming third in the Prologue – he was forced to withdraw because of an injury. Tommy was deeply upset to have to leave in 2021, so his arrival into goal for this incredible 2023 edition of the Red Bull X-Alps, surrounded by so many other elite athletes, must still have been a special moment.

Top image © zooom / Sebastian Marko

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