The Alpine nations traditionally dominate the Red Bull X-Alps. In the first of two stories on the top-performing countries, we look at Switzerland, France and Austria.
It is a curious statistic of the Red Bull X-Alps that the race has only been won by the Swiss. Even before the Chrigel Maurer reign there was Kaspar Henny and Alex Hofer. But if there was ever a moment for another nation to take on the champion’s crown, it’s now. And that country could be France.
“Every Frenchman is a potential winner,” says former athlete and race observer Tom Payne. “Benoit Outters came so close last time and he’s definitely got the capability to win it.”
Maxime Pinot meanwhile could be the most threatening rookie ever to enter the race. “He’s crushed it in every hike and fly competition he’s taken part in,” adds Payne. “He’s going to be really hungry.” Pinot has never not been on a hike and fly race podium. “I want to challenge Chrigel Maurer,” he says.
He’s not the only one. Gaspard Petiot came the closest last year, actually over-taking Chrigel at one point, before a bad landing forced his exit from the race. He has proved he is as fast as the five-time champion. And then there’s Antoine Girard. “The guy is an incredible adventurer,” says Cross Country magazine’s Ed Ewing. “He’s been putting in some extraordinary flights in the Karakoram.” A bad take-off forced his retirement in 2017 so he’ll be keen to prove himself in 2019. With three editions behind him, he could be very dangerous. “I’m better prepared this time,” he says.
Someone else who is always extremely well-prepared and one to watch is Austria’s Paul Guschlbauer. No one can accuse him of not being consistent: three third place finishes in four outings with a trademark ability to grab victory from the jaws of defeat right at the last minute.
“What’s particularly impressive with Paul is how much he’ll push when behind,” says Payne.
Since 2017 his focus has been flying his Piper Super Cub across the Americas, but the paraglider comes out at every opportunity, which can only add to his experience. Don’t rule him out.
Back for a second time is the 27-year-old Simon Oberrauner. He had a great race in 2017, finishing fifth – but only a couple of kilometers behind fourth place finisher Ferdy van Schelven. Strong in the air and on the ground it’s not impossible he could end up on the podium.
Also in the Austrian lineup is rookie Helmut Schrempf. He’s a solid athlete and unlikely to challenge the race leaders but the Red Bull X-Alps always produces a few surprises. Could he be one of them?
But who will end up in the number one spot? Can Chrigel make it a record sixth time? “Every year it gets tougher and tougher for him,” says Payne. “He’s nothing left to prove but there’s something I’ve observed with Chrigel: even when he’s neck and neck, he’s always got that little bit extra to take the win. It feels like he always has something in reserve.”
This year he could well need it. Switzerland’s lineup also includes the 24-year-old Patrick von Känel. “He’s definitely one to watch,” adds Ewing. Last year he flew over 500km in a single flight in Brazil. “He’s an amazing pilot in his own right and should be on the podium,” says Payne.
Switzerland’s third contender is Adrian Keller, one of the most experienced athletes in the lineup. He learnt to fly in his teens and has two top ten finishes at X-Pyr. “He’s a very solid adventure pilot. He doesn’t have the racing background of the other guys so I wouldn’t expect him on the podium but he has a good chance of making the top 10,” adds Payne.
With so many contenders for the podium, the 2019 race could be the most exciting and closely fought in years. Next time, we profile the teams from Germany, USA and Italy.
Photos © zooom / Honza Zak, zooom / Harald Tauderer, zooom / Sebastian Marko, zooom / Vitek Ludvik