Chrigel Maurer proved once again to be untouchable as the Swiss athlete claimed the Red Bull X-Alps title for a record eighth time, achieving victory in the fastest time ever recorded in the race’s 20-year history.
Continuing to push the boundaries of adventure sports and attracting athletes from 18 different countries, the race extends over a staggering 1,223 kilometres through the Alps and is hailed as the world’s toughest adventure race, blending hiking, paragliding, and climbing in an awe-inspiring alpine landscape.
Athletes, veterans and rookies alike, gathered in the Austrian town of Kitzbühel, each with their unique goals and strategies, as they embarked on an extreme journey that tests physical and mental limits. The event, which has drawn significant global interest.
SATURDAY, JUNE 17: DAY SEVEN
Having been overtaken by Maxime Pinot (FRA1) and Damien Lacaze (FRA2) towards the end of day five Chrigel Maurer managed to claw his way back into the lead and never looked back on day six as he touched down on the winning float in the Austrian town of Zell am See in a record time of six days, six hours and one minute.
Maurer, 40, said: “It’s unbelievable to be here after such a short time and several tough moments. When I crossed the main ridge together with my team, it was incredible.”
While the lead had swapped multiple times between several athletes over the course of the first five days of action, the Swiss master never looked back after moving into the lead late yesterday afternoon.
An astoundingly fit mountain athlete with a natural feeling for the best strategic route decisions, race director Ferdinand Vogel was quick to offer his congratulations. He said: “Firstly, I would like to congratulate Maurer on another outstanding performance. It’s an amazing achievement – again! He makes decisions on gut instinct and his instinct is incredibly good because he just has so much experience and he also prepares for every situation.”
All eyes now turn to the battle for second and third, with four athletes all jockeying for position within a few kilometres of each other – Patrick von Känel (SUI2), Pal Takats (HUN), Damien Lacaze (FRA2), Maxime Pinot (FRA1) and Simon Oberrauner (AUT1), with several others not far behind.
Further back, Austrian athlete Eli Egger (AUT4) is eying the prize of becoming the first female athlete to make goal in Red Bull X-Alps history. “Her personal goal in this race was to reach Mont Blanc but now it is to reach the finish,” addded Vogel.
-With more than five days of racing still to go, there is the prospect of a record number of athletes making it to the finish, with the previous record being set in 2015 when 19 athletes reached the final marker.
FRIDAY, JUNE 16: DAY SIX
Every edition of the Red Bull X-Alps has been won by a Swiss athlete, but late on Thursday night and for much of Friday morning there was a new name at the top of the leaderboard – Damien Lacaze (FRA2).
The 37-year-old French alpinist covered a distance of 226km from Mont Blanc across the northern lakes of Italy to Sondrio in the Lombard region during an extraordinary day of 11 hours 13 minutes in the air, which involved battling strong winds, turbulence and airspace restrictions.
He said: “It’s hard to believe – it was tricky all day long. It was very difficult, very long and slow in the middle due to the wind, but I managed to keep in the air and not make mistakes.”
By mid-afternoon seven-time champion Chrigel Maurer was once again in the lead after a disappointing day that saw him getting overtaken by Maxime Pinot and Lacaze during the last glide of the evening.
Meanwhile Eli Egger (AUT4), one of four female athletes in the race, has rounded Mont Blanc and is on track to become the first woman ever to make goal in the Red Bull X-Alps but Laurie Genovese (FRA3) saw her race end in disappointment after she was eliminated as the last placed athlete.
Race co-founder Ulrich Grill revealed: “We estimate the first winner to arrive either late Saturday or Sunday. There will be a lot of athletes coming into goal this year, almost 20 if all goes well. It’s going to be one hell of a party in Zell am See.”
THURSDAY, JUNE 15: DAY FIVE
On Thursday, half the field crossed the main chain of the Alps into Italy for the homeward leg back to Austria on Day 5 with Maurer (SUI1) holding a narrow lead over Pinot (FRA1) in a replay of their duel two years ago.
By mid-afternoon, Maurer had tagged Turnpoint 11, Dufourspitze – despite suffering from a cough that meant he was not sleeping well or feeling well. At one point, it looked like Maurer was charging ahead but tricky flying conditions in northern Italy meant the pack was gaining.
There were wild scenes on the border of France and Italy at Turnpoint 10, Col du Petit Saint-Bernard, as Simon Oberrauner (AUT1), Sepp Inniger (SUI4) and Tommy Friedrich (AUT3) all landed within seconds of each other, took a selfie – a race rule – and quickly launched back into the sky.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14: DAY FOUR
Athletes took full advantage of good conditions late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday to cover huge distances – on foot and in the air – as the leaders now set their sights on crossing Mont Blanc to Italy.
In just 72 hours since the start on Sunday, several athletes had crossed almost the entire north-western half of the route across Austria, Germany and Switzerland. By mid-afternoon they were poised to cross the French section – arguably the most challenging part of the route.
One athlete to attempt a breakaway is Maurer (SUI1) after pulling a Night Pass and hiking until midnight to get ahead. It wasn’t just an attempt to steal a march on his rivals, he was determined to be the first to arrive at Turnpoint 7, Frutigen – his backyard.
He duly received a hero’s welcome on landing as his family and friends embraced him. Fighting back tears, he revealed: “It’s unbelievable. It’s a dream to be here first. Yesterday I was unsure if it would work.”
TUESDAY, JUNE 13: DAY THREE
The leading athletes are today hoping to reach the Swiss town of Fiesch, situated at the base of the mighty Aletsch glacier but there was something stopping their way – the notorious Oberalp pass, the famous crossroads of the Alps, the watershed for the Rhine and Rhone rivers.
Frenchman Pinot (FRA1) was first to try his luck around 13:30, but turned back in the face of strong headwinds funnelling through the pass. Patrick von Känel (SUI2) was next to try with athletes desperate to clear the landmark as the next stage to Fiesch is relatively smooth.
MONDAY, JUNE 12: DAY TWO
Red Bull X-Alps has seen some fast starts, but nothing comes close to the relentless speed at the front of this year’s race as, in a single day, a gaggle of 15 athletes had cleared both Turnpoints 3 and 4, Chiemgau Achental, and Lermoos, in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena.
Conditions exceeded expectations with thermal development starting earlier than predicted, allowing athletes to make Chiemgau Achental in record time with the first athlete to land Aaron Durogati (ITA2) around 10am and, for the next 10 minutes, the athletes came thick and fast.
Grill enthused: “I’ve never seen a Red Bull X-Alps start like this. It’s proving to be a super fast race and, with a good weather forecast, it’s not impossible that the first athlete could reach the goal in Zell am See as early as this weekend. It’s a fifteen-horse race!”
SUNDAY, JUNE 11: DAY ONE START
At exactly 11:30 on Sunday, June 11 morning, the centre of Kitzbühel echoed the blast of a start gun, signalling the launch of the 1,223km epic adventure around the Alps via 15 turn points in five countries.
Veteran Belgian Tom De Dorlodot, who is competing for the ninth time, said: “It’s not just a game of physical endurance but strategy. If you want to be fast you have to go slow.”
Female athlete Kinga Masztalerz (NZL) spoke for many of the lineup when she said: “We come with many goals. Some come to win. Some come to challenge themselves. For me the goal is the raft.”
FRIDAY, JUNE 9: PRE-RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
Maurer revealed that his own preparation took an unplanned turn when he had to change his team. He said: “Sometimes things have to be right, especially in the mind to feel that it can go well, and if not, you have to change. It’s the same process as deciding to be safe in the air.”
Prologue winner Pinot said: “I will just try to have fun, be efficient and my only goal is to go all the way to the end. There are so many decisions and anyone can make a dream or nightmare.”
THURSDAY, JUNE 8: PROLOGUE
In a stunning day of action in Kitzbühel-Kirchberg, Pinot (FRA1) won Thursday’s Prologue as five athletes sprinted for the finish followed by Maurer (SUI1), Durogati (ITA2) – who collapsed exhausted at the finish – Tanguy Renaud-Goud (FRA5) and Tobias Grossrubatscher (ITA1).
The first three each win an additional coveted Night Pass – which allows them to break the minimum race rest period to gain an advantage while their rivals are forced to stop. Pinot said: “I wanted a Night Pass because I know it can be an advantage even to hike for a few hours more.”
Best known for the adrenaline-fueled Hahnenkamm downhill ski race, the Austrian ski region of Kitzbühel-Kirchberg now finds itself at the heart of a different kind of excitement. It’s set to host the legendary Red Bull X-Alps, the world’s toughest hike-and-fly race.
This year’s circuit, a meticulously planned 1,223-kilometer loop, traces its way around the majestic peaks of the Alps. The journey begins in Kitzbühel-Kirchberg, Austria, traverses the towering heights of Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy, and culminates in the picturesque town of Zell am See, Austria.
The lineup for this grand challenge is as diverse as it is formidable. Seventeen battle-hardened veterans, including the seven-time champion Maurer, alongside 15 ambitious rookies will navigate the demanding route, incorporating hiking, paragliding, and for the first time, via Ferrata climbing at the Drei Zinnen Turnpoint.
The Red Bull X-Alps is a testament to human endurance. Athletes are anticipated to ascend approximately 3,000 vertical meters daily, roughly akin to four Mount Everest ascents from sea level. With about half their race time on foot, these athletes burn around 6,000 calories daily, a caloric expenditure equivalent to seven large pizzas.
All attention will be riveted on Maurer (SUI1), as the sporting world anticipates whether he can continue his reign against the rising competition like Pinot (FRA1), who is currently riding the wave of a recent victory at the Bornes To Fly event.
Other noteworthy competitors include Renaud-Goud (FRA5) and von Känel (SUI2), both of whom graced the Bornes To Fly podium, along with Genovese (FRA3), Lacaze (FRA2), Michal Gierlach (POL), and Inniger (SUI3).
Among the competitors, Genovese is one of four women vying for victory, including first-timer Egger from Austria. The 28-year-old expressed her excitement, noting, “There are some big mountain ranges to cross, so it will be quite a challenge. Maybe the 2023 edition will be the first time a female competitor makes goal.”
For fans eager to keep up with the action, a state-of-the-art live tracking system, including a 3D pilot’s view, will provide unprecedented access to the race. The event kicks off with a Prologue in Kirchberg on Thursday, June 8, followed by the main race starting on Sunday, June 11, and running through to June 23. Initial forecasts predict a mix of sun, rain, and thunderstorms, promising a diverse range of conditions for this ultimate test of human endurance.
Header image: Chrigel Maurer (SUI1) performs during the Red Bull X-Alps in Sexten, Italy on June 17th, 2023. Credit: Vitek Ludvik / Red Bull Content Pool