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What no Mont Blanc? The Red Bull X-Alps 2017 route reviewed

Wednesday 17 May, 2017

Red Bull X-Alps 2017

The route for the Red Bull X-Alps 2017 was announced at the end of March, and it is longer and more complicated than ever before.

Straight-line it is 1,138km, via seven turnpoints and seven countries: Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and for the first time, Slovenia. That is three turnpoints less than in 2015, but 100km further.

Straight-line it is 1,138km, via seven turnpoints and seven countries: Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and for the first time, Slovenia. That is three turnpoints less than in 2015, but 100km further.

Importantly, it crosses the main spine of the Alps several times. Pulling pilots south to Triglav first, before sending them back north again.

Race director Christoph Weber said: “The distances between the turnpoints will be longer than in the last seven editions. Such a wide variety of potential routes comes with a whole new world of strategic possibilities that will push rookies and veterans alike to their very limits.”

We asked Jon Chambers, one of our X-Alpers in residence who competed in the race in 2011 and 2013, when he came fifth and fourth, to give us his thoughts.

Nice to Slovenia
“Slovenia is beautiful place. I don’t know that part of the route myself but I think it is a nice addition. I don’t like the fact that the route then doubles back north though. The idea is to get to Monaco, so having a significant leg going the opposite way just seems to lose some of the concept of the race. It risks feeling like an out-and-return comp task than the X-Alps mission to get to Monaco!”

What no Dachstein?
“For many years the Dachstein was the starting point and is in my mind iconic as an X-Alps turnpoint. In later editions it typically spread the pack quickly given the difficulty to get there on foot. Sad to see this one gone.”

Why oh why?
“Like last time, they have the Zugspitze turnpoint on the ground at Lermoos. In 2013 it was the summit and it was awesome! Since then it is in a field in the valley. Really? If it is flyable you have to wind off your height to sign a board in the valley? This is not friendly to the pilots and I don’t think in the spirit of the competition. I would much rather this was a radius around the Zugspitze summit and let the athletes fly. That is what the race is about.”

Monte Baldo
“I don’t know it at all. I am sure it is nice and the leg south to get there is interesting and will be a fun part of the route. A bit strange that they have to take off with a life jacket on but it is a minor point.”

Italy to the Matterhorn
“This will be very different, because it will keep pilots in Italy on the southern side of the Alps. What is a shame is that this means that effectively none of the race will take place in my adopted home country of Switzerland. This is a great loss. The flying in Switzerland is simply amazing, and typically more reliable than on the Italian side, but also it is home to one of the biggest paragliding nations in Europe – I am sure many Swiss spectators will be disappointed. Very sad they cut the biggest alpine nation out of the biggest Alpine race.”

Where is Mont Blanc?
“In the first race in 2003 the pilots took off from the Dachstein with one turnpoint: Mont Blanc. Since then this has always been a key turnpoint. Missing it out certainly will drive some interesting route options between Matterhorn and the French Alps, but almost certainly it will mean the race passes south of the Mont Blanc Massif.”

On balance.
“So overall, some interesting sections – good to see Slovenia is part of the race, some interesting challenges across the Italian lakes (and for sure some spectacular scenery). But I am disappointed with the dramatic departure of key turnpoints like the Dachstein and Mont Blanc, and the ones that are chosen are probably more and more influenced by commercial drivers versus the concept of the race passing some of the highest and most iconic summits of the Alps. Also, I wonder why they feel the need to make it longer every year? This is one of the toughest races in the world, there is no need to add kilometres each time.”

What Chrigel says
And of course, we also texted four-times winner Chrigel Maurer. He said: “Still in the air – check after landing…” [Hours later] “I just had a look at the new route and it looks very hard because it crosses the Alps often and we can’t follow the big valleys easily – but it is the same for all of us. I remember that it was in France (St Hilaire / Annecy) where we got the best support from the X-Alps fans. With the new route they will miss seeing the athletes, and I will maybe miss the extra motivation. We will see!”

First published in Cross Country 180 (June 2017)

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