Aaron Durogati and Sebastian Huber proved they are the athletes to watch on the ground as they took a joint win at the Leatherman Prologue, which marks the start of the eighth edition of the Red Bull X-Alps.
The pair crossed the finish line in just under two hours after a very fast ascent and descent of the Zwölferhorn mountain.
“We had more or less the same speed so we finished together,” Durogati said afterwards. “In the end Aaron had a bit more air than me, he’s very fit,” added Huber.
The pair, along with X-Alps rookie Benoît Outters, who came third a few minutes behind them, each receive an additional Ledlenser Night Pass, which allows them to hike through the night. In a new rule this year, the Leatherman Prologue results also directly affect the start times of Day Two which will have a staggered start: every athlete will be delayed by the time they finished behind the Prologue winner.
“I didn’t start with the idea that I had to get an extra Night Pass,” added Durogati. “But if it comes, because I’m feeling good, then I go for it – so I did! I think it’s always better to have something more than the others. If it doesn’t kill you to get it, why not?”
Athletes were due to compete in a 36km hike and fly, starting and finishing in the picturesque village of Fuschl am See, Austria.
But due to strong south-westerly winds, organisers shortened the course to make it into an out-and-back run up the 1,552m Zwölferhorn. Initially it was hoped athletes would still be able to take to the air. But race director Christoph Weber took the decision to prevent flying due to heavy turbulences at the launch, forcing athletes to fight on foot back to the finish in Fuschl – turning the race into a gripping battle between the best mountain runners.
“When I was driving up it didn’t look so strong, but on the takeoff it was lee side and very dangerous. The true wind was something like 50km/h,” Christoph Weber said.
“It was the right decision,” Huber said.
The day began with the bombshell news that four-time winner Chrigel Maurer was sick having picked up a cold from his children, and not able to run. He was prevented from taking part by the race doctor who diagnosed that Maurer was suffering from inflamed sinuses. He’ll have to undergo another examination by the race doctor on Saturday 1 July to decide whether he is healthy enough to take part in the race.
However, Maurer himself was feeling optimistic he’d still start. “These things normally last a week but I will be there on the start line on Sunday. I’m here and ready and looking forward to competing.”
Because the Prologue is mandatory, Maurer will suffer an automatic penalty and start last on Day Two, one hour after the last athlete has set off.
The poor weather in Austria just now means the mountain runners might have a headstart over the pure Alpine pilots when the race-proper starts on Sunday.