Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Trackin' Red Bull X-Alps

Two years ago I got hooked on Red Bull X-Alps. I had never heard of South African paraglider Pierre Carter, but I knew of his support guy, James Braid, as I am a friend of his sister. I received James' regular updates and put them out on and copied through to the adventure racing community, who lapped up the adventure of this event. The online tracking then was good, as I can recall, and this year it is even better.

This event was very much instrumental in the path that my life then took. I'd already quit my job at a marketing agency, which I really did not like and ideas had been forming around adventurers, expeditions, media, PR... X-Alps was very much the catalyst for FEAT. Pierre was a speaker at my first FEAT evening in October last year (this is the video of his seven-minute talk).

Every person who received James' reports or tracked Pierre or just heard about the event were captivated by it. Adventure. Expedition. Racing. Mountains. Trekking. Flying. The perfect recipe to enthrall people.

Red Bull X-Alps started on Sunday and I've been glued to the live tracking (goodness knows what this is doing to my bandwidth). It's even more exciting because this time around I understand the event, I now know Pierre and James and they're doing damn well. Pierre has been Top 10 since the start.

Today was super exciting because Pierre took what turned out to be a not-so-great route. It could have paid off if conditions had been good for flying, but they weren't. His progress was slower than those in the valley and I kept shouting at the screen, telling Pierre to, "Get off that damn mountain!".

And upfront.. oh my word! Christian Maurer (SUI1), previous winner, and Tomas Coconea (ROM) and FIN1 and AUT4 (country codes assigned to each athlete; Pierre is RSA) have been moving it and hoping places; well, except for Christian who leads the field.

Because of the flying element, this race is very much about catching the right winds and conditions. Miss it and you are severely affected. I mean, check out these stats from today - Pierre vs Christian. With so much more flying under his belt, Christian has made incredible headway. Most athletes were not so lucky - maybe getting in a little glide here and there. Must say, Christian seems to have a knack for sniffing out TO (take off sites) and thermals. This evening, while I wasn't watching, he had a BIG flight. Just read a post online that says he got in four hours of flying! That's a long time to rest your feet and gain ground; it has catapulted him ahead of ROM, FIN and AUT4 who were much closer earlier.

As much as this race is about strong mountain running, navigation and trekking, there is this flying element that really shakes things up. This morning Pierre was a few kilometres off Christian. Zero flying has him now 80km back in 7th place. Tomorrow is another day and still 666km to go for the leader; so at least another four days of racing, if not more (he won in 10 or 11 days last year).

The online tracking is live and friggin' phenomenal. This afternoon I watched a guy take off - may have been Christian. And as he got into the thermals he spiralled upwards. I watched his tracking line making the loops - right before my eyes! And with pilots taking off and flying over other athletes and landing ahead of them... So much excitement from following a race in Europe, from my computer in Jo'burg. Remarkable!

From the online tracking, if you click on the flag of the person, it brings up a window. You can click on the little icon for their stats (as above), profile, athlete diary and a guestbook to leave them a message. Man, we so need this setup for expedition adventure races.

While I'm not a huge Twitter fan, when it comes to races it is a superb accessory. The hash tag for Red Bull X-Alps is #rbxalps and there are a bunch of people hanging out. I'm learning quite a bit about athletes, conditions for flying and on-the-ground happenings - real-time. It is seriously disruptive to my day (added to an addiction to the tracking) but helluva fun.

The athletes should be into the compulsory stop/rest/sleep time around about now - from 23h00 to 04h00 every day. So I'm just checking the stats before I turn in too - ready to tune in when I wake up. Go Pierre, go!

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