30 of the world's top international paragliding teams from 22 nations have embarked on an 864km journey from Salzburg to Monaco in the 2011 Red Bull X-Alps, described as “one of the last great sports adventures in the world”.
The event got underway on Sunday in Mozart Square and the athletes will encounter seven stage goals such as famous Alpine peaks Dachstein and Grossglockner (Austria), Tre Cime (Italy), Piz Palue, Matterhorn (Switzerland) as well as Mont Blanc and Mont Gros (France).
Under the official regulations, athletes travel only by flying with their paragliders or by foot, choosing any route they wish as long as it passes all the turnpoints. The participants will also be battling the elements as the race will go on day and night, sun or snow, until the first pilot reaches goal.
As well as the physical challenge, the competitors will also have to keep an eye on the clock. At the 72 hour mark, the last-placed pilot will be forced to retire and every 48 hours thereafter, the respective last-placed pilot will be dropped. At the end of about two weeks, the pilots are judged according to the time it took them to reach Monaco or the number of kilometres missing to the goal of the event.
Swiss rookie Christian Maurer won the event last year and commented that “the landing in the water after the tour was so fantastic,” after beating compatriot Alex Hofer over nine and a half days of competition.
The event is now entering its third day, and Toma Coconea of Romania currently leads with 716km to go to the finish. Austrian Paul Guschlbauer is 1km behind in second while last year's winner Maurer is in third position, 1km further back.
Jon Chambers is the highest ranked British competitor in 12th, 741km away from Monaco but the gruelling challenge has already proved too much for two athletes. Austrian Christian Amon, who led the race early on, has been forced to quit with a knee injury while Kaoru Ogisawa of Japan has been withdrawn after a piloting error caused him to infringe airspace while en route to the Dachstein, thus breaching International Visual Flight Rules (VFR) air regulations.
A live leaderboard and map of the route is available at www.redbullxalps.com/live-tracking.html.