South African adventure race athlete Duncan Kotze (St Francis) has touched down in Austria and is making final preparations for the upcoming Red Bull X-Alps event, which starts on 2 July in Salzburg (Austria). Kotze, along with 31 other individually selected elite adventure racers from 21 countries around the globe, will hike and paraglide a straight-line distance of 1,138km across the Alps via 7 turnpoints in 7 different countries to the final destination of Monaco.
Kotze and his ground support teammate Johan De Bruijn are taking part in this gruelling event for the first time. Here, “the challenge of combining the hiking endurance and the flying” is what drew him towards the event, which sees at least one third of the entrants fail to reach the finish line. True to his roots as one of South Africa’s most consistent professional paragliding pilots, Kotze does admit that when thinking about the Red Bull X-Alps event, “it’s the flying that catches the attention and heart first”.
Speaking from his current location in Salzburg, Kotze said that “since our arrival we have been hard at work preparing our new paraglider, as well as the rest of the highly specialised lightweight equipment needed for the race”. The race is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one, as Kotze and his teammate have tapered off their training load to ensure they have the physical resources when the event kicks off in just over a week. “We have done a few hikes up the mountains with our packs, and have flown some of the route. Many of the competitors live here in the Alps, or have been here over a month, so that is a huge advantage over us South Africans when it comes to being accustomed to big mountain flying” said Kotze. Mentally, “we are approaching the event as a series of small steps, it is a long way to travel and we are taking each segment as it comes. Weather plays a huge role, where you have to time big walks up the mountain to be taking off on flights at the optimum time of day”.
Departing from Austria, and travelling through Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and Slovenia, this epic and wholly unique race demands both expert paragliding skills and extreme endurance, with some competitors hiking close to 100km a day, as well as gaining thousands of meters in altitude while flying. Preparing for an undertaking of this magnitude is in itself a massive task, and in many ways athletes spend their whole lives preparing for what has been deservedly labelled as the world’s toughest race.
Luckily, Kotze has extensive adventure experience. He first started paragliding 18 years ago in 1999 in Le Grand Bornand (France) where he obtained his paragliding license. Having competed professionally and internationally in the sport for over 10 years, whilst maintaining at least a South African top ten ranking throughout, Kotze is hopeful that this experience will stand him in good stead come the start if the Red Bull X-Alps in just less than two weeks. His thirst for adventure has also seen him hiking up Table Mountain, the Drakensburg and various other South African mountain ranges, as well as Mount Snowden in Wales and the French Alps. Experience in single and multi-day mountain biking events further adds to his adventure racing credentials.
Looking ahead to the race, Kotze’s strategy is based on the approach that “you have to fly as much as possible to stand any chance of getting to the finish. As such, I will analyse the weather and pick the best routes to fly and the best places to be for the start in the mornings”. The last Red Bull X-Alps event in 2015 was won by Swiss athlete Christian Maurer in a time of 8 days, 4 hours and 37 minutes – his record-breaking fourth successive win.
Image credit: Vitek Ludvik/ Red Bull Content Pool