It’s neck and neck at the front with the veteran five-time champion up against the young French rookie flying in the tricolour.
They started the day together on the northern side of the Zillertal Alps and by close of play they looked as if they were going to end it together after crossing the main chain a second time to reach Turnpoint 5 at the same time – Lermoos Tiroler Zugspitz Arena.
Has the young Frenchman Maxime Pinot (FRA4) achieved the impossible and caught up with Chrigel? Or did the veteran champion do something unthinkable, like make a mistake?
“I don’t know… strange wind conditions, I was not focused maybe?” Chrigel offered at Lermoos.
One thing that is not in doubt: this race is utterly gripping. The pace is relentless. The race could barely be closer with just three minutes separating them after three days of racing.
Chrigel has never been pushed this hard before. Previously, he has made mistakes or had bad luck with the weather, but his lead has been sufficient that he’s still been ahead after recovering from them. This time, Pinot was right there, ready to pounce. He eliminated Chrigel’s 40km advantage in just an hour and half after Chrigel was forced to land on the approach to Turnpoint 5.
It just proves how quickly things can change in the Red Bull X-Alps.
Further back in the field is a chaser pack of a dozen athletes separated by as little as 15km. Deteriorating weather north of Kronplatz effectively ‘closed the door’ to athletes hoping to reach Lermoos. They were forced to take different routes across the notoriously challenging Inn valley. Normally athletes would try and climb as high as possible before making the leap across, but the airspace restrictions make that impossible.
“The Inn valley is a crucial point,” says race director Christoph Weber. “You have to fly quite low, underneath the maximum altitude and that is quite tricky.”
Things could get interesting later in the week as bad weather approaches from the west, meaning the leaders could find themselves slamming into a wall of rain and cloud.
If they’re forced to put their running shoes on again, it could turn into a brutal battle.
And it’s not just at the front where the heat is being felt. It’s the battle at the back as athletes fight to avoid the first elimination tomorrow morning. It’s now looking like it will fall on Rodolphe Akl (LBN) after Dominika Kasieczko (POL) pulled a Night Pass to avoid the chop.
(Text: Red Bull X-Alps)