INTERVIEW: Chrigel ‘Eagle’ Maurer on mastering Red Bull X-Alps

Courtesy of Red Bull Media Service Team

Swiss bids to maintain 100% record in gruelling Salzburg to Monaco race.

What makes Chrigel Maurer able to crush the Red Bull X-Alps?

He has the intuition of a bird, has won every race since 2009 and has no plans of retiring any time soon. Meet Chrigel ‘the Eagle’.

The Red Bull X-Alps is one of the world’s toughest adventure races. With each edition, competitors from around the globe arrive in Austria for a gruelling test of body and mind. From Salzburg, they make their way only by foot and paraglider to Monaco and, for the last ten years, there’s only been one champion – Christian Maurer, aka Chrigel ‘the Eagle’.

Such is his dominance of the race that, when discussing the lineup of favorites, fans will often joke, ‘who do you think will come second?’

But in the Red Bull X-Alps nothing can be taken for granted, not even the 36-year-old Maurer’s dominance. This year the route is harder than ever: 1,138km via 12 Turnpoints that zig-zag across the Alps from Austria to France via Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

On the eve of the race prologue in Wagrain (follow the race here), he tells us he’s still got what it takes to be the best.

What is the appeal of doing this race time and again?
It’s the passion of doing hike and fly – moving in the Alps with my paraglider and my team. I’m sure with the new route and Turnpoints and the weather it will be a new adventure, and this is really the reason for me.

So it’s more about the adventure than the competition?
For sure. The Red Bull X-Alps is so big and complex, the situations change so fast, it’s an adventure, and that’s what I enjoy.

How do you keep yourself going when you’re really struggling with exhaustion?
I try to focus on the small steps. I try to find new goals that are easy to reach. Then I reach my team again and with these small steps it makes progress possible. With my team we have a clear strategy. If they think they have to push me, they will push me. If I go too fast and risk breaking, they will tell me to slow. If I feel good, they don’t say anything.

What does it feel like to make Monaco?
There are two emotional moments. When I first realise that I can reach my goal I am very emotional and normally alone. The second moment is when I reach the sea. It’s a great moment, it’s always a big goal to do the race: to cross the Alps by yourself and that ends when you land on the beach. I’m not so emotional then but it’s a nice feeling, sharing with family and supporters.

Have you ever made a serious mistake that could have cost you the race?
For sure I make many mistakes but luckily only small ones. Last edition in 2017, close to Turin, I walked up more than 3,000m and it was not good to fly, there were no thermals and a strong wind. My knee was a bit damaged too and I ended up flying down in strong wind conditions, which was not efficient.

Do you ever imagine your reign of dominance coming to an end?
Actually I feel very good. My body is still working well. I still feel motivated and this is the reason I continue. If my body makes trouble, I don’t know, but at the moment, it feels perfect. I’m still motivated to do the best.

How much time does the race take out of your life?
I really focus on Red Bull X-Alps all the time – it’s always in my life. Between races I give talks and coach other pilots. Finally, it takes maybe half a year of full concentration to focus on the training and preparation.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a pilot?
I really like ski mountaineering racing, moving with skis over the Alps. And normal paragliding competitions are still good fun.

Where did the Eagle nickname come from?
It started in 2004 when I broke a European record. A newspaper journalist said I flew like an eagle. I was very proud to get this name, it’s why I keep it on my website.

Do you really have the intuition of a bird?
Maybe! But what I do have is the mindset that it’s possible to push, that it will work out, that I will get lift.

Last year you finished with a tendon injury. How close was that to derailing your race?
My doctor said I could continue but not to push. I was very happy to finish as it was really painful. This year, I will try to have no injury, not to push too much in the beginning and always make a good recovery. It’s hard to be injured and to push.

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