Four hundred and forty athletes, 110 teams, a 50km course spanning 3,000m in altitude – this is the Red Bull Dolomitenmann ('Dolomite Man'), one of the toughest extreme sport relays on the planet. It's a gruelling four-hour race against the clock and against the competition.
This marathon event, starting in Lienz, Austria on Saturday September 12, is being held for the 22nd time and combines mountain running, paragliding, kayaking and mountain biking.
First, the mountain runners have to cover a 1,700m track, starting in Lienz on the main square. The track leads to the Dolomites themselves, where very steep paths will have to be conquered.
At an altitude of over 2,400m, the runners hand over to the paragliders, who dash 200m downhill to the take-off area. From there, once airborne, they'll pass some of the most breathtaking peaks in the Dolomites before negotiating an intermediate landing. Another 500m run to the next take-off station follows, after which they'll soar down into the town of Leisach, where they hand over to the kayakers, who have two challenges to overcome.
They begin with a tight 1km slalom course against the raging current of the River Drau. After that, a short portage segment leads them to the River Isel for a quick downwater run to the final changeover. Now it's all up to the mountain bikers. The final 12km and 1,300 vertical metres lead them over a rollercoaster course, through narrow woods and steep sections where they have to shoulder their bikes to blistering downhills on tight switchbacks. Beyond the open fields and sweeping alpine paths comes the final burn down the asphalt into Lienz again for the finish.