Red Bull Dolomitenmann was tough, but so are Kolland Topsport Professional
The world's hardest relay race produced another year of mountain madness in Austria, where adventure racing legend Chrigel Maurer and his Kolland Topsport Professional team took a fourth win.
Winning the Red Bull Dolomitenmann is literally an impossible job – for any one racer, that is. Losing it? Anybody on the team can do that, but more on that later. This team relay depends on the success of four different mountain athletes in four different sports – mountain running, paragliding, mountain biking and kayaking – and once the race begins at the main square in Lienz, Austria, the clock doesn't stop running.
With almost 98 teams pushing themselves to the limit, Red Bull Dolomitenmann claims the title of the hardest adventure relay race in the world and it's pretty tough to dispute it – almost no other race combines such a unique range of mountain sport skills and such challenging terrain in a single day race.
How to win Red Bull Dolomitenmann: build the right team, stay healthy, nail the transitions
As with any relay race, the team is only as strong as the weakest link – and finding people ready to do this race isn't easy. Since each section is purely an individual performance, teams are constantly looking for the most talented athletes in their sport. Previous competitors carry points with them from the previous years and the higher the points a team collectively has, the more chance they have of guaranteeing their spot in the race.
Since Red Bull Dolomitenmann is such a short and intense race, even the most minor of injuries tends to keep participants out: if you’ve got anything slowing you down, you're out and then the team isn’t competitive, so the last couple of weeks before the race tends to see a few replacement racers brought in.
Finally, once you've got a healthy team that's ready to race, you've got to nail your transitions. Once the race clock is running, it doesn't stop, so the second a runner finishes, the paraglider can start and so on.
The run: neither sprint nor ultra marathon
The distances (and heights) of Red Bull Dolomitenmann put it in a unique category – it's way too long to go 100 percent from the start line, but it's not long enough that you can ever really reduce your effort. Says Joseph Gray, world champion mountain runner: "It's a tough course, a beautiful course, very rewarding. Once you get near the saddle, you're running up very steep terrain, so you do slow down, but you're climbing the whole way, so you're definitely full gas."
For the endurance athletes in mountain running and biking, that means they're basically operating at the low end of their 'red line' the entire time – go over it and you're going to bonk and lose time, stay under it and you're going to get overtaken, simple as that. Red Bull mountain runner Rémi Bonnet gave spectators a great example of what it means to 'leave it all on the race course': after 1h 20m of uphill battle, he found the energy for a finishing sprint, putting a full 1m 30s between him and Gray and coming within 30 seconds of setting a new record on the 12km, 2,000hm course.
Big sky, tight flying
"My glider performed a bit better – I'm heavier, so I'm a little faster, but to fly in together with Paul was a great feeling,” Maurer said. He landed just a few seconds ahead of Guschlbauer, but then he had to wait: cross-country marathon world champion Leonardo Páez was at his first Red Bull Dolomitenmann and had no idea that Maurer would be ready to pass the baton just seconds after landing. He was waiting for almost two minutes.
The mountain bike section made the race
The 2021 Red Bull Dolomitenmann saw all the drama happen on the mountain bike course. As previously said, no single person can win the Red Bull Dolomitenmann, but one person can lose it and holding up the team for two minutes during a relay race is a sure way to lose fans among your own team and maybe the whole race.
"I was a little confused about the time of the paragliding and how little time they needed to gather their stuff after landing,” Páez said. A confused crowd looked on, while Maurer waited for his rider – and when he got there, he almost went the wrong way as Team Red Bull's Fabian Costa took off ahead.
Miraculously, all was not lost. Not only did Páez's impressive uphill speed allow him to capture the lead, a puncture at the start of the downhill kept Costa holding on the brakes, letting Páez arrive first at the mountain bike finish line, much to the joy of his team-mates in the Kolland Topsport Professional squad, who were pushing to get their fourth win in a row.
The last leg – all about arms
Once the mountain bike section was finished, the kayak race was underway. This 6km whitewater run may feel like the easiest of the four events, but it's far from it. Following a 7m 'alpine drop' into the river, the paddlers have to navigate a slalom course with multiple upriver sections. It's also long – typical whitewater sprint races for the Olympics last under two or three minutes. This? More like 35. Then, after that long-haul paddle, the boaters have to haul their boats out of the water and then drag them over the ground while they race on foot to the Red Bull Dolomitenmann finish line.
Czech paddler Lukas Kubrican has plenty of experience at this – he's won the kayak section five races in a row. While he wasn't the fastest kayaker this year, missing out on that by mere seconds, he easily brought his team home to victory – the fourth in a row for Team Kolland Topsport Professional.
I've thought I'll stop doing this race at least five times, but it's so much fun that I keep coming back.
But who enjoyed the race the most? Possibly local paddler Harry Hudetz, coming back for his 25th Dolomitenmann, despite having tried to quit. "I've thought I'll stop doing this race at least five times," he said. "But it's so much fun that I keep coming back.
While Rémi Bonnet’s impressive mountain run and Paul Guschlbauer's sensational flight put Team Red Bull in strong contention after two sections, a puncture for replacement rider Fabian Costa cost him valuable minutes and almost certainly pushed the team's finish down a few standings to sixth place. The Wings for Life team – with snowboarder Benny Karl on the mountain bike – took 36th place out of 98 teams.