What a year! From the X-alps to the world championships, through Brazil and the world cup final...
Since 2013 I have been dreaming of the X-alps, but without being sure that I would participate one day. The technical level required, the mental strength needed, the endurance... I dreamed of acquiring all this to register for this race which, I know now, corresponds exactly to the pilot, passionate about the outdoors and the mountains that I am. August 2020, I feel ready to try to realize this dream, to take up this extraordinary challenge. But before I did it, it was really hard to have an idea of what performance I was going to be able to show, if my capricious left knee would make me last 2 days or 2 weeks, if I was going to manage to eat well, if I would sleep enough... A lot of unknowns, questions to which I didn't have any answers that were going through my mind every day and that since the selection. I think that already before leaving, the mental work that I did was enormous. As Mom often tells me, "you can !". It was the only answer I had and the one I wanted to believe in, to stay positive and ready. On the day of the start of the race, I am tense, but not a tension due to pressure, I am finally there, touching a dream, surrounded by my best buddy Joël, Michael the eternal positive, Alex the inexhaustible and my biggest fan, Dad.
The first day is not a test. It starts off fast, and very quickly I find myself in an uncomfortable situation. After a first transition south of the Gaisberg, I'm low and struggling to regain some height, we're in the thick of it. If I land here, I'll be last and I might not have a chance to come back before the first elimination. It's a hard blow, but I'm fighting, slowly managing to catch up with the back of the pack. One day. One day and I've gone through all kind of moods in the air, and unfortunately, that's not how it works for me. I absolutely have to be relaxed in the air, positive and focused. I swear myself for the rest of the race to manage my emotions so I can stay clear-headed, otherwise it won't go well. The team seems to be working well. They are there when I land, when I walk I get food regularly and the good mood is there.
1600m D+ / 35,5 km / 4 flights / 44,51 km
During the next day, the routine settles in the team, and my routine, one step after another like a metronome, works well too. A little omission of the speedarm put me in a good stress and added 1 kilometer hike to sign the turnpoint in Wagrain. A small 1000m uphill and I'm in the air towards Kitzbühl. The air mass is weird, very windy at times, foehn wind in the lateral valleys, but despite that, it flies pretty well and I land behind the Kitzbuehl ski area. I had to hike a little more to get to the signboard at the top of the famous Streif, and then took off direction Germany. It's already the end of the day, the sun is not warming up much and the north wind is present. Michael flies in front of me and lands, when I feel a slight lift. 0,3 meter per second, so to that's is almost nothing, but I work in this bubble not to lose it, fully focused and finally manage to get high and to pass over magnificent cliffs ending up landing close to the German border. It was an incredible day, but still the flying conditions were quite rough. I don't know what this represents on my risk/safety scale.
2200m D+ / 38,56 km / 4 flights / 107,25 km
ay 3, or the absolute fun in hike and fly. 25km of asphalt for breakfast, I knew it was part of the game, but these portions are hellish. They are never ending, there is nothing beautiful to see, the cars always pass too fast and too close. I sign the Achental turnpoint, my feet are burning and Joël take care of them. Then with Alex and Michael, we are heading to take off, a 1000m climb. At the takeoff, we feel some north wind, but at times the thermal takes over and we get some south wind. We hesitate then finally we take off in East and jump into the lee side in the south. It works, the beginning of the flight is laborious, it does not climb very high and it is again very windy. It's a struggle, ridge after ridge I feel like I'm going through a washing machine and I'm desperately looking for the exit. I finally reach the entrance of the Inn valley, a funnel where the whole Bavarian air mass rushes in. The wind accelerates, I manage to soar up sometimes almost backwards and cross a plateau behind. It is better than expected and the Bischofzell valley is more welcoming, but the thermals weaken because of the thickening cloud cover. Still in survival mode, I progress in this valley, and the more I progress, the less welcoming it is to land. Trees, everywhere ! Not only is it a pain to land, but there is no take-offs in sight. If I land here, I would have to walk out of this hellish Bavaria, and that motivates me to stay focused and to fly away from here. At a certain point, the sky becomes really dark and I decide to prepare for landing for safety reasons. The only option, a river bed. The wind is strong, it's narrow and therefore very turbulent. But suddenly, I can climb a few meters by hiding in the lee of a ridge and get on the luv side, hoping to find a better landing. There is only one, a roadside surrounded by high trees. It's hot but manageable. Happy to have my feet on the ground, I fold and set off leaving some things to the GER1 team. The troubles of this day are not over, we debrief then with the team for what's next. I am in a national park now, it is forbidden to sleep here. I have to go out of it by foot, but the timing is tight, no time to loose. At 9:30 pm, I arrive at the campsite, exhausted, the night will be regenerating !
1100m D+ / 63,73 km / 1 flight / 67,15 km
For day 4, we decide with my assistants to go to a take-off North East of the Zugspitze, a summit that we have to pass by the North before going to Lermoos. With my super router Joël, we sink in a dense forest in the fog to reach this takeoff. The navigation is very complicated, the trails are not well indicated and we struggle, feet soaked in the wet grass. After an never ending adventure in this forest, we arrive at the take-off… In the fog. It is a hard blow. What to do ? Wait, go down again on foot ? I prefer to wait, and finally the sky opens a little and I can take off in direction of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The valley is much more less cloud covered than the relief and I dare to hope finding a climb and fly towards Lermoos. Hope makes you live, the reality is that I land at the foot of the Zugspitze. Here we go again, on foot for a rocky takeoff under the cable car with Joël. Half an hour before arriving there, the weather becomes capricious again and a thin rain from the edge of the storm starts to fall. I don't have a minute to lose, I have to escape from here as soon as possible. At take off, I meet Laurie (FRA4) who is struggling to inflate her glider. The wind is coming from the right, the lines are hooking everywhere and it's not easy. My glider just opened, I opt for a cobra launch and manage to take off directly. I fly as fast as possible away from the rain and end up landing on the golf of Lermoos, one kilometer from the signboard. Laurie then passes me over, in flight. I am a little upset that I didn't dare to climb in the convergence in the middle of the valley, but I was too afraid of the wet glider, so I run the kilometer to the turnpoint. There, Laurie is waiting for me to sign together, a nice action. Then I enjoy a good refueling with Laurent, who flies on the race course and travels by public transport, with nights in hotels. It's funny, I don't even envy them, so much focused on what I do. With Laurie, we decide to go on another takeoff. The weather keeps changing. Sun, storm, rain, and always wind, as if there was not enough spice in all that ! We are hiking under a light rain and when we get to the takeoff, the sky becomes clearer and I launch quickly. I thought I would be able to gain some height soaring, but in reality, it's quite different again, and I can only glide to finally land in the valley. A 1000m climb that may have been useless, because the distance flown is really negligible. I pack and it starts raining again, harder this time. No more flight for today, let's walk in direction of the Namlos valley, to be ideally placed the next morning.
3050m D+ / 42,25 km / 3 flights / 21,25 km
The wake up is hard on the morning of day 5. It hurts everywhere, my knee is a weak, but the magic of the place allows me to enjoy the moment anyway. I quickly understand why I am so much in pain. It's part of the game every month and I have to deal with it, but with an ibuprofen every 6 hours, at least for the pain. The climb to the take-off is hard, in steep scree, and normally my steps are sure in these kind of terrain, but not today. Michael is worried about my fitness and I tell him that it will be fine, I just have to go easy. Fully focused and silent, we arrive at the chosen takeoff. The weather is nice, clouds are showing instability and the timing is perfect for the takeoff exposure. I take off to join the Lechtal. And guess what? It's obviously not as good as it looks like. The strong north wind will allow me to low save and soar up. When I finally reach a cruising altitude, I recognize the typical characteristics of an overpressure from the North in the Alps. Waves of wind coming down rush into the passes and push me down. I cross the valley to soar in this air mass which must go up on the other side. It works this time and I can cover a few kilometers towards Warth. Before I get there, in the middle of the valley, I have a big doubt. I only see forest, and considering how turbulent it is, if I have to land I might not have any options. I decide to spiral down and land safely. Steve (GB1) continues and calls me later saying I did the right thing, his landing was a close call. My assistants are all at the pass, eating and I'm lucky enough to get a good burger that Alex will bring me after their Kaiserschmarrn. I'm in pretty good shape at this point considering the conditions. I get to the pass and we decide to go up on the ski slopes to take off and fly towards the Walsertal, like Steve in front of me did. This climb hurts me, I feel nauseous, I am at the limit of vomiting. I take off and it's gliding super bad I can't fly over the plateau below. It's a fail, I'm seeking for another take-off on the edge of the small plateau to try to get out of there, I succeed but it's not enough, a cable underneath blocks my way and I have to land, to go back down on foot the last part of this damn pass, then we'll start the climb on the other side to reach a hut and sleep there. The tension is palpable in the whole team. Dad tries to be positive and to motivate Joël, but he replies sharply: "Jean-Lou stop now!" I think I see a path on the map that would save me time, I mention it to Alex who suggests that if he plans routes, I should not do the opposite. Both of them hike with me to the hut, and things are said. I'm too negative today, and it's taking a toll on the team's atmosphere. After this reset, we continue uphill under the rain, to finish by running under a violent storm. Soaked, we find Michael, eating a good cake, who landed higher. In reality, the hut is opened only for voluntary workers who work on the trails and there is not much to eat, the dormitories are free but there are no blankets. Fortunately, I can take a hot shower, then wrap myself in all the layers I have, ending up in my glider to sleep.
2600m D+ / 50,96 km / 2 flights / 31 km
Waking up on day 6 is difficult, I slept well, but I look like a zombie. We are getting closer to Switzerland, the next turnpoint is the Säntis and I am looking forward to be there. We take off with Michael at 6 am from the hut, for a glide in the Walsertal. It glides well, and I land in the valley where my favorite breakfast is waiting for me. The sky is completely covered, but this bad stratus does not discourage us. We try the option of hiking up to a take off, with Joël and Michael. The ascent is interspersed with rain and drier moments, we laugh, always hoping for a flying window. When we reach the mountain pasture, it rains and we are in the cloud. We wait at a hut where a guy is producing cheese, my teammates are tasting it, I drink a tea, nervous because the situation is really complicated and since my bad experience in the cloud a few years ago, I do not dare to fly when I do not see the ground. Slowly, a hole arrives, we hurry to take off and I can escape in the valley under the cloud layer. The loss of time due to the wait makes me think that it was once again not the best option, that walking down in the valley would have been faster. But hey, I didn't come here to cross the Alps only on foot with my paraglider on my back. That's the game, I accept it and continue on foot towards Feldkirch. Aiming at the take-off used by some competitors 2 days ago. At that point, I get a call from the race director who tells me that I have flown into the cloud, that another competitor has denounced me. I'm mad as hell, I waited for ages up there not to do it and someone says I did it. It is his word against mine, I leave the bad thinking at the side of the road, hoping that the small drizzle remains also there and starts the hike up with Alex, after a good meal prepared by Joël and Dad. At takeoff, we find Laurie, and we decide to fly together to cross the Rhin valley. It's quite covered but despite that, small thermals allow us to cross without too much trouble and to land at the foot of the Säntis. It's amazing how a small flight can make me happy ! I'm all pumped up, happy to be where I am and in good shape. With the FRA4 team, the atmosphere is good and we all go up to the takeoff in the radius around the summit of Säntis. On the way up to the launch Michael is busy optimizing the plan for the next day. We are in the playground of Martin Scheel, the team leader of the Swiss paragliding league, and he suggests a detour through Graubünden rather than a crossing of the canton of Glarus. "It could work, but it won't be easy" he says. Are we that close? We decide to go for it. At the takeoff, it is again the worst conditions imaginable which welcome us. Wind goes down in all the combe, it is steep and any mistake could be tragic. Taking off with such a tailwind on such a slope is risky. I unpack and prepare myself, hoping for a less windy window to take off. It comes slowly and I take off towards the Churfisten. I land in the last village, hotel room and restaurant to recover from another hard day.
2350m D+ / 45,39 km / 4 flights / 38,53 km
n the morning of the 7th day, I feel quite tired. My legs are heavy, but my mental is good. Joel accompanies me for the first climb of the day, the Chäserugg. A third of the way up, we are graced by a magnificent sunrise above the stagnant mist in the valley, it's one of those timeless moments when we simply let ourselves be dazzled by the morning light, alone in the middle of nature. It takes me a while to find a good rhythm. It's slow, but that's all I can do. Joël is boosted by the perspective of a flight he has always dreamed of, as he was in the army in Walenstadt. The take-off is incredible, on the cliffs dominating the Walensee. A light south wind allows me to inflate the wing and jump off the cliff. A glide follows, unfortunately way below my expectations. The south wind is already strong and my glide ratio is catastrophic. At the landing, I am a little depressed. That adds a good 5 kilometers on foot to join the trail which will lead us to the takeoff of Pizol. I have a solid breakfast while Michael packs my wing. Honestly, I think that if I knew how long would be the hike which awaited me after, I would have been really down. But one step after the other, I reach Sargans and start the uphill hike with a local and Michael. The plan was to stop at half slope on the official takeoff and to leave to the south then, the reality is that the gliders in the air are showing us that it is stable and that launching there was useless. We thus add a good 500m up to our hike to reach the south exposed ridge. The last meters are interminable, I am hungry and that's never ending. I reach painfully the take-off, Laurie is here too. Her team offers me a banana, it makes me feel better. We take off together and again, the conditions are not as expected. The wind from the South is quite strong, I try 3 times to pass the first ridge and each time I'm in a washing machine in the lee rotor. I give up and try to pass lower, as soon as the ridge will allow me to jump in the luv. When I finally can fly over, an alpinist is climbing on the rocky ridge and I surprise myself talking to him in my head. "Look at me guy, in case you should call Rega". That's how horrible and committed this passage was. Once on the other side, it's a rollercoaster ride in the wind-choked thermal again. At the next ridge I am finally on the right side, the air mass calms down and I could finally enjoy the place, which I know relatively well from having flown there many times in the world cup. Going up to the source of the Rhine is nevertheless a fight, the wind is still present, except that now that I'm going west, it's coming from the west... I progress, focused, ridge after ridge to reach Disentis, low but happy with the flight so far. At this moment, I'm thinking that I'm going to land because the thermals have disappeared with the shadow that the cumulus clouds bring. But my assistants are on fire and tell me to hang on, that it will work again. They are right, it works. Soaring up with the west wind, I gain altitude again and head towards the Oberalp pass. Just before the pass, it's 4pm and there are only East faces in front of me, obviously in lee again. But it's climbing. I still can't believe the moment when I glide to Andermatt! Once again, I have to make a choice: left side or right ? Michael tells me that Manu (GER1) is on the north facing slope and that he's soaring up. Unfortunately, the information arrives a bit late and I'm on the South exposed face. So I land in Hospental, deeply happy after an epic and ultra technical flight. "Tonight, guys, we sleep in Wallis !". A good refueling at the roadside and I'm off to the last piece of the day, the Furka. I've been there a number of times by car before, the curvy, narrow road is in front of me and in my souvenirs, it's not that long... Since when do we rely on car rides while hike and flying??? At the top of the curves, the distant memory of the straight line to the pass is in front of me and not distant anymore. God it's long, but, we sleep in Wallis!!! I'm invigorated by the mental strength that this perspective gives me. Joël is with me on the e-bike, the atmosphere is great and he still do not believe the distance covered today! The arrival at the pass brings tears to my eyes, the emotion is so intense, shared with the proudest dad in the world. In the emotional memories related to this sport, this is by far the most powerful I have ever had. It's ahead of world records, ahead of being a world champion. It's indescribable and yet, if we talk about the race, the ranking, this moment doesn't mean anything ! A good supper, laughter, sharing and we lay down for a cold night.
4200m D+ / 46,93 km / 2 flights / 96,45 km
In this morning of the day 8, I am fit, still a bit euphoric about yesterday. We opt for a takeoff on a small summit which will make us glide in the Goms valley. The weather is good, but hiking is a little difficult, the snow did not melt yet, the steps are careful, because often we get through the layer of snow and sink to the hip. With Alex, Adi (race photographer) and Melanie (his partner), we arrive at the take-off, the conditions are perfect, and this flight turns out to be magical, very smooth in morning light. Unfortunately, I have to shorten it by 2 kilometers because otherwise I would enter in the airspace of Münster. The day looks good despite a light foehn, and I have to hurry up to fly as far as possible. But before reaching the take-off of Fiesch, I have to pass through Fiesch village to sign the turnpoint. I opt for a fast pace, alternating running and walking, boosted by the prospect of a nice flight in my garden. The arrival at the turnpoint is again rich in emotions, my sister is there with my little niece, I am happy to see them. Signature, refueling and covid test and here we go for the hike. I meet Chrigel's assistant (SUI1) who is already on the way back to Zell am See, Thomas Theurillat, who is also my mental coach. He is completely stressed, Chrigel's GPS didn't charge during the night, and he has to bring him a cable at take-off. As if mistakes happen even to the most experienced. The meeting is short but the hug is warm: "you look happy, it's wonderful what you're doing, keep it up !". Coming from him who knows my problems and who has seen through my personality, it is an encouragement that is worth its weight in gold. The climb is shared with Beat (a local who is in phenomenal fitness for his age), he also guides us on the most efficient path and it's a welcome help. When we arrive at the take-off, Joël is there with my stuff and some friends, the atmosphere is great. Michel Lacher (GER3) is also with us, and we are off! It's not climbing very well, we land twice at the slope to temporize instead of flying away and risking to pass under the limit of the forest because then we would have to land in valley. At the third attempt, we finally manage to gain height and we are off for the classic Wallis descent. In the thermals, it drifts west, which means that the foehn is already present. Despite this, the conditions are more than acceptable compared to what I have experienced in this race so far. There are not too many difficulties until Crans-Montana, the sky is quite overcasted and the thermals are weakening. The lift is small, right on the pylon of the Plaine-Morte cable car, and it's difficult to use it correctly because there are 3 of us now, Eduardo (MEX1) has joined us. After this difficult part, we continue to progress towards the Diablerets. Now there is no more sun, the only way to climb is to soar on the cliffs of the glacier 3000. The wind is strong but the moment is magical, surreal. It climbs well, luckily because we'll soon have to jump on the canton of Vaud, to avoid the detour by Martigny. Each meter gained in flight means less walking, and we exploit the climb until the top of the cliffs, to jump then in the lee in direction of Villars. It works well, and behind the air mass is still quite buoyant, thanks to a convergence. Then I glide towards Le Bouveret, and finally land in Vouvry. A lot of friends are there, it's great, we define the plan for the next hours. Either to go up in direction of Tanay, which forces us to bivouac somewhere because there is no road, or to hike in direction of Bouveret, then to go up to Novel and to sleep there in the camping car. Not too motivated by a night in tent, we take the second option. In Bouveret, some colleagues from Villeneuve are there, they offer me a strawberry cornet and I am escorted in a good mood. On the forest road which brings me in direction of Novel, an Audi arrives on us. It is Reynald, our weather router, and his two sons. I'm happy to see them, but I feel less and less talkative, feeling quite tired. Joël says to me "if I had known it was so long I would have taken the e-bike! It makes me laugh, because despite the kilometers I'm covering, I still don't imagine to make them in another way than on foot! We arrive early at the campsite, what allows me to enjoy a good supper in company of David and Jerome, other friends who came to see us, and to make an interview with the RTS.
1700m D+ / 49,27 km / 2 flights / 104,34
The Dent d'Oche is not far, I have to go around it from the North. The sunrise is magnificent, it's David and Michael who accompany me for this warm up. We arrive at the take off to notice how hard is going to be the day. High altitude clouds are hiding the sun, there is south wind and thunderstorms are forecasted at the end of the day. Basically there is a small window of instability, and as soon as the sun will have warmed up enough, that is going to overdevelop and rain. We take off thinking to soar up the Dent d'Oche but it is too weak, and the flight is going to last 3 minutes. After having made a small crater in the valley below, we carry our gliders open to climb up 200m. With Eduardo and Michel, we take off again, heading south, direction Morzine. Small flight of 10 kilometers, not a single beep, we land in pastures at the entrance of Abondance valley. We leave on foot for the Pointe de la Croix, I really hope that we will be able to cover some distance by flying. We choose to wait a little at the take-off, we all want to leave this Chablais by the air. We finally take off, and directly after it, we have to cross a valley. On the other side, it's beeping, a light breeze allows us to soar up and we manage to progress, slowly, but by flying, it is the essential. I manage to land on the official landing of Morzine. Alex packs the glider and I relax a bit before going back on foot towards the Col de Joux Plane. The instability arrives as we hike up with Michel, we decide to push the pace not to miss the window. Arrived at the pass, it is a rush. The sky is already black on Samoëns, the rain threatens. Incredible how fast the weather changes. After having soaked my risers and lines in fresh cow shit, I take off in the direction of Mont-Blanc. It goes up, but I'm scared, it smells like rain, the wind is strong. I escape to land on the other side as soon as possible. I pack in a hurry and it starts to rain a little but the cloud that is pouring down has drifted away and I could have tried something. Too bad, now it is time to hike again, to find a takeoff because the forecast lets us dare a flight to approach the valley of Contamines. We emerge on the ridge above les Carroz, on the map, a clearing in the forest seemed to offer a good takeoff, but in reality... We continue to hike, to reach the top of ski slopes. There, it is the apocalypse. A huge storm arrives on us and it is absolutely necessary to find a shelter. Lightning falls on a pylon of the chairlift just beside us. It's scary but my assistant engineers keep telling me that on our little piece of terrace, we are protected. At this exact moment, Chrigel arrives at the end of the race in Zell am See. I send him a picture of the rain showers and congratulate him. This time I realize how difficult this race is and how strong he is. Slowly, the sky clears up and our flight window is coming We opt for a take-off under a power line, that feels really strange. The flight is calm and I am happy to be in the air, not to have to go down from this mountain on foot. I landed at the eastern end of Sallanches and decided to stop there for the night. Michel and Eduardo will continue hiking to cover 10 more kilometers.
3200m D+ / 32 km / 5 flights / 40,2 km
The alarm clock at 5am rings again, the fatigue is there but the mental is still good, and I learned these last days that the head can make me go forward even when the legs can't. I'm leaving on foot and I'm joined by Yves, who helped me a lot to find sponsors for this race. I was also afraid, before the start, that my performance would be not as good as people who helped me financially expected. Now, even if I know that I won't reach the goal in Zell am See, I feel that I have done a great job so far. We discuss it and he agrees, what I am showing is incredible. Now, a big piece of it stands on my way. The tour of the Mont-Blanc, on foot by the Col du Bonhomme and the Col de la Seigne, because the weather is terrible and gives no hopes of flying. I didn't manage very well the part from Saint-Gervais to the upper end of the valley. I did not eat enough and at lunchtime, I eat all I can but still feel that I should eat more, without being able to. We set out with Alex and Michael, and after a small hour of hike, I feel the hypoglycemia coming. It is critical, and the only way to stop it is to eat. Every 15 minutes, I eat something and it finally passes, phew ! The ascent to the col du Bonhomme is punctuated by thunderstorms, with hail as a bonus. When we finally arrive at the top, it is a surprise, the sky is clear in the Beaufortain. I have the impression be slow, but we pass nevertheless hikers who make the tour of the Mont-Blanc. Maybe it's not so bad after all... The good weather window allows me to take off and avoid the descent by foot and land at the foot of the col de la Seigne. A flight on a day when it was not supposed to fly is very appreciable. I see Eduardo who gets into the air left from the pass and dare to hope for the same outcome, but when we reach the pass, it is very windy and the terrain behind is very flat. This would mean taking off into the wind, crossing the pass and hoping that the downwash in the lee would not be too strong in order not to crash. The game is not worth the candle, and I have the (very very false) impression that Courmayeur is just there down, behind the first plateau below. We opt for a descent on foot or skiing on spring snow, having fun like a kid. The distance which separates me from Courmayeur is in reality 15 kilometers, I've already hiked 44 of since this morning... It is really very long, after every little plateau there is another one, the weather is always changing, light rain, wind and sometimes sun. We still manage to start laughing when Michael decides to interview me in Gavin's way. I finish the descent on Entrèves with Joël who has fun on the bike, looking forward to eat, the last meal was a long time ago. At the restaurant, I don't have any strength left, I eat my pizza but I don't have the patience to wait for dessert. I go to bed, but I won't sleep, too many things in my head. Joël has to go back to take care of his family (it was planned), Alex feels useless and wants to go back because whatever happens now, the result won't change. So I have to organize my things to put them in the California because only Michael and Dad will continue with me tomorrow. This stress prevents me from sleeping, and for the first time in this epic adventure, my mental is not strong anymore.
2850m D+ / 59,82 km / 1 flight / 6,82 km2850m D+ / 59,82 km / 1 vol / 6,82 km
Although late, waking up on this 11th day feels hard. The plan did not change, we separate the stuff and with Michael we leave in direction of the Pavillon, a take-off in the middle of the South faces of the Mont-Blanc. I'm cracking again, the tears come without I can do anything about it, I doubt. I am afraid with this fatigue to put myself in danger, not to take the right decisions in flight. Michael is there to support me, he makes a plan. When we get to the take-off, I have to sleep, and tonight we will be in Verbier. This prospect is pleasing but too far away for the moment. Joël joined us by bike and with Michael, they prepare a bed, in the glider. I sleep a little, which makes me feel a tiny better, then we get ready on the takeoff. The wind is good, and as soon as I get out, a nice lift allows me to climb. This thermal, I will realize a little later, is in fact a convergence of the North wind which flows behind the Col Ferret and of the valley breeze which rushes by Courmayeur. I leave in transition, hanged in the south faces, it's snowing under the clouds and now it's obvious, there would be only one thermal in this flight. I land with Michael in the Italian Val Ferret. We have to go up on foot to the Grand Col Ferret, from where we hope to launch direction home. The ascent is hard, since my mental is still failing, the legs do not want to work any more. We stop again for a nap in the grass, but I would not manage to sleep, unfortunately. Arrived at the pass, I finally see home. The goal is clear and all the energy I had lost returns to me. Griffon vultures indicate a thermal just in front of us, here we go. The flight is complicated, the North wind comes in strong in the valley and I have to fly against it. The vultures are thermalling with me in the lee side, it is a magnificent spectacle and they don't seem scared. When I arrived above Saleinaz, it starts to rain and I thought of landing high and wait that it goes away. Unfortunately, the area below me is in a free district (kind of natural parc), and I am not allowed to land or take off there. I am forced to continue under a light rain. To switch over Orsières it's hot, I'm really downwashed in the lee and I have to slalom between the trees to get over the ridge. Then I glide towards the West face of Six-Blanc, but my line is catastrophic and I loose a lot of altitude. Instead of landing at the bottom of the valley, I land at middle hill in La Rosière, directly joined by JP then Dad, Tim and a bunch of friends. I enjoy a nice refuel with Valle d'Aosta specialities and strawberries and, guided by Jean-René, we set off again to next take-off, hoping to soar up and to finally reach Verbier. My problems of the morning have totally disappeared, I feel like being in another day now. At take off, a lot of friends are there, they help me to prepare the glider and launch. In the air, the wind has weakened and it is not possible to soar, so I opt for a landing in Cotterg. Dad is there, but also the Brinkreve family, who supported me before the race. I enjoy the moment before heading up home by "le Reposoir", a trail I've done countless times in my training. Benjamin and Valentine join us, it's great to see young guys motivated to share a hike like this. Michael is amazed by the pace I can set now, thinking about how bad I was this morning. In Verbier village, I am greeted by cowbells, cheerfully shaken by Ruoss and Dédé, owner of Medran sport, who lent us an electric bike for the race. I am welcomed home by Mom, it's good to see her again and feel her pride. They cook me a good pasta dish and I get some choco banana muffins that Kasia (my flatmate) made. I slip into my cozy bed for a good sleep.
2700m D+ / 19,89 km / 3 flights / 33,51 km
Today is the penultimate day of the race and it's true, whatever I do, I don't risk elimination, so I'm enjoying the moment, and will finish this challenge that, I must confess, is now too long. We have to move on anyway, I'm not going to stay at home and wait for it to pass. I leave home alone in the direction of the Croix-de-Coeur. Michael slept at my parent's place, and I join him at Namasté. I take a break with a dried meat sandwich and a coffee, then we finish the hike to the pass. Up there, Lydia and other friends are waiting for me, and the rain also... It's not really the conditions we were expecting. The sky is gray and the showers, light certainly, follow one another. When it calms down, we go up a little bit higher to take off and jump in the lee of the pass, direction Nendaz. I manage to climb a little on the Fou ridge, to finally land at the foot of the Tracouet lifts. One more climb to get to a takeoff, in the beautiful larch forest of Balavaud. Arrived at Tracouet, Michael takes off and manages to fly away. His take-off is a bit on the limit, I'm not sure to manage over the trees in front, so decide to go to the official take-off a bit further. But the wind is strong, the rain is right next me, and I doubt. I take off, gain a few meters but land immediately because it rains again. It would be too stupid to go over the limit now, but I'm boiling while waiting. It annoys me that I don't dare to commit, knowing that it worked for Michael. But there is a fine line between reason and stupidity, I have to listen to my feelings. More waiting, then I get back in the air, soar up to the top of the Dent de Nendaz and glide towards Veysonnaz. The sky is nicer now, there is even sun. On the Piste de L'ours, I get my feet out of the cocoon to land when I feel a little lift. Focused, I manage to keep it and slowly to get out above Thyon 2000, and start the next transition to Nax, which is quite long. I reach the side of the mountain in the middle of the forest, but I don't manage to gain enough altitude to go around the Sion airport area. I have to make a decision and quickly, if I sink more, there will be no more landing possibilities and it would lengthen the next hike to Mont Noble. So I land on the slope, pack my glider and set off again for a takeoff on Nax ski piste. At the takeoff, I find Michael who is ready, and we launch together to move forward, in the main Rhone valley this time. At the landing, some friends are here, we laugh and we set the next meeting at the Relais Bayard for a nice piece of beef on hot stone, with my sister and her children and Joël's family. After having eaten, the tiredness assails me and I fall asleep at the table. There are still a few hours to go, so I motivate myself and take the direction of Niedergesteln where I will be hosted for the night by a friend of Michael, Thomas.
1900m D+ / 32,87 km / 3 flights / 42,13
It's the last day, I'm relieved, I didn't even dare to count them anymore because it was so long. I walk 2 hours to end my race in Visp. The official end of the race is at 11 am, but if I stop at that time, I won't have time to drive to Zell am See. The race director thinks it's great that I'm there, because I've achieved the biggest female performance in this crazy race. Something I haven't done in 12 days, I sit down in the car and we start driving with Dad. The kilometers don't have the same taste by car ! I offer him to drive a while, but it is incredible, all the adrenaline disappeared and I am unable to drive more than half an hour without falling asleep. My driver brings me to destination, and before the ceremony, I do some interviews and return the material lent by the organization. The award ceremony is a great party, many athletes are there and sharing about this adventure is really nice. I can see on everyone's marked faces how hard it was. The eyes are tiny, the noses burned by the sun. I'm congratulated by many and I realize more and more the quality of my performance.
0m D+ / 10,21 km
Total: 29’450m D+ / 527,41 km / 34 flights / 633,14 km
Soon after the end of the race, I get a lot of congratulations. Especially from women, who tell me that I was an inspiration. I am deeply touched by this, but deep down I know that my career was never motivated by the prospect of glory or being a model or so. I did what I wanted to do, progressed and worked to achieve my dreams, and that's the only advice I can give to ambitious people like me. My ego doesn't swell, I'll always be humble, but I'm proud of what we achieved with the whole team, in the performance aspect, but also the way we did it. I would never thank enough Alex, Joël and Michael for what they did. And sharing that adventure with my Dad is priceless.
Other athletes have talked about a kind of depression after the race. Back to reality, to normal life, can seem quite bland after 2 weeks of such intensity. Back home after this epic adventure, I don't experience this at all, fortunately, even if accepting the fatigue of the body and mind is not easy. I get up in the morning, at 5am, fall asleep again and dream. Dreams are showing me that the stress of the race isn't gone. The team that crashes the camping car or that I miss the start of the race because I did not wake up, these kind of things. Then I get up and think of nothing else but eating stocking energy again. The mornings are easy to manage, I work a little, but the afternoons are complicated. For a week and a half, a monumental energy crash hits me in the early afternoon, I have to sleep for 2 or 3 hours. I let myself go at this slow rhythm. Aware that it will pass, and the weather at the beginning of July doesn't leave too much room for the desire to do something else. After two weeks of heavy rest, I start the tandem season in Villeneuve. Mental is still high, it's time to earn money again and prepare for the next objective, the World Cup final in Disentis.
I'm ambitious, and this title is missing from my list of achievements. The weather is relatively good, it flies well, despite the wind, again and again... I am mentally surprisingly very calm. I want this title but I don't feel any pressure. I feel like I've put everything into my X-alps. In the air, I am calm, alert and accept the sometimes turbulent conditions without worry. Unfortunately, the start of the competition is not good for me. I'm still in X-alps mode, and don't optimize the flight speed and thermal climbs. I react, but the damage is done and the level is very high, I could not win. The podium yes, but what I identify at the time as a lack of success gives me a fourth place. I'm disappointed, but when I come back from the Furka after the competition, I remember how far I've come this year and I can't help but let this feeling of accomplishment swallow up the rest. There will be other World Cup finals!
Back to the tandem. Physical training has almost disappeared now. The lack of goals is certainly a factor, but I also don't want to push myself anymore in training. Riding my bike or hiking are therefore purely for fun. I enjoy cycling or walking without focusing on my heart rate and the times.
The next project of this year is in Brazil, hunting records. Reynald is injured, so I'm going to the Nordeste with a team of motivated Swiss-Germans. Dominic and Michael (Sigel) are the strongest pilots and those who have the most experience there. On the first flights, I am winched with other pilots, but somehow I can't fly with them, and I often find myself alone in the immensity of the Sertao. It is not easy, alone I feel a certain tension, a little fear of having to land somewhere without anyone knowing where I am, despite my satellite tracker. My choices in the air are greatly influenced by this, and I aim flying over roads, which obviously decreases my efficiency. The wind, which I need now, is not strong enough to hope to break my world record. At the middle of the trip, it increases a bit and a window of more than 500 potential kilometers appears. On October 15, I take off after Michi and Domi, catch up with them at the 3rd thermal and together we make an efficient flying group. At the beginning of the flight, Domi is a bit struggling, he gets annoyed to make us wait for him. We agree to stay together, aware of the efficiency that it brings to fly in group. Then, it is Michi who will have to low save from almost ground after a bad transition, then my turn to struggle towards the 2/3 of the flight. The 600 kilometers are not possible, it is too late, and they agree to wait for me. During the transition before the final plateau, we are joined by Tilen, who pushes hard for his last flight here. The convergence is there above Nova Russas, and this portion is easily flown. The end of flight in Brazil are always incredible, with the light of the sun which declines on these vast and infinite land. We pass the 500 kilometers mark, the record on direct line is still possible (531 kilometers, flight that I realized in 2019). All the small climbs are exploited, while letting us drift towards the West. In the end, I landed after 523 kilometers in a straight line, it misses a bit, but the feeling of accomplishment is there, because I passed the mythical 500 barrier for the second time, and I am still the only woman to have done it.
Zoio, a member of the logistic team arrives and we're heading to pick up others Swiss pilots who have landed shorter. We all sleep in Nova Russas after a cheesy pizza, and return the next day to Caico.
The lack of wind makes me shorten the flying part of this trip and I'm heading to Paracuru for a few days of kitesurfing and chilling, before returning to Switzerland.
In spite of the few big flights and the fact that there are no records, I feel and see that my level is there. My choices are right, I am efficient and serene, concentrated and motivated, the mindset is good. A good sign for the next and final objective in 2021, the world championships.
The choice to go back home for a week before leaving for Argentina is motivated by the travel constraints with 2 big luggage and the covid, even if it's a bit aberrant. Back in Verbier, I take advantage of a few days to do some sport again. I recently read that home is not a place, it's a feeling. The feeling of being in the right place, of doing what is important to us and what fulfills us as humans. Every time I come back here, that's exactly how I feel. So I'm glad I chose to come back, and I'm feeling ready when I fly to Buenos Aires with the Swiss team.
Initially planned in France, but cancelled and then moved because of the health situation at the beginning of May, these championships take place on a little known and unproven site. We only know a few characteristics of the site, mostly about weak thermals, which promises to make it hard. Arrived on site after a long journey, we join Jörg, our teamleader and we settle down in our house. I must admit that the cohabitation with 11 people in a house during 2 weeks worried me a lot. Being a loner and needing a lot of peace and quiet, I was afraid of not having enough quiet time, and also of taking the negative energy of other pilots in case of a bad performance. All this sounds like nothing, but I learned how important it is for me to have my mental at its best, and all the little things that can degrade it are significant. Fortunately, after a few days, the group life goes on and pretty well. I have also decided to change my mindset a little bit compared to Disentis. It's not bad luck if my results are not as good as I expected, and I should stop telling myself I have bad luck. As my mother says: "You can". So I go into this competition relaxed, knowing exactly what I need to do and what mistakes I shouldn't make. When I started competing, Martin (Scheel, head of the Swiss league) told me that one day I would be world champion, seeing my potential right from the start. I always dared to believe in it, but didn't necessarily know how to get there. After a few days of competition, I'm in the lead and it's time to call him for a debriefing. The conclusion of this phone call is that I am able to do it, that I just need to continue to fly without pressure, being concentrated and be thoughtful.
The competition is unfortunately punctuated by countless protests due to decisions of the organization and airspace infractions. I have to keep my mental strength, stay in my performance mode, put aside everything that happens and continue to fly well. It's not easy, because everything can change the ranking. There are now 2 potential tasks left, and I'm still at the top of the leaderboard, on my way to achieve another dream. But it's not over, and in this sport, it's not over until both feet touch the ground on the last day of the competition. The pressure increases on my side, inevitably. Knowing more than ever what I have to do, I am ready for these last two tasks motivated, ready to fight, keeping a constant eye on my opponents, which normally I avoid doing because it is counter productive. I manage to control, stay high and not risk bombing out, I do the job, taking a little more margin on the final glide to La Conceptiòn. The line is crossed, and I know it, I am world champion. It's a relief, mixed with a certain pride that I keep for myself. What a journey I have made, with ups and downs, but with an incredibly strong mindset I finish this year by lifting the Grail of any competition pilot. A great party is organized, I finally let myself go. The first feeling on the next morning about being world champion is that my head hurts!
Back home, it's a question that will come up often: "How does it feel to be world champion?" To tell you the truth, I don't know... I feel like the emulation is stronger in my surroundings than in my head. I don't know if it's out of embarrassment or humility that I can't answer that question. It's always been a goal that was attainable, being motivated by this title has been a part of my life and now that I have it, it seems like a logical continuation. Concerning the next steps, there will always be challenges to face, there are 17 pilots in front of me and many others who were not present who are better than me. I still have to learn, to work on becoming better. But now I realize how important the mental side is in this sport, also tactics, because the technical background of the bests is really similar!
Choosing to make my passion my life has never been easy. It is not a sport in which you earn a lot, because the media coverage is low. It is clear that I have "the good life" as some would say, but I had to dare. Dare to dream of making a living out of it, and dare to take this risk, without any certainty that it would work. To get a place in the world of the "big boys" is not easy. I learned a lot by myself, which led me to many mistakes that mainly impacted a result, others more serious that endangered my physical integrity or even my life. I have always had some luck in my misfortunes, and had to fight to get back on the right track after these close calls. It's part of this sport which can be risky. I wish now to continue this progression, while always enjoying flying, also sometimes without goals, just for the beauty of gliding in the sky in my mountains that I love so much and for the well-being that it brings me. The day I no longer enjoy racing, I hope to get back on my feet and find a job that gives me as much satisfaction. In other words, it's not tomorrow!
Hope you enjoyed reading ! See you soon, Yael
Hello à tous!
Il était bien temps de vous donner des nouvelles sur ma préparation !
Donc voilà, à moins de deux jours de la course, posée au camping de Wagrain, je vais prendre quelques minutes pour résumer les dernier mois qui se sont écoulés... Malheureusement ce ne sera pas en images, ma connexion internet est trop mauvaise.
Je m'étais arrêtée au mois de mars, après l'annonce de la route. Ca me semble être il y a une éternité tellement le temps a passé vite, je dois faire défiler ma galerie photo pour me rappeler ce que j'ai fait !
Avril, c'était le mois de transition entre les skis et les baskets. J'avais gentiment mangé assez de dénivelé en bord de piste pour passer en mode marche !
La dernière belle sortie à ski, c'était le Rogneux, agrémentée d'une descente en biplace, avec Yves, manager à ses heures perdues, à qui je dois beaucoup. Grâce à lui le budget a été bouclé.
Je fais ensuite une petite escapade par le Tessin pour aller voler un peu et reconnaître une portion du parcours qui s'annonce bien technique.
Le 18 avril, le coach m'a mis au programme un kilomètre vertical. Joël vient avec moi pour me montrer qu'il a une caisse d'enfer. J'avale les 1000m de dénivelé en 55 min au rupteur. Et ouais, le bon diesel que je suis n'aime pas trop ce genre d'effort !
Le 20 avril, je profite d'une belle journée pour me dégourdir les plumes! Au départ de Verbier, je réalise un superbe vol de 208 km en allant tourner à Ugine puis aux Pléiades et rentrer à Verbier.
Le 25 avril je remets des kilomètres au compteur avec un superbe triangle de 222km depuis le Niesen.
En mai, je suis décidée à faire du volume pour gagner en confiance en vol. La météo ne me laissera pas beaucoup d'options. Du coup je marche et cours dans la neige et la boue. Pas le plus cool, mais je dois avouer que descendre les pistes de ski en baskets c'est un petit jeu que j'aime bien !
Je ressors aussi le vélo de route et le vtt pour varier les sorties.
Le 15 mai, on fait une journée test (similaire à une journée xalps) avec Alex pour voir un peu comment on s'organise sur une journée de course. C'est très intéressant et on apprend beaucoup.
Les sollicitations médiatiques augmentent sérieusement à partir du 20 mai. Je joue le jeu, mais croyez moi, je n'aime pas ça. J'essaie toujours de rester moi même et de me détacher de tout ça pour ne pas me mettre de pression. Facile à dire, on verra si ça marche! Je ressens également les attentes que tout le monde a par rapport à ma participation à cette course. Advienne que pourra, j'aurais fait de mon mieux niveau prépa pour être au top!
En juin, la charge d'entraînement diminue drastiquement. Heureusement car je ne sais pas où donner de la tête. C'est difficile de s'imaginer tout ce dont on a besoin au niveau matériel, électronique, nourriture, etc...
Mes checklists se remplissent petit à petit, le jour du départ approche et il me manque l'élément principal, la maison Sui4. On va avec Alex chercher le camper à Thun le vendredi 11 pour un départ le 14, le temps de tout charger et essayer d'organiser de tout de façon logique.
Ma semaine de préparation à Wagrain avec Alex me démontrera que la logique c'est subjectif. Je le laisse donc gérer ça un peu comme il le pense car c'est lui et Joël qui vont devoir savoir où se trouvent les choses. Cette semaine est la dernière avant la course, on passe par une série de checks, matériel, médical, branding (ils veulent voir si on a bien apposé les logos au bon endroit).
Aujourd'hui, dernier jour. Je suis sollicitée au dernier moment pour la conférence de presse officielle à Salzburg, dans le mythique hangar 7. Je reviens au camping ensuite pour finaliser avec toute l'équipe les détails.
C'est parti pour la grande aventure !
Merci d'avoir suivi ma préparation, MERCI à mes sponsors et à vous tous de me soutenir par vos messages, d'avoir contribué de quelconque manière pour me permettre de vivre ce rêve !
Je vous invite à suivre le live tracking sur https://www.redbullxalps.com/live-tracking.html
A plus !
Salut à tous !
Je profite de cette première semaine de vrai repos pour revenir sur les 4 derniers mois.
Depuis le 13 octobre, date à laquelle la sélection des athlètes de la Red Bull X-Alps a été annoncée, mon objectif de participer à cette course mythique est devenue une réalité, et ma préparation une obsession !
Depuis novembre, suivie par un nouveau coach (Michael Randin, ancien cycliste pro), la charge de travail en endurance n'a fait que d'augmenter, mettant mon corps et mon mental parfois à rude épreuve.
Concilier travail et entrainement n'est pas toujours évident, et je l'avais passablement ressenti sur les derniers hivers avec une nette baisse de forme en fin de saison dûe au manque de repos, Grâce à tous les dons et les sponsors trouvés, j'ai pu mettre de côté mon travail de prof de ski cet hiver pour me consacrer à fond dans cette préparation.
Premier mois avec Michael comme coach. Il a fallu 2 semaines pour adapter l'entraînement à ma forme physique, trouver les bonnes intensités. L'essentiel de l'entrainement de ce mois s'est fait à pieds, parfois avec le sac que j'aurais pendant la course (7kg), parfois avec une voile légère juste pour redescendre. La météo était magnifique et c'est beaucoup plus facile de s'entrainer avec le soleil. J'ai souvent répété les mêmes itinéraires car il y a des lieux où l'on se sent bien, chez soi, et j'aime y retourner, je ne me lasse jamais des ces montagnes et ces points de vue uniques. Le mois s'est terminé avec 30'000m de dénivelé positif dans les jambes pour 25 sorties.
J'ai aussi été voir une nutritionniste, car j'avais tendance à ne pas bien récupérer, avoir souvent les jambes lourdes. L'objectif n'était pas de faire un régime mais de trouver ce qui me manquait. J'ai donc recommencé à manger de la viande, ainsi qu'à ajouter pas mal de lipides dans mon alimentation, le tout avec beaucoup de verdure. Depuis je me sens vraiment mieux au niveau de l'énergie.
La neige arrive, l'envie de ressortir les skis aussi ! Les premières sorties en ski alpinisme ont vraiment été dures. Il parait que c'est normal lors d'un changement de sport. Personnellement, la première semaine m'a déprimé ! Ensuite tout est rentré dans l'ordre et j'ai enchainé la même montée encore et encore. Là c'est sûr que ça a été un peu rébarbatif et ennuyeux, mais les conditions de neige ne permettaient pas grand chose d'autre, par contre je pouvais descendre en vol.
C'est en décembre que je signe un partenariat pour la X-alps avec Decalia (https://www.decaliagroup.com/fr/). Créée en 2014 à Genève, DECALIA SA est une société de gestion privée et institutionnelle. DECALIA s’est développée rapidement, notamment grâce à l’expérience de gestion active acquise par ses fondateurs au cours des 30 dernières années. Sa philosophie d’investissement repose sur plusieurs principes fondamentaux : une gestion du risque rigoureuse, la préservation du capital et la sélection des meilleurs talents.
Juste avant Noël, une journée particulière niveau météo m'a permis de me dégourdir les plumes ! Parce que oui, mon sport avant tout, c'est de voler !
Arrive les vacances de Noël, pendant lesquelles j'ai décidé de travailler avec mes clients les plus fidèles. L'année 2020 se termine avec les mêmes statistiques en terme d'entrainement qu'en novembre. Mon corps tient bien le choc !
On repart pour un mois de ski de randonnée. Les entrainements varient avec des périodes de plus en plus longues à haute intensité. Globalement je suis satisfaite de ma forme. Forcément, j'en bave certaines fois, mais je suis tellement focalisée sur l'objectif final que j'accepte de me faire du mal, à pousser la machine. Des fois les gens que je croise en montant sur les pistes doivent se dire que j'ai un grain, à souffler comme une otarie en poussant sur mes bâtons !
Il y a aussi en plus du travail d'endurance, les 2 séances hebdomadaires de renforcement musculaire, gainage principalement. Je crois que c'est la partie de l'entrainement qui demande le plus de détermination tellement je n'aime pas ça.
Je re-signe un partenariat avec Phida Groupe (anciennement G.Dentan, partenaire depuis 5 ans déjà). Phida est une entreprise de construction spécialisée dans l'étanchéité, basée à Lausanne (https://www.dentan.ch).
Janvier se termine également avec les mêmes statistiques d'entrainement, 30'000 de dénivelé positif et une grosse motiv' !