Acro world champion goes the distance
Théo de Blic takes part in the X-Alps
It may be initially surprising that acro world champion Théo de Blic (26) will compete with top athletes such as Chrigel Maurer, Aaron Durogati and Paul Guschlbauer in probably the world's toughest XC adventure race - but anyone who knows Théo knows that he has many of the skills needed to succeed. After all, he handles his paraglider like no one else, is familiar with extreme situations at take-off as well as in the air and has an amazing level of physical fitness. Perhaps it is precisely his unusual background as an acro professional that was the reason Red Bull chose him from the many applicants. On the X-Alps website, event manager Ulrich Grill says the following: “Some of the most exciting elements of the race are often the unique personalities who compete in it. For 2021, we can certainly expect a thrilling mix of fresh faces and returning veterans.” Looking back on past races, we can only agree. Théo's joyful anticipation of being among the “new faces” on the 20th June 2021 becomes clear when he explains why he has applied.
Théo de Blic: “When I started acro nobody really believed that I would have the career I have had so far. But for me it was a huge motivation - I always loved to say ‘I can do that’ and then prove to the rest of the world that I could. At the time I was also what you’d call a chubby kid. So if my acro career seemed unlikely to many, me taking part in the X-Alps was not something that crossed anyone’s mind. When I started to train a bit more physically, lose weight and get fitter, I started to consider it. I have proven myself a lot in terms of my acro skills and I wanted a new challenge - something unexpected and something that I could be proud of as well. That’s how the X-Alps project started to grow in my mind. Then Nova came to me and told me that if I were to go for it, they would support me 100% and with all the equipment as well. From my previous experience with the acro project, I know how they can build incredible products from scratch. I knew that if they put their mind and energy into building me a full X-Alps setup I’d get something really great! So I decided, I have everything to gain from such an adventure!”
But despite starting to fly at the age of 12, does he have a realistic chance of winning? Admittedly, Théo does not appear in the XContest so far, but he still has a lot of experience in cross-country flying. He will need the colourful mixture of plenty of airtime from an early age, proven G-force resistance, intensive mountain running training and determination for the competition. Exactly like his support team that will be made up of close friends. Théo says:“I know the team very well, because it’s a similar team to the one I had during my last hike and fly races. So we have learnt to work together well. We also know what we did wrong in the past and what we need to improve. Our aim is to mostly train in the air along the route so I can fly the places I don’t know yet. I am really counting on the local NOVA team pilots who will be able to show me around their home area and tell me the secrets to fly there successfully!”
Our support also includes a 2-liner specially designed for the X-Alps as well as a lightweight harness. The names of the products have not been finalised - the working titles are "NOVA X-Alps paraglider" and "NOVA X-Alps harness". Designer Philipp Medicus, test pilot Fabian Gasteiger and the NOVA development team are currently pulling out all the stops when it comes to the wing. “In the last few years we built some 2-liner prototypes. With the focus on the X-Alps there is now not only a fixed deadline, but also a concrete specification: the wing has to be high-performance, easy to fly and it must be very light. Combining these characteristics makes the design very challenging and we are very pleased with the progress so far. Théo is closely involved in the development and flies the prototypes cross-country as well as the manoeuvres required for the certification tests."says Philipp Medicus. The harness is also designed especially for the X-Alps. Luis Depping, harness designer at NOVA, invests a lot of time and technical know-how in the optimisation of all details: “The bar is set very high. For the X-Alps you need an ultralight as well as aerodynamic harness. We are experimenting with super-light materials which have not been used in harnesses to date. The protector technology will also be a new innovation on the market, and in addition it will be record-breakingly light. Therefore I am confident that Théo will be very well equipped with our gear, whatever the race brings.”
Inside the company, the new wing has already recruited another fan… NOVA’s legendary Toni Bender, famous as a test pilot and for the film Der glückliche Ikarus (The Happy Icarus), which documented his crossing of the Alps by paraglider in 1999. Toni explains: “To fly this glider I happily drive to Bassano for the day and then back home in the evening. It’s a really fun wing to fly.” In terms of potential, the new NOVA X-Alps paraglider reminds him a little of the 1995 XENON. That model was by far the most successful competition wing at the time. So successful that nearly all pilots in the top 10 of the Paraglding World Cup were flying one. On the current prototype, Toni praises not only the performance but also the easy launch behaviour - one of the reasons why X-Alps contenders prefer to fly EN D paragliders rather than CCC. Or, as Toni Bender says: “You don’t drive a Formula One car off-road”. Together Théo and Toni are currently thoroughly testing the new ‘XENON’ and he makes the following observation on the design process: “Initially we developed the wing for Théo’s size, i.e. for an all-up weight of 80 kg.That is the smallest and therefore also the most complicated size. This is true to our promise to also build good gliders for light pilots.”
Unlike Théo’s acro glider GLITCH, which was designed exclusively for him, the NOVA X-Alps glider is a model that will also be available to other participants in the competition. After the conclusion of the X-Alps 2021, the wing will be generally available. For the NOVA X-Alps harness the planning is different - for general sales there will be a version of the competition harness adapted to customer needs. Regardless of the equipment, the X-Alps remain the dream of many paraglider pilots. Even if only a few can part, like Théo. So it is all the better that he and his support team will keep us up to date throughout the race. We are very excited and will happily share their reports. We will be cheering for Théo and regardless of his final rankings will celebrate together. Because we are extremely proud of Théo.