The World’s Toughest Team Relay Race: Who’s Gonna Be this Year’s Dolomiten Man?

(Photo Credit: Philipp Schuster / Red Bull Content Pool)

This extreme team relay race consists of a mountain runner, a paraglider, a mountain biker, and a whitewater kayaker, taking part in the ultimate endurance test in the mountains of East Tirol. One of the gnarliest races on the planet, the Dolomiten Man race is billed as the “world’s toughest team relay race” held each year in September in Lienz, a mountain town with a population of 12,000. The founder and organiser of this extreme event is Werner Grissmann, a former World Cup skier and self-proclaimed “tough guy” who invented this insane competition back in 1998. Featuring mountain running, paragliding, kayaking, and mountain biking, this four person relay puts the most extreme endurance athletes to the test in the iconic Dolomites Mountain Range. Rocky terrain, shifty winds, big water, and a massively steep uphill run are just some of the extreme elements that competitors have to face. In other words, this race is not for the faint of heart. This does not seem to deter the participants, though, as the race fills to capacity very quickly each year. In 2017, brave athletes will compete for the highly coveted title of “Dolomiten Man” on September 9.

Are you courageous enough? Would you dare to enter? Mountain running, paragliding, mountain biking or whitewater kayaking?

1. Mountain Running

(Foto: Philip Platzer / Red Bull Content Pool)

Former World Cup Ski Jumper and repeated Dolomiten Man Competitor Andreas Goldberger on his way up, up, up. (Photo Credit: Philip Platzer / Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Body: The trail climbs two thousands of meters, heading up steeply and requiring the use of hands in sections where the push is nearly vertical. This thigh burner is going up for some 1.5 to 2.5 hours and requires some serious stamina. Walking the route would take twice as long.
  • Mind: Although the route is marked with yellow flags in the forest, with red-white-red tape and with Dolomiten Man signs it’s easy to get lost in the heat of the moment. Thus the aim of the game is to stay focused.
  • Fun: Very little, despite the stunning views at the finish that tops out at 2,241 meters on Kuhbodentörl, 2,000 meters above the starting point. As former ski jumper and Dolomiten Man competitor Andreas Goldberger puts it: “The worst things are the final five minutes before the start and the first five minutes after the finish. In between, all you try to do is to turn off the brain.”

Dolomiten Man Mountain Running Course: Lienz, Main Square – Amlach – Goggsteig – Klammbrückl – Hallebachtal Valley – Kuhbodentörl

2. Paragliding

Paul Guschlbauer mit seinem Gleitschirm im Schlepptau. (Foto: Martin Lugger / Red Bull Content Pool)

Paul Guschlbauer with his paraglider in tow. (Photo Credit: Martin Lugger / Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Body: Paragliding in this event requires some serious stamina, too, as athletes have to run 500 meters uphill to the first take-off point with the whole equipment in tow. After descending by air to Moosalm, the paraglider has to run (again!) to a second take-off point, some 100 meters above.
  • Mind: To tackle this task, pilots, obviously, have to be with no fear of heights and speed. The take-off point atop Kuhbodentörl is in high Alpine terrain and pilots have to soar down to the valley floor as fast as possible.
  • Fun: Well. Little. There’s simply not enough time to take in the awesome views over the jagged Lienz Dolomites. “The biggest challenge is to turn your focus from the physical challenge to safely navigating through the Dolomites,” says two-time Paraglider Dolomiten Man Paul Guschlbauer.

Dolomiten Man Paragliding Course: Start: Kuhbodentörl – Stopover: Taxer Moos (‘Moosalm’) – Finish: Dolomiten Stadium

3. Mountain Biking

(Foto: Martin Lugger / Red Bull Content Pool)

Alban Lakata, one of the four Dolomiten Men in 2014. (Photo Credit: Martin Lugger / Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Body: Mountain bikers need excellent endurance and a good cardiovascular system to climb a nasty 1,600 vertical meters (at racing speed), to hike-a-bike and to rush down the mountain in the end.
  • Mind: A thigh burner going up—and above all a challenge that calls for extra caution descending.
  • Fun: Presumably bigger downhill than uphill. Professional snowboarder and Dolomiten Man competitor Benjamin Karl about the course: “It all starts with the crossing of a river. The uphill part provides bikers with a very good workout, before launching into a relentless downhill blast of gravity-assisted speed and excitement. During their epic odyssey from Lienz to the village of Leisach, the mountain bikers ascend and plummet 1,600 meters in altitude.”

Dolomiten Man Mountain Biking Course: Lienz, Dolomiten Stadium – Moosalm – Hochstein Hut – Hochstein Cross – Gamper Hut – Hochstein Hut – Leisach (Sports Ground)

4. Whitewater Kayaking

Harald Hudetz (Foto: Mirja Geh / Red Bull Content Pool)

Harald Hudetz in his favourite element. (Photo Credit: Mirja Geh / Red Bull Content Pool)

  • Body: Kayakers are faced with a true test of stamina and determination as they need to race with clean, fast and efficient stroke after stroke after stroke after stroke.
  • Mind: Should not be attempted by those with a fear of heights. Right at the start, paddlers brave free fall in a terrifying vertical drop of seven meters, launching off a bridge in their boats.
  • Fun: Paddlers have a chance to test their mettle in challenging whitewater rapids—and they’ll either love it or hate it. Here’s what repeated Dolomiten Man Harald Hudetz said about the new course in 2014: “Even up to now the course was extremely difficult, with swims, launching off ramps, and upstream gates on river rapids. And now it’s even getting harder. There’s an additional overland portage at the Isel cataract falls, followed by one kilometer upstream paddling to Lienz—and at the end of the race you’ll find yourself sprinting to the finish line, carrying boat and paddle. Well, seems like we put up with everything they throw our way.”

Dolomiten Man Whitewater Kayaking Course: Start: Leisach Sports Ground – Finish: Lienz, Main Square. Sprint and swim across the river where the boats are situated, launching off the 7-meter ramp into the river. After the jump, the kayakers must navigate a difficult 5-kilometer long whitewater track upstream on exposed and wild Drau and Isel rivers. Paddlers face strong currents in their 35-minute long quest for glory, which might result in exhaustion-induced hallucinations.

So what’s your pleasure?

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(Header Photo:Philipp Schuster / Red Bull Content Pool)


When he is not working, Michael Gams is out exploring this beautiful country, hiking, mountain biking, freeriding and ski touring to the most beautiful spots in Tirol.

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