3 time champ Sam Sutton leads another paddler down the middle of the course. Photo by David Spiegel

Three time Sickline champion Sam Sutton leads another paddler down the middle of the course. Photo by David Spiegel

When the world’s top kayakers began arriving in Austria’s Oetztal this week, they were greeted with sunny days, low flows and the technical lines that make the annual Adidas Sickline Championships one of Europe’s most-anticipated whitewater events. Overnight rain brought water up significantly on Wednesday, however, and racers found themselves training on a much more difficult run.

“Today showcased some serious carnage out on the course,” says Sickline 2014 competitor and C&K contributing photographer David Spiegel. “Moderate temperatures and clear, cold nights could bring levels back down for race day, but only time will tell.”

This year’s race will be a showdown of champions. Three-time Sickline winner Sam Sutton of New Zealand will go head to head against last year’s top finisher, Joe Morley (GBR), as well as the the race’s original champion, Thilo Schmitt (GER), who is looking to reclaim his 2008 title

But there are plenty of North Americans looking to take home their continent’s first title as well. Spiegel reports the Jackson Team — which includes paddlers Joel Kowalski (CAN), Nick Troutman (CAN) and Dane Jackson (USA) — is looking strong. “A lot of well known pro boaters are on the course perfecting their lines,” says Spiegel who has been training on the glacial-fed Class V rapids of the –tztaler Ache River all week, “but one thing that we tend to forget in the U.S. is just how many crazy fast slalom paddlers there are in Europe.”

A number of racers are arriving fresh from the Slalom World Championships in Maryland, including France’s Nouria Newman who earned the title of “Sickline Queen” last year, and recently made kayaking history by becoming the first woman to paddle Site Zed on the Stikine River.

In a race where winners typically finish in less than a minute, competition is tight and each move crucial. Spiegel predicts water levels will be a significant factor in the outcome of the race. “Lower flows make the rapids more predictable and emphasize the importance of the sprint section, which plays to the advantage of slalom racers. On the other hand, high flows make the holes a lot more random and seem to play to the strengths of the creek boaters.”

Upwards of 120 competitors will face off in the initial qualifier Friday, which will be held on the last two drops of the main course followed by a long section of technical Class II. Only 48 racers will advance to race on the full course. On Saturday morning, that number will be cut to 26, then to 15 for the final round.

Early risers looking to get a little vicarious adrenaline with their breakfast this weekend should tune into the Sickline 2014 live stream on CanoeKayak.com at 8 a.m. EST/ 7 a.m. CST/ 6 a.m. GMT/ 5 a.m. PST to catch the finals.

Check out highlights from the 2013 race below: