Red Bull Rampage Recap
Brandon Semenuk wins again
Since the Red Bull Rampage’s modest beginnings in 2001 when only about a hundred people showed up to watch it (including some members of the Mountain Bike Action staff), the event has evolved to become one of the most widely anticipated events in cycling. Held in the rugged hills of Virgin, Utah, near Zion National Park, the Rampage tests the courage, skills and toughness of the wildest riders in our sport.
Most mountain bikers know what it’s like to check out an extremely treacherous downhill trail for the first time. If you’re smart, you’ll probably come to a stop, eye- ball it, decide whether it’s rideable or not, then ride or walk your bike down—or around—the scary section of trail.
The riders in the Red Bull Rampage still stop to check out the terrain once in a while, but they usually do it for a different reason. These guys look at sections like that to figure out if they’re going to do backflips or 360s over them. These could well be the most talented riders in the world, or maybe they’re just the craziest.
Over the years the Red Bull Rampage has gone from an event where riders launched themselves off 10- and 12-foot cliffs in 2001 to one where they jump down 40- or 50-foot cliffs today. Each year the riding has gotten more impressive.
No one knows that fact better than Kyle Strait, who has competed in every one of the events, including the first one in 2001 when he was only 14 years old. He finished in ninth place that year and earned $125 for his efforts (Wade Simmons earned $2500 that year for the win). Three years later, in 2004, a 17-year-old Kyle Strait did a 70-foot suicide no-hander to win that year’s Rampage finals. After that, the people at Red Bull reportedly decided that the event was getting too dangerous and stopped holding the event for a few years. By then, the kind of riding they had helped promote had grown so popular that they brought the event back in 2008. That was when another rising star, 17-year-old Brandon Semenuk, won it for his first time. After that, the event ran again in 2010 and 2012. Since then, it has been held every year.
WHAT ABOUT THE DOWNHILL STARS?
Since the event’s beginning, Red Bull has sought to have the best riders in the world compete in the Rampage. To that end, the organizers frequently invite top downhill racers. World champion downhillers Greg Minnaar and Gee Atherton have both competed at the Rampage in the past. Minnaar took seventh in 2003, and Atherton finished second in both 2004 and 2010. World Cup downhill star Cedric Gracia did even better. He finished second at the Rampage in 2002, then won the event in 2003.
Knowing that history, we asked America’s top downhiller, four-time World Cup champion Aaron Gwin, if he had been invited to compete as well. Gwin told us, “I have been invited to the Rampage a few times but have never really been interested. That sport has elevated to new levels these past few years, and the risk involved to compete at a high level is more than I want to take, considering that my career is in racing specifically. That being said, I think it’s an awesome event, and I always look forward to watching it every year.” He’s not the only one.
For 2016 a change was made to the rules. No wooden structures could be added to the course as either jumps or landing ramps. In the last few events Red Bull had sent out work crews to build wooden ramps and jumps that the riders could use in their runs. For 2016 Red Bull chose to do away with these wooden features, and the riders went back to using natural terrain. The competitors and their “dig teams” (two assistants per rider, picked by the riders) were allowed to use picks, shovels and sandbags to create the ramps they needed to put on a show for the judges and the spectators. Each rider got a certain number of sandbags, so competing riders teamed up so they could pool their sandbags to create safer takeoff and landing ramps for their toughest tricks.
The event was broadcast live on RedBull.com and was scheduled to be shown on NBC television a few weeks later. Riders and their teams were given a few days to prepare their lines down the steep cliffs of the latest Rampage site. The dig teams spent most of their time shaping the approach paths, the jumps and the landings the riders would use. When the competitors started riding, they would normally practice just one section at a time until they got comfortable with it, then move on to the next section. Most of the riders held off doing complete runs from top to bottom, including all their tricks, until the finals. The risks were too high. If they made one mistake, they could be out of the competition. When the finals started, the riders finally put everything together, dropped in, threw down their best moves and found out how they scored.
Though the wind was a bit stronger than the riders might have liked, the riders all ripped and everyone survived. Brandon Semenuk won the second Red Bull Rampage of his career, topping off a stellar run with a one-footed can-can backflip over one of the biggest jumps at the contest site. Though he didn’t do as many big tricks as Semenuk, Antoine Bizet pulled the first double backflip in the event’s history, and the resulting score put him in second place for the event. Carson Storch put in a stellar run, too, earning him third place this year, thanks to a trick that the judges rated the best of any competitor—a flat-spin 360 off a huge step-down—which he pulled flawlessly. Kurt Sorge and Kyle Strait, who are both two-time winners of the event, took fourth and fifth, respectively, with more great runs. We suspect that most of the competitors were happy to complete the event in one piece, no matter where they finished.
One of the biggest surprises of the com- petition was a visit from Paul Basagoitia. After suffering a bad crash at the 2015 event that left him unable to walk for weeks, “Bas” returned to the latest event as a spectator, arriving at the finish area on his feet and walking with the help of two canes. It was good to see him again, back with his friends and on the road to recovery.
RED BULL RAMPAGE 2016
1. Brandon Semenuk, Trek, Canada, 84.33
2. Antoine Bizet, Kona, France, 81.00
3. Carson Storch, Rocky Mountain, USA, 79.00
4. Kurt Sorge, Polygon, Canada, 78.66
5. Kyle Strait, Commencal, USA, 78.33
6. Thomas Genon, Canyon, Belgium, 77.66
7. Tyler McCaul, GT, USA, 76.00
8. Andreu Lacondeguy, YT, Spain, 75.33
9. Pierre Edouard Ferry, Commencal, France, 74.33
10. Tom Van Steenbergen, Trek, Canada, 73.33
11. Darren Berrecloth, Canyon, Canada, 70.66
12. Remy Metailler, Commencal, France, 66.33
13. Kyle Norbraten, Specialized, Canada, 62.66
14. James Doerfling, Knolly, Canada, 60.33
15. Brett Rheeder, Trek, Canada, 54.00
16. Graham Agassiz, Kona, Canada, 50.66
17. Cameron Zink, YT, USA, 47.33
18. Conor MacFarlane, Knolly, New Zealand, 43.33
Carson Storch, step-down 360 drop
Kelly McGarry Spirit Award
Conor MacFarlane (the 21 athletes in the event voted for the rider they thought most embodied the spirit of McGarry throughout the event.)
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