Welcome to the Super Bowl of Freeride Mountain Biking. The iconic Red Bull Rampage wrapped up its 15th running since 2001 on Friday, October 15, 2021, with a sell-out crowd, plenty of star power in a global athlete roster, and more breath holding and exhilaration than you might have thought possible — especially when experiencing the event live from the southwest corner of Utah. Red Bull Rampage has become the undisputed test of skill and mental fortitude on a mountain bike, touted as one of the most challenging events in the world and featuring just a handful of the sport’s athletes. The event has become the most coveted title in freeride mountain biking.
After nine days of digging and route building and crafting a massive outdoor venue up from the desert floor, the dedicated and spirited hardcore crowd flowed into the makeshift mesa stadium by Rzr, bike and other various and sundry 4x4s for the culmination of the only event of its kind. The Red Bull Rampage is unique not just among sporting events but stands out even within the world of extreme sports.
It’s the only event of its kind where the riders actually have to pre-pick and hand craft their own line of descent, out of a desert landscape, with hand tools and three team members — the athlete (rider) and two “diggers.” The focus for judges (and spectators) is nuanced: they look for quality and decision making in choice and construction of line of descent, personal style and personal expression, the speed/control continuum, and yes, extremity of tricks thrown, including backflips, rarer front flips, 360-degree spins, tabletops, tailwhips and other more difficult to discern modern freeride tricks.
With roots in both Freestyle BMX and Downhill Mountain Biking, the term freeride is most often attributed to Snowboarding, adopted to mountain biking specifically on terrain without already established trails and features. Yet even its cousin Big Mountain Skiing doesn’t require the amount of sheer hard work and risk these athletes put themselves through. Because the X Games could never quite recover from its 2013 Freeride debut (foul weather prevented them from getting the course right), Red Bull has almost singlehandedly led the charge on these global Freeride events, culminating once a year each fall for the last 20 years in the canyon lands surrounding Virgin, Utah.
I’ve studied (and participated in) extreme sports for more than 20 years, and I was literally blown away by the Red Bull Rampage, something that you really do need to see in person to truly grasp — although the massive amount of POV and high-res overhead coverage does an amazing job of bringing it to viewers on big and small screens around the world.
Over the course of the nine days, riders and diggers build their lines, collaborating in determining who gets what, testing their runs, and making obsessive adjustments. The venue, located about 45 minutes from the St. George, Utah, airport, was located between the classic mesas at the breathtaking site of the 2016/17 competition and epitomizes what freeride big-mountain mountain biking is all about. The terrain is like nowhere else in the world: wild, jagged, and exposed, carved over millennium into the sandstone by wind and water.
This 15th edition of the contest saw 12 riders throw down their best runs in front of a sold-out crowd. In the end, Brandon Semenuk walked away as champion with the best run, becoming the first four-time title holder in the event’s history. As defending Red Bull Rampage champion, Semenuk reminded the crowd of his uncanny bike handling skills. The only athlete in the competition to run a single crown fork on his bike, he included tail whips and bar spins in his run, further pushing the boundaries of the sport forward. Athletes run various custom builds with nuanced specs, including high tire pressures and some even running a 26-inch wheel in the rear with a 27.5-inch wheel up front.
Semenuk’s win didn’t come without a fight. Crowd favorite Kurt Sorge was the first athlete to put down a clean top-to-bottom run. The three-time Rampage champion tried to best Semenuk with a line full of airtime and no-fall-zone exposure, but his final score of 88.33 just wasn’t enough and he came in second. The event’s alternate Reed Boggs surprised everyone by taking 3rd with an impressive run on his own separate ridgeline and nailing a 360 on his signature drop.
“After making a mistake in my first run, I had the body moving and nerves out and just wanted to put down the run I wanted,” said Semenuk after stepping off of the podium. “All my [Rampage wins] are special in their own way and this one is amazing for obvious reasons. The boys worked so hard on this event and I’m just happy to be here, back down the hill, and that everyone is happy from the day.”
“This year’s event was truly one for the record books, as we witnessed some of the most technically advanced runs that we’ve ever seen,” said Todd Barber, Red Bull Rampage co-founder and event director.
The final contest results are as follows:
1. Brandon Semenuk: 89.00 (CAN)
2. Kurt Sorge: 88.33 (CAN)
3. Reed Boggs: 87.00 (USA)
4. Cam Zink: 86.33 (USA)
5. Tyler McCaul: 78.33 (USA)
6. Kyle Strait: 77.66 (USA)
7. Thomas Genon: 77.00 (BEL)
8. Ethan Nell: 73.33 (USA)
9. Jaxson Riddle: 72.66 (USA)
10. Szymon Godziek: 54.33 (POL)
11. Vincent Tupin: 0.00 (FRA)
12. Tom Van Steenbergen: 0.00 (CAN)
Other competition awards included:
// Awarded to the participant who displayed strength and grit through adversity during the contest, the Toughness Award by BFGoodrich was awarded to Cam Zink.
// Awarded to the competitor who displayed the most finesse and creativity in his run, the Style Award by Michelin was presented to Jaxson Riddle.
// Awarded to the dig crew who were the most successful in bringing the competitor’s vision to life, the Digger Award by Kia was presented to Joel Shockley and Samuel Mercado for Jaxson Riddle.
// Awarded to the competitor who performed the trick with the most scale and technicality in the contest, Best Trick Award by Utah Sports Commission was presented to Tom Van Steenbergen, who executed a front-flip on the flat drop.
// Additionally, Brage Vestavik was awarded the Kelly McGarry Spirit Award for embodying the positivity and tenacity of its namesake.
Featuring a world-class broadcast team including Selema Masekela, Pat Parnell, Tina Dixon, and freeride mountain biking legend Cam McCaul, Red Bull Rampage is now available on-demand exclusively on Red Bull TV or by downloading the Red Bull TV app. The event is supported by 100%, Adidas 5.10, Backcountry, BFGoodrich, GoPro, Kia, KMC, Maverik, Michelin, Polaris, Phase One, Shimano, T-Mobile, and the Utah Sports Commission.
Images courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool.