Taking risks at the Rampage: Annual international event showcases top freestyle mountain bike talent in Utah desert
Special to the Post Independent
VIRGIN, Utah — Describing the Red Bull Rampage to someone who has never heard of the event is difficult. Trying to explain the fine line between possible and impossible, highlighting the intensity and passion of the riders, can make the riders come off as just stupid.
This sport, however, is more than it seems.
Red Bull Rampage is not just about riders jumping off cliffs, rather it is the essence of freeride mountain biking. Professional freeride mountain bikers anticipate this event as the culmination of their competitive year. Even being invited to compete at Rampage is an accomplishment, as Tyler McCaul, a freeride mountain biker who was unable to compete this year due to injury, explained.
“Just getting here is a struggle. Every time you get on that bike, there is a risk of getting hurt,” McCaul said.
This year, 25 athletes were invited to compete in qualifiers for 10 spots for finals. Once in finals, these athletes competed against 10 other pre-qualified bikers.
Red Bull Rampage is a testament to the indomitable spirit of mountain biking: although there is risk involved, there is also a sense of freedom and passion connected with this discipline.
The evolution of the event over the past 13 years parallels the explosion of interest in the sport everywhere. Locally, it’s not uncommon to see a steady stream of young riders heading out to the nearest dirt jumps on a sunny day.
The creation of the new Carbondale Bike Park this past summer shows how the passion for freeride mountain biking has led to a great new bike park, encouraging interest in young bikers who may one day compete at Rampage. The far-reaching influence of Rampage is apparent through the diversity of athletes from the United States, Canada, France, Poland, Germany, New Zealand, Great Britain, Norway, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland. A variety of rider backgrounds creates a distinguishable array of riding styles within this single event.
WALKING THE LINE
Located in the desert of southwest Utah, Red Bull Rampage takes place on near-vertical terrain and involves riders launching themselves off cliffs, jumps, and drops on their bikes while including tricks that will increase their judged score. The progression of the event over the past 13 years has led to enormous commitment on the part of the riders to turn raw Utah dirt into trails and jumps. McCaul observed that “things have changed a lot since the first Rampage in 2001; now it’s pretty much a bike park from top to bottom.” McCaul is referring to the amount of building that takes place at the venue by the riders and their crews who come out two weeks in advance of the event to create their own unique paths (“lines” in freeride biker jargon) that they traverse during qualifying runs and finals. These lines consist of rocky, steep pitches that for the most part are un-groomed with the inclusion of jumps built out of wood and dirt. Although most riders build their own line, this is not mandatory, and some riders did team-up or just use a line built by another rider.
Hundreds of feet above spectators, riders at the start gate are faced with the commitment of completing their lines, some that include seventy-foot gaps or jumps that are often flipped or tricked. Every line inevitably involves a heart-stopping drop from the top as the rider temporarily disappears out of sight, only to reappear on his bike intact, halfway down the mountain.
Although these athletes are incredibly capable of coping with pressure and fear, Red Bull Rampage is so formidable that McCaul claims “if you say you’re not scared, you’re lying!” Rampage takes place in such extreme terrain that just getting down is an accomplishment. After making it to the bottom safely in qualifiers, Ryan Howard (“R-Dog”) showed how intimidating Rampage can be, by simply saying, “What a relief.”
A POWERFUL EVENT
Each year, Red Bull Rampage ruins some competitors’ chance to compete due to injuries. This year, Graham Agassiz, the No. 1 qualifier of the event, was unable to compete in finals due to a knee injury received during practice after qualifiers.
This presence of injury and the Rampage’s immense power creates a tight community of riders who all hope for the best for each other. Red Bull Rampage is different from other events because it becomes a competition against nature and the mountain as much as it is against fellow athletes. This year, finals were pushed back from Sunday, Sept. 28 to Monday due to intense rain and flash flooding which forced everyone off the venue Friday afternoon as well as all day Saturday. Although riders do have to cope and adjust to the dangerous nature of the desert, winning Rampage is the closest way to show superiority over it.
Winning Rampage is extraordinary, and extraordinary describes this year’s Red Bull Rampage winner, Andreu Lacondeguy of Spain, perfectly. As a veteran of Rampage who has never been on the podium, Lacondeguy was determined to win this year. In an interview on the Vital MTB website, Andreu Lacondeguy pointed out the irony of safety precautions during a storm, when crews who were fixing the lines were called off the mountain: “We’re not allowed up there cuz we might get hit by lightening. I think it’s more dangerous to ride it the way it is now than risking getting struck by lighting.”
In finals, after throwing down a technically difficult and flowing first run, Lacondeguy did not even need to take a second run to be named the champion. Lacondeguy credited his victory to focusing specifically on this event all year. This year-long commitment proved effective as Lacondeguy’s winning score of 95.25 was over five points higher than second-place Cameron Zink’s score of 89.50.
The Red Bull Rampage is the pinnacle of freeride mountain biking because of its raw, exposed and extreme feel which electrifies riders and fans alike. With its high stakes and the opportunity to challenge nature, Rampage is more than just a freeride mountain biking competition. Rampage showcases the passion of mountain bikers and the personal reward of feeling free that cannot be achieved through the acceptance of others but rather by taking on nature itself and emerging victorious.
Teddy Wroblewski is a student at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale and an avid fan of extreme sports. He can be reached at.
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