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Freeride Evolves

2021 Red Bull Rampage Finals - Photo Story

Words Matt Bruhns
Photos Matt Bruhns
Date Oct 16, 2021
Reading time

The 20th anniversary edition of Red Bull Rampage is done and dusted, and I mean that quite literally. My camera bag and clothing have acquired a rich patina of red Utah dirt that’s going to linger longer than I’d like. This anniversary version of the fabled freeride event featured a cast of familiar names along with some new and emerging stars and was held on the same grounds as the 2016 & 2017 Rampage contests.

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Finals Day at Rampage means an early start and onsite in the dark.

As the athletes and their dig crews descended upon the site 2 weeks ago, early reports from the desert of big builds, dirt jumps and sculpted landings had the #freerideisdead crowd bemoaning how Rampage has devolved into just another slopestyle contest. Keyboard warriors at their finest you could say. After some reflection on that discussion ,while scouring every inch of the terrain this week in search of the photos you’ll find herein, some thoughts come to mind.

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The upside is a front row seat to watch the sunrise paint the Utah desert.

There is no denying the progression that Rampage has driven in the sport of mountain biking over the 20 years of the event’s life. For a quick primer on what’s transpired in that time, I’d suggest this short documentary recently compiled by Red Bull Media House:

20 years later and the game of Rampage has changed: the riders know it, and the pioneering legends who rode the event in the early years do too.

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Finals morning provides one last chance to check take offs and water lips. This particular one is shared by Kyle Strait and Cam Zink.

It would seem that the early era of Rampage that saw riders navigate raw terrain on bikes that are little more than wall art today has acquired a fond, faded afterglow. A small but loud group see modern day Rampage as akin to a Joyride contest. I suspect few of these voices have actually had the opportunity to attend Rampage in real life, so part of my goal in the photos below is to assuage their fears that freeride is dead. Freeride lives, but it has evolved. Everything about Rampage is bigger. A lot bigger. This is not to take anything away from those early years and the legendary performances that have shaped the lore and legend of Rampage.

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Magic talent, magic terrain, and magic light.....for 15-20 minutes or so

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Upper line breakdown:. Reed and Brage's lines used the ridge to the right, the chute options in the middle are ridden by Kyle Strait, Cam Zink, Vinny T, and Carson Storch, and everyone else uses variations that work down the ridge to the lookers left.

The story goes that there was a completely new event site planned for this year that wasn’t able to get worked out in time. Based on rider input the contest ended up back at the 2016/2017 location. And yet, this year saw more riders than ever pushing themselves across the tipping point and suffering serious injuries on so-called slopestyle features. Features that they spent a week digging on to make them remotely possible to ride. Carson Storch, Brage Vestavik, and Andreu Lacondeguy all crashed in practice while guinea pigging huge drops in their lines. Tom van Steenbergen and Vincent Tupin both went too big in Finals and in Tom’s case suffered serious injury.

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After a turbulent week, Reed had not actually hit this step down until Friday morning practice before the contest began.

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Szymon Godziek on his way up to one last practice run.

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Godziek dancing with the shadows in early morning practice.

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Jaxson Riddle races the sun to the top of his line

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Vinny T surveys the scene from the top of his line

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Godziek rolling the Knoblin feature one last time before it counts.

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Kurt Sorge warm up lap on the Knoblin ridge


15 riders came to Rampage, 10 finished, 5 went to the hospital.
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Tyler McCaul testing his speed on his upper jump section

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Sorge whipping the crowd into a frenzy on his last practice lap

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Finals Day means spectators have arrived

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With Brage Vestavik out, Reed Boggs was the only rider to utilize the ridge lookers right from the start gate.

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What Reed's line looks like from the top

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Brandon Semenuk warming up on his double drop off the ridge.

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Brandon contemplating the winning run to be

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Cam Zink bruised his lung in a crash Thursday, went to the ER and dropped first in Finals on Friday.

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Cam Zink. Does this look like slopestyle to you?

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Cam Zink, rider one, round one.

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Kurt Sorge backflips his big drop on run 1

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Jaxson Riddle ran away with the Most Stylish Rider Award with huge moto-inspired airs all the way down his line.

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Ethan Nell navigates down the no fall start zone towards the Knoblin

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Kyle Strait into the belly of the beast and rough AF

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Reed Boggs off the Goblin drop, he was the only person to hit this drop all week

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Reed Boggs on his massive hip transfer off the ridgeline.

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Bogg's 360'd this big drop off the ridge on his first run, landed clean, and blew his tubless setup with insert off his rim. Re-tooled with a tube and 40+ psi he stuck it clean on run 2


Maybe the continued evolution of Rampage is more nuanced, with new faces like Brage Vestavik bringing a creative mix of raw riding with calculated building to attempt super-sized features.
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Vinny T style master. After taking his big step down too deep in practice on Thursday, he come up short and front wheel cased the knuckle in finals and did not finish but is in good condition with no major injuries.

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Szymon Godziek 360'd this huge drop on both runs but couldn't quite hold on to the landings.

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The Tailwhip heard round the world, by Brandon Semenuk

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Thomas Genon rolling into his double drop feature just below the start

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Tom van Steenbergen won best trick for this front flip, then went too deep backflipping on the following hit resulting in significant injuries to his pelvis, leg, and spine. In all the excitement of him landing this flip, it took a moment for those positioned higher on the hill to understand what had occurred lower down out of view. We all wish Tom the best and speediest of recoveries.

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Tyler McCaul flip knack crowd pleaser in the bottom jump set

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Kurt Sorge upped the ante on his 2nd run with this backflip knack off his big drop and was rewarded with 2nd place

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Kyle Strait suicide no-hander off his huge drop.

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Giving the crowd what they want, Strait was the last rider to drop on run 2 but it wasn't enough to overcome Brandon, Kurt and Reed on the podium.

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Kyle Strait kept his title as the iron man of Rampage, having competed in every edition of the event.

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Cam Zink, 4th place, Toughness Award, father of 2.

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Jaxson Riddle and build crew members Joel Shockley and Samuel Mercado also took home the Digger award. As rookies, this crew started from scratch with no previous lines to work from and, once finished, pitched in to help Reed Boggs finish the bottom of his line after his team suffered some setbacks during the week.

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Brage won the Kelly McGarry Spirit award. Vestavik dislocated his shoulder Thursday evening after casing his drop on his initial attempt and was unable to ride in Finals

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Reed Boggs and his crew celebrate 3rd place

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Kurt Sorge celebrating with his dig crew

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Champs

That would never be possible in a rake and ride version of Rampage because there is no way to ride features of this magnitude without engineered mitigation of the physics involved. Modern Rampage includes mitigating risks, playing within the rules of building, and doing as much as possible in an impossibly small window of time to get some semblance of a rideable line together.

So what’s my point? I’m still working that out, but I sense that the future of freeride lies in something deeper than the familiar “Rampage is rad and pushing the boundaries of the sport” trope. 15 riders came to Rampage, 10 finished, 5 went to the hospital.

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Your first 4-time Rampage winner

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Your 2021 Rampage podium: P1 Brandon Semenuk, P2 Kurt Sorge, P3 Reed Boggs. Congrats gentlemen.

Perhaps the boundaries of freeride, magnitude and amplitude aren’t designed for continued quantum change. Maybe the continued evolution of Rampage is more nuanced, with new faces like Brage Vestavik bringing a creative mix of raw riding with calculated building to attempt super-sized features. Or Jaxson Riddle bringing huge airs and moto-inspired style to his runs. Or Semenuk running a single crown fork on a Session (note: didn’t look like a Session) to unleash whip tricks and break the internet.

This is what I do know: I’m not going to second guess the athletes who are driving the evolution of Rampage and in turn the definition of freeride and I’d suggest you give it a hard pass too.

To quote Jake Burton Carpenter, “Listen to the riders”

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Comments

fartymarty
+2 Cr4w Andy Eunson
fartymarty  - Oct. 17, 2021, 11:22 p.m.

This

"15 riders came to Rampage, 10 finished, 5 went to the hospital."

Says it all.

Reply

andy-eunson
0
Andy Eunson  - Oct. 18, 2021, 9:35 a.m.

When so many top riders are injured in an event, some quite badly, you have to question what is considered progressing and what is becoming spectacle. Perhaps progress needs to be in the direction of more finesse. Semanuk has finesse. Others less so.

Reply

tehllama42
0
Tehllama42  - Oct. 24, 2021, 11:53 a.m.

I do feel like the judging can be adjusted to try and reward lines where consequence is mitigated but still produces the visual spectacle we've come to expect.
Things like a step-up over a shark fin would be epic to watch riders flat spinning or even hand/foot tapping over, but that would be equally challenging to do in the build constraints.
Like you said, Brandon has finesse, but that's largely a product of having such a big bag of tricks that he can create a winning run without taking the sorts of risks other have to by putting 120ft stretches of dirt and air turn into a piece of a linked top-to-bottom run, that has to be executed perfectly in the wind on the day.

Reply

rigidjunkie
0
Allen Lloyd  - Oct. 18, 2021, 7:36 a.m.

Someone asked me to define freeride, after seeing some Rampage pics on my phone.  I explained that it is looking at something where no trail exists and seeing a line that would challenge your abilities.  Building a line and taking a deep breath before being the first human to ride something.  To me that is the spirit of freeride, the transition of an idea into a line and then into actually riding a bike on something new.

My biggest issues with my description are: That the world has changed and we can't just go build stuff most places.  I don't love the first ride part of my description.  Is riding a new feature freeriding?  I don't know.  What I do know is there are a few lines near a local trail that I have been dreaming of riding for a couple years now.  The spirit of freeride to me is climbing up there and giving it a go.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+2 Mark Tremeer023
Pete Roggeman  - Oct. 18, 2021, 9:38 a.m.

That seems like a pretty good stab at a definition, Allen. I share the same difficulty in defining it, and always have, but I'm at peace with that position. It may be easier to pin down what freeride is by first settling on what it isn't: 

Freeride isn't racing. It is not a race against the clock. Gates don't define where you turn (Rampage has start and finish gates but none in between).

Freeride isn't trail riding. But you can freeride while riding on a trail (this is where the definition starts to get fuzzy for me).

In my old school view of freeride, it isn't competition at all. Early versions of Rampage were criticized by some as trying to force freeride to fit within the confines of competition - commercialization, sponsorship, blah blah blah. And tbh, I somewhat agree, except that without Rampage, we wouldn't have had the consistent level of progression we've seen - consistent if you chart it on a graph, but Rampage's contributions to progression look more like jagged upward spikes on that same chart. 

Obviously, there are lots of other things contributing to the progression of the sport - athletes and creators have various incentives to attract attention, but if the status quo is a slow rolling boil, Rampage is like a pressure cooker.

Reply

cheapondirt
0
cheapondirt  - Oct. 19, 2021, 10:44 a.m.

These photos really convey the scale of Rampage!

Reply

MattBruhns
0
Matt Bruhns  - Oct. 20, 2021, 10:47 a.m.

Thanks, that's definitely something I was trying to convey with the angles I used. Events like this are always a game of compromise for a photographer, best case scenario you can get a "good" angle of one feature per rider per run.

Reply

tehllama42
0
Tehllama42  - Oct. 24, 2021, 11:55 a.m.

These do such an incredible job of conveying any sense of scale... and that's coming from somebody who thinks it's basically impossible to show just how insane it is, but seeing people, from an angle that highlights just how crazy the envelope they're pushing is in the first place... yeah, wild pictures.  Thanks for those.

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