About three hours outside of Las Vegas, on the outskirts of the picturesque Zion National Park, 20 elite riders from the Freeride Mountain Biking community converged once again for the Red Bull Rampage.
I was fortunate enough to travel to Virgin, Utah with Red Bull Bike for this year’s competition where riders came from all over with hopes of being crowned champion of the most intense mountain biking event on the planet and this year’s action certainly exceeded my expectations.
The Red Bull Rampage format is pretty straight forward. Almost all of the 21 riders are invited by Red Bull. 10 are pre-qualified through the previous year’s top 10 results, then a committee of Red Bull event staff and contest veterans look at video submissions and contest results to determine 8 more spots. This marked the first year in which three of the riders were able to quality through a satellite event named Proving Grounds.
Each of the riders has a team of two friends/partners. The full crew shows up a week early and is tasked with helping the competitor find his line down the mountain and building out the biker’s run using shovels (no power tools). This means building out the jumps and mapping the ideal route for the competitor to maximize his score.
Riders get two runs down the mountain and their best overall score counts. The location of the Red Bull Rampage changes every few years so the riders aren’t able to get too comfortable in their lines and the event is always pushing them to their limits.
The Red Bull Rampage is the only event of this kind and many of these elite riders spend the entire calendar year training for this singular competition. The riders are judged based on the difficulty of the line they choose, the tricks they bust out, speed down the mountain, style, and overall execution.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, the Canadians straight up dominate the Red Bull Rampage. In the 14 years the competition has been held, it has been won by a Canadian NINE TIMES. An American rider hasn’t won the event since Kyle Strait took home the title back in 2013 and Cam Zink before him in 2010.
I don’t know what it is about those stats that makes me want to buy my own bike and start training tomorrow to bring the trophy back to America but Canadian riders have now won the Red Bull Rampage FIVE YEARS in a row after Brandon Semenuk threw down an absolutely masterful ride to earn a score of 92.33 and become the second 3-time winner of the event. Brandon also won it in 2016 and 2008.
During the competition, the 2018 champion Brett Rheeder (CAN) was hot on Brandon’s heels with a 2nd place score of 91.00 but Semenuk’s first run score of 92.33 was good enough to beat the field which meant he was able to joyride down the mountain at the end of the day with the crowd on their feet cheering for him.
Here is that 1st Place run from Brandon Semenuk that pulled a 92.33 score from the judges and made him a 3-time champion of the Red Bull Rampage:
I was able to speak with Brandon Semenuk in the winner’s circle after the podium about how he was feeling after such an incredible run. Despite this being a bit of a ‘team sport’ with the Red Bull production crew putting on the event, team members helping build out the rider’s lines, a safety crew on hand, and a million other moving parts, the rider is pretty isolated.
It’s also a herculean task to make it to ride day and still feel completely fresh when you’ve been working hard all week long. When asked about all of that, here’s what 2019 Red Bull Rampage champion Brandon Semenuk had to say:
“Definitely feeling a little mentally drained. Event day is always stressful and you’re up on top of the mountain all day just like thinking about things and watching people’s runs and figuring out like what you need to do.
So, it’s definitely draining. The build itself is like 9 days of digging and riding and trying to figure all this stuff out is pretty physically exhausting. So getting to today without feeling completely trashed is a challenge in itself.”
As a guest of Red Bull Bike, I was given pretty much unfettered access to the course(s) carved into the side of the stunning Utah mesa, access to the riders for interviews, and we were able to hike up the mountain the day before the competition with rider Darren Berrecloth who gave us a bird’s eye view of everything the riders would experience during the 2019 Red Bull Rampage.
Right out of the gates, what I learned is you need to be in pretty legit shape just to hoof it up the mountain. Thank GOD for the perfect weather because I would’ve been pouring sweat on the hike to the top if it wasn’t mid-70s and breezy. As you can clearly see from the race footage, the mountain is mad steep.
And there’s no easy way to get to the top like you would in a Slopestyle Mountain Biking event held on a ski mountain with a lift. The riders can’t just hop on the ski lift and ride to the top. They have to physically hike to the top every time they want to run the course.
If they want to practice a jump they have to repeatedly hike back up. Some of these jumps are 50-foot gaps (or bigger) and that means they’re getting in a full workout all day long just prepping for the event and not including the ride down where they need laser-sharp mental focus.
As for what makes the Red Bull Rampage such a unique event, who better to describe that than the 2019 champion himself, Brandon Semenuk:
“It’s the whole structure of the event and the format. The fact that you show up with two guys that you trust to help you build the line. Then you look at the hill, you have to decide how you can ride down it and what you can build in this period of time. And then obviously you’re working super hard, you’re working late, you’re getting up early.
The whole format’s just so special and I think people miss a lot of the behind-the-scenes. Just the build itself is way more insane and people testing these features (jumps) for the first time before they even do it in the run is almost just as gnarly as what you see today (in the event).”
The Red Bull Rampage has exploded in popularity due in no small part to Red Bull TV’s world-class innovation. To put on the live Red Bull TV broadcast there was a team of 110 staff on the mountain tasked with the production and content creation.
They were running 16 live cameras on the mountain including a cable camera sliding up and down the vertical drop and a Cineflex camera mounted to a helicopter that was shooting live footage from above the course. The event was broadcast in 7 languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Polish) and they laid over 6,000-feet of fiber cable up and down the mountain to help transmit the crystal clear footage across the planet in real-time.
One of the coolest things Red Bull Bike did this year was to introduce an AR/VR feature by using drones and 4K cameras to map out every bit of terrain on the mountain to create fully realistic projections of each rider’s line down the mountain so fans watching on the Red Bull TV app could get a first-person view of how insane each line was.
With the proverbial red carpet rolled out for these elite riders we just KNEW they were going to show up and charge the mountain, treating the thousands of spectators to some unreal tricks. And that’s exactly what went down.
2018 Red Bull Rampage champion Brett Rheeder took home the Best Trick Award Presented by Maverik with a huge Can-Can Backflip that had everyone in the crowd screaming. Here’s Brett Rheeder’s run down the mountain that was sick enough for second place this year:
Also, when I say ‘crowd’ I’m talking bout two things really. There’s a massive group of spectators sitting on the mountain to the far right of the course away from the rider’s lines. This group is out there to party and party they did.
Then there’s the rest of us who were able to actually walk around in the middle of the course about halfway up the mountain near some of the biggest jumps and trick elements, the dangerous portions of the course, and literally stand right next to these riders as they back and front flipped their way to the finish gates. Here are two badass clips I grabbed from where I was standing for a portion of the day:
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So many bro’s throwing down front flips at the 2019 #redbullrampage with @redbullbike. Lots of FF’s out of the starting gate but it was about a mile up the mountain from where we were standing. Much easier to see them send it on the big jumps the riders built in the mid/bottom sections.
For me, it is difficult to put into words what it was like standing amidst this event I’ve been following for years via Red Bull TV and YouTube and watching these certifiably insane riders navigate a landscape that most people would have extreme difficulty just walking around. Standing at the starting gate at the top, kicking it with North Shore surfing legend and Red Bull sponsored athlete Jamie O’Brien who hiked to the top with us, I was having trouble wrapping my mind around how any human being could look down and think ‘yeah, riding down this on my bike is an excellent idea’.
I had some time to sit down with 2014 Red Bull Rampage Andreu Lacondeguy and asked him how someone can look at a gnarly mountain like that and think that charging down on a mountain bike is a good decision. When you or I look at that mountain all we see is massive rocks and huge drops in elevation but these seasoned riders see something completely different. Here’s what Barcelona’s Andreu Lacondeguy had to say about sizing up a new mountain:
“When you look at it (the mountain), I guess it’s different than when we look at it versus someone who is not riding looks at it. Because we really see all of the details, you know, I don’t really see a cliff I just see my line. That’s all I see, that’s all I look at, that’s all I focus on. And yeah, it’s really nerve-wracking but we are all kind of focused on what we are doing.”
Someone responded to this tweet of mine (below) with something along the lines of ‘I couldn’t even ride down that mountain without falling if this was a video game’ and that really clicked with me. This competition is so difficult that even in a virtual world it’s hard to imagine pulling off what these riders accomplish on each run down the mountain.
There were wipeouts. Ohhhhh yes, there were crashes.
The fan-favorite, Andreu Lacondeguy from Barcelona, Spain who won the event in 2015 with an outrageous score of 95.25, wiped out so hard on his first run that it felt like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the mountain for a brief moment with time standing still and everyone waiting for Andreu to get back on his feet.
When we sat down to speak with Andreu, he discussed the wind. He told me the first thing he does upon arriving to the course in the morning is check the wind and he went on to explain that when these riders are in the air their bikes and tires essentially act as the sails on a sailboat. Even with moderate wind, the gust can grab their bikes and turn them sideways while they’re in the air. When we are looking at 50+ foot jumps and the rider has no way whatsoever to turn his bike back around mid-air then the wind becomes absolutely treacherous.
This is often why the event is delayed for a few minutes at a time. Once a rider is called to the starting gate he then has 10 minutes to decide on when to drop into the course. There are various flags and windsocks set up throughout the course, usually on the biggest and most dangerous elements. Each rider has the full 10-minutes to wait out the gusts that often come and go and once those 10 minutes are up they can choose to risk it all or forfeit their run.
After the competition, Andreu told me it might be his last Red Bull Rampage but he said it in a way that has me thinking the wild Spaniard will be back next year for some more. And I wasn’t kidding when I called Lacondeguy a fan favorite. Check him out after the competition:
For me, the crash that was hardest to watch was American rider Carson Storch who landed so hard off a jump that his tire literally exploded and he was forced to walk down the mountain. Others ate it at the top attempting to bust out front flips and some ate dirt at the bottom when they’d go big on the final massive jumps before the lowest section of the course. Carson had a first-run score of 85.66 and he was absolutely ripping down the mountain and looking to improve on his amazing first run and get on the podium until that equipment failure.
Another award at the 2019 Red Bull Rampage was the ‘People’s Choice Award Presented by Utah Sports Commission’ which was given to Poland’s Szymon Godziek who completely won over the crowd with his monster line down the mountain and crazy choice of tricks, jumps, and speed. Here’s Szymon’s award-winning ride which was good enough for 6th place with 86.66 points but it stole the crowd’s heart:
If you have time, Red Bull Bike was awesome enough to upload full footage of the 2019 Red Bull Rampage finals to their YouTube channel. You can find all sorts of awesome clips on the channel but if you want to watch every bit of the action relayed by the legendary Sal Masekela who was kind enough to kick it with us for a while, then you can hit play on this video right here.
You can also find a full replay of the 2019 Red Bull Rampage on their website here along with the Red Bull Shop which sells all of the 2019 Rampage gear that was available at the event. The hats and shirts are pretty sick so be sure to check those out if you’re a fan of the sport. Check out one of the hats in this selfie I tried to grab before I was covered in desert dust for the rest of the day:
The event will air on FOX on December 28th as part of the Red Bull Signature Series so definitely stay tuned for details on that and set your DVRs accordingly.
As for the 2020 Red Bull Rampage, those athletes and their teams are all back home by now and already plotting what it will take to reach the podium. This truly is a 365-day event because the preparation for next year’s competition begins the day after it ends.
The location of the 2020 Red Bull Rampage will be different from this year’s course. It will move to somewhere else within that region of Utah, just on the outskirts of Zion National Park. It’s certain to be more intense than any year before so I’m personally stoked to see what the future holds.
If you’d like to learn more about the 2019 Red Bull Rampage champion Brandon Semenuk, the ‘undisputed king of slopestyle’, Red Bull has this awesome MTB Raw docu-series that I think you gentlemen will really enjoy. Check that out right here.
I just wanted to send one final shout out to Red Bull Bike for having me/us (BroBible) out as guests this year so I could share this incredible event with all your readers out there!