Virgin, UT (October 16, 2021) — There’s a phenomenon in sports known as the Bannister Effect. It’s attributed to the runner Roger Bannister, who was the first ever to break the four-minute mile mark in 1954. Before he clocked that time, some speculated that humans weren’t capable of ever running that fast. But then Bannister proved them wrong. More importantly, he showed others that it was possible and others continued to break it.
For the last 20 years, Red Bull Rampage has had the same effect on mountain biking. Few other sporting events have contributed such a list of milestones and industry firsts. At each Rampage, we’re continually challenged to rethink what’s possible on a mountain bike. This year was no exception at the 20th anniversary of the event. We were reminded of the chain reaction that occurs when you gather the world’s best freeriders, hand them shovels and pickaxes and ask them to dream big.
Up until today, no one had ever landed a flat drop tail-whip or won Rampage four times, but as Brandon Semenuk demonstrated, it didn’t matter. He envisioned the line he wanted and that sort of vision is how pages are added to the history books. In his second run, Semenuk stunned the world with a line so technical and challenging that only a G.O.A.T. like himself could stomp it.
Thirteen years after he first won the competition as an underdog coming from the slopestyle scene, Semenuk’s creativity and ingenuity brought him his fourth coveted Rampage title. Trailing closely behind him in second place was Kurt Sorge, who’s known for consistent runs dripping with style. Rounding out the podium was Reed Boggs, the dark horse alternate, who rightfully earned a spot alongside the two legends.
All eyes were on Brandon Semenuk going into this year’s event – especially since he showed up to the venue with a single crown fork on his bike. Everyone started pondering about the tricks he had up his sleeve. Tail whips and bar spins aren’t too common for Rampage, but Semenuk was looking to change that.
As the defending Red Bull Rampage champion, Semenuk dropped last. There was a collective gasp of shock when he over-rotated one of his jumps and ejected from the cockpit. Would the G.O.A.T. not even make it onto the podium?
Luckily, Semenuk was able to brush himself off and go again 30 minutes later. The mishap, however, put him in last place. For his second run, he was first to drop, with the fate of his fourth Rampage title hanging over him as he hit each feature.
After a clean exit of his double drop, Semenuk kicked off the tricks with a t-bog. He followed it with a bar spin, and then successfully stomped the flat spin that he missed on the first run. But before we could process that trick, Semenuk tail whipped his big drop – a first for Rampage history. The grand finale of his line, though, was his backflip tailwhip on the last jump. The run earned him a final score of 89, which catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard.
Whether he would hold that spot or not would only be determined after every rider put down another run. The suspense grew as we moved through the roster and the other riders inched closer and closer to his score. However, when it was clear that Kyle Strait – the last rider – would not edge him out, Semenuk’s legacy was cemented and he became the first-ever four-time Red Bull Rampage champion.
“After making a mistake in my first run, I had the body moving and nerves out and just wanted to get the run I wanted done,” Semenuk said. “All my [Rampage wins] are special in their 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.”
Semenuk’s win didn’t come without a fight. Nipping at his heels were other Rampage veterans, like Kurt Sorge. Also a three-time champion, Sorge had lofty goals of becoming a four-time winner as well. Opting to revisit his winning line from 2017, Sorge started on a high note by becoming the first athlete to put down a clean top to bottom run. It initially earned him the top spot, but it was short-lived, ultimately sitting in fourth before run number two.
Heading into his second run, Sorge knew he needed to step things up a notch to move through the rankings. In classic Sorge style, he delivered. On his second run, he flipped the ridge jump and then followed it with a suicide no-hander in the rhythm section. On his trick jump, he threw a superman and added a flip knack on his big drop. To wrap things up, he flipped his step down and final trick jump. While it was a fast run full of air time and style, it wasn’t enough to best Semenuk’s technical tricks. Regardless, he improved his score to 88.33 and walked away with a second-place finish.
“Coming into the same zone we’ve been at, you think you have a lot of time to practice, but it’s always crunch time down to the end,” Sorge said. “Especially with all the unpredictable variables like the weather. I didn’t have quite as much practice time as I would have hoped, and just had to dial it in on my run.
“The [freeride] scene is amazing these days, especially the motivation and progression coming from the younger guys and veterans. It just motivates you to keep riding harder.”
Three weeks ago Reed Boggs didn’t even know if he was going to be competing at this year’s event. Originally he didn’t make the athlete roster, but was on the list as an alternate. When he got the call to compete, it lit a fire within him. He wanted to show everyone that he wasn’t an alternate any longer. Unlike the other riders, Boggs gravitated to the onlookers’ right of the course and snagged a ridgeline all to himself.
His first run was looking strong and confident until the unthinkable happened. His tyre exploded on his 360 drop, ruining what could have been a podium-worthy run. Undeterred, Boggs fixed his tyre and hiked back up looking calm and collected. What happened next was complete redemption. Boggs weaved down the ridge line, stomping his drops and tricks like a seasoned rider. His determination and hard work paid off. His final score was 87, landing him on his first-ever Rampage podium.
The best of the rest
Only three riders can stand on the podium, but there were plenty of unforgettable moments from the rest of the field that are worth celebrating too. Tom Van Steenbergen – famous for his big tricks – wowed the crowd with a massive front flip on his big flat drop just prior to crashing out of the competition. The trick earned him the Best Trick Award presented by the Utah Sports Commission.
Unsurprisingly, Jaxson Riddle walked away with the Best Style Award presented by Michelin. The Rampage rookie oozed style with his many motocross-inspired tricks that set him apart from the rest of the crowd. His dig crew, comprised of Joel Shockley and Samual Mercado, also won the Digger Award presented by Kia for their tireless hard work and contributions to Riddle’s line.
The Toughness Award presented by BFGoodrich went to Cam Zink, the man of steel. Yesterday, it was unclear if Zink would even ride in the final event after a big crash during practice. Zink, however, pushed through the setbacks and put down one hell of a run.
Rounding out the awards was Brage Vestavik. Despite not even riding in finals due to an unfortunate crash during practice, Vestavik’s spirit and drive rightfully earned him the McGazza Spirit Award. It’s safe to say that Kelly McGarry would be proud of Vestavik’s rowdy approach to the Utah desert.
“It’s hard to put words to this unreal prize,” Brage Vestavik said. “I’ve been a fan of [Kelly McGarry] since I was nine. It’s just crazy. [Rampage] has pushed me a lot for sure, particularly in seeing what’s possible. Everyone is super-nice. I think it’s going to take some time to understand everything that’s happened to me and will understand more when I get home.”
Where we go from here
After a nearly one-year hiatus on the event, the last nine days back in Virgin felt like a proper homecoming for freeride mountain biking. Throughout the crowd, you could spot former legends like Josh Bender and Thomas Vanderham watching the new guard propel the sport forward. Even though it was a competition, the riders were unabashedly supporting each other and reveling in each other successes. All ships rise with the tide, after all.
But perhaps the most exciting byproduct of this year’s event is what’s to come. Five years from now, the things we saw today might not be an anomaly. With the next generation eagerly watching today’s feats, who knows where they’ll take the sport next. At the very least, we know that they’ve got the right road map to follow.