Today marked the final practice day before tomorrow’s Qualifying round at Red Bull Rampage, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that creative new lines and serious drops are on deck for the big show. A lot of test runs went down today, with riders scoping the perfect approach to outrageous transfers – some of them got done; the rest remain one-time moves to unleash only when the glory’s on the line.
Red Bull Rampage’s elephant in the room – well, one of them, anyway – has to be the new Oakley Icon Sender feature. It has loomed over the course all week, daring riders to man up and get sent 30 feet out and 40 feet down to a precise landing. The ominous feature with the menacing skull had yet to spit anyone out on a white-knuckle hellride – until today.
“We’ve been eyeing it up since we rolled in on Saturday,” said Garett Buehler, first to clean the obstacle. “We did a few test runs up to it, and the compression right before you’d hit the lip was just too much, so the crew fixed it today. I went up there after that and the wind felt right, so I did one run-up; it was pretty hard to judge the speed, but someone had to guinea it.”
It’s no joke to be the first to tackle something like that at an event, but the Canadian freerider who made his Red Bull Rampage debut in 2008 didn’t hesitate. “For how big it is, it’s pretty dialed,” he added. “It’ll for sure be in my run.”
With Buehler breaking the seal, James Doerfling (in sequence above), Logan Binggeli and Geoff Gulevich eventually made the drop as well. New Zealand’s Kelly McGarry was the next rider to go for it, but he overshot the landing, emerging from a nasty bail with forearms full of gravel. He’s a tough dude though, so don’t count him out. France’s Yannick Granieri, who was spinning sweet flips off the step-up ramp earlier in the day, jumped out of his attempt unharmed but his bike didn’t fare so well, sporting a folded front wheel after the carnage.
Alex Prochazka was one of the first to start tearing through the outside ridge line from the #1 gate, and he spent more time dialing it in today. Alex wisely arrived with a six-man build crew (including his dad) and was able to hammer out his line with some help from fellow competitor Evan Schwartz and start practicing earlier than some of the other riders. “I learned from [Red Bull Rampage in] 2008 that you have to bring a crew if you want to get your stuff done,” he said after a run. “We were basically digging all week; I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Prochazka (pictured below), like many of the riders on the roster, is primarily a slopestyle competitor; the big-mountain setting can give the more trick-focused riders problems, but at the end of the day, all of the riders are incredibly skilled. “I’ve raced and done just about everything on a bike, so when Red Bull Rampage comes around, I’m comfortable in this kind of zone,” he added. “I guess my approach is just to go big and try to be consistent and solid, just like everybody else.”
Judging the different styles of the competitors isn’t easy; pitting flashy tricks against a technical line choice can spark an endless debate, but the judges are experienced riders who know where the score should land.
“This isn’t a slopestyle contest or a trick contest; this is a big-mountain contest,” judge Aaron Chase pointed out. “You’re going to need to have the full recipe to be in the lead. We want to see big-mountain lines and big-mountain style.”
The “full recipe”, based on the categories of line difficulty, fluidity, style/technique and air/amplitude, isn’t something easily concocted in an environment like that of Red Bull Rampage. It’s not the same old event, so it doesn’t produce the same old winners.
“I think every year has brought a little bit of a surprise; it’s always anyone’s game,” Chase continued. “I think there will be some surprises on the podium this year.”
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