Brett Rheeder crowned two-time Red Bull Rampage champion
The world's best freeride mountain bikers demonstrated the sport's progression on historic grounds.
To the unknowing eye, the Red Bull Rampage venue is another majestic mountain rising from the deserts of Utah. But freeride mountain bikers see these orange-hued spines and valleys a bit differently. Even though the wooden platform is long gone, they can still picture Cam Zink's massive 360 on the Oakley Icon Sender. They don't need the wooden ramp to point out Kelly McGarry's 72-foot canyon backflip that sent the crowd wild. Although Brandon Semenuk's 2008 jumps and run-outs have long crumbled away, they can still point to the line that won him his first Rampage title at the age of 17. Scattered is a visual history of freeride's most iconic moments, which we still talk about years later. Now, for its 16th edition, Red Bull Rampage is back to add the sport's next chapter.
Red Bull Rampage 2022 livestream replay
Red Bull Rampage is headed back to the steep and unforgiving terrain of southwest Utah for some wild action.
You couldn't have asked for better weather conditions for Red Bull Rampage 2022. For the first runs of the day, the windsock barely even bobbled. With no wind or weather, the riders had the perfect canvas to leave their mark on the sport. Dropping from the start gate were a mix of veterans and rookies. Some riders remember watching wide-eyed as their idols soared over the biggest features they'd ever seen back at the last four Rampages. They'd bottle that inspiration and use it as fuel to compete at the same weather-worn mountain nearly a decade later. Other competitors retraced the past, having competed, crashed, and celebrated here once before. Ultimately, three athletes claimed the coveted podium spots: Brett Rheeder first, Szymon Godziek second, and Brandon Semenuk third.
Brett Rheeder makes a dramatic comeback.
Leading up to finals, Brett Rheeder was looking confident and smooth. He rode diligently during his practice days, repeatedly sessioning each feature until things felt right. The line was a massive undertaking, and Rheeder and his team were still building the features until the last moment of practice. On top of all this, Rheeder hadn't competed at Rampage in three years. During that time away, the rider suffered a handful of significant setbacks, like breaking his left femur. Despite this hiatus, Rheeder rode stronger than ever, wowing both the judges and the crowd with his flawless line.
After nailing his massive entry drop, Rheeder aced a flip can on his burly 48-foot drop to tail whip his step up only seconds later. The two-time champion kept the tricks coming, spun in both directions, and linked together combinations like he was in a video game. His run was the perfect recipe of complex tricks and steep technical riding, rightfully earning him a 90.66 score to secure his second Rampage win.
I didn't come out to win, to be honest. I just want to make sure whatever I do is for me.
"I was pretty unsure what was going to happen this year. I had a lot of changes I went through as a person, and I didn't know if I'd ever get back to this level of riding. So, I didn't come out to win, to be honest. I just want to make sure whatever I do is for me. Only for me. Not for any sponsors, not for my competitors, not for any ego. I want to make sure it's for guiding the sport in the right direction and having a good time while doing it," Rheeder explains in disbelief, still soaking in the achievement. "It's the most positive I've seen [freeride]."
Szymon Godziek's split second decision earned him second place.
Brett Rheeder opened the door to complex runs, with Szymon Godziek trailing closely behind him. Taking 2nd place was Godziek, one of the few riders opting to ride Kelly McGarry's infamous canyon gap. The Polish freerider indeed made the late McGarry proud by linking together a run with no shortage of awe-inspiring moves.
Godziek set the tone by flying down his knife-edge ridgeline, throwing in a manual here and there. Once he got in the air, the tricks flowed. He threw a tuck no-hander, backflip, flat drop 360 before lining up for his double drop—the last feature before the canyon gap. The canyon requires full commitment—you won't know if you don't have enough speed until you're halfway over the chasm. Godziek only heightened the stakes by throwing a 360 off his double drop. He stomped the rotation, and before he could soak it in, the rider was backflipping over the 75-foot gap. To close things off, he did a backflip suicide hander on his lower trick jump. An elated Godziek pumped his fist in the air in celebration, knowing that he had achieved something remarkable. The judges felt similarly and awarded him the score of 86.33, landing him on his first-ever Rampage podium.
"I wasn't sure if I should do the 360 in the first run or the second run. It was a last-call decision, and it was super scary. It was by far the scariest thing of my life. It worked out but it was super heavy. However, the backflip on the canyon gap was always the plan from the very first day. Once I landed the 360, I remember thinking, this flip is going to be easy," laughs Godziek.
Brandon Semenuk, once again, stuns the crowd.
Brandon Semenuk's line was the easiest to spot. Even from the finish corral, you could see his near-vertical run out plunging straight down from the start gate. Two other riders thought about the line, ultimately deciding against it. However, Semenuk always finds diamonds in the rough—deciding that the line was rideable and that he could start the run with a caveman air.
The four-time Rampage champion leaped from the start gate with his bike in hand, finding his pedals quickly in the 15-foot drop. He flew down his start chute, kicking dirt behind him like a jet stream. He followed things with a bar spin into his canyon gap. He aired his signature tail whip on the flat drop, a move he introduced to Rampage only last year. Next, on the dirt-to-dirt trick jump, he aired a backflip, then a one-footed table. He finished his run with a 360 flat spin knack. His final score was an 84, and on top of taking third, Semenuk walked away with the Best Trick. It’s clear that the caveman air will be talked about for a long time.
"The line shouted out at me. I wasn't the only athlete who looked at it, but I decided to keep going because I thought it could work. It was such a cool feature and hard to pass up because it was a unique opportunity with how they built the start platform, and you might not have that opportunity again. So despite being gnarly, it was worth the risk in my mind," Semenuk explained after winning the Best Trick award.
Semenuk was among the many riders who wanted to drop in for a second run, eager to improve his score. The wind had other plans, though. No longer idle, it whipped up along the ridgelines, sending the windsocks into a constant frenzy. Agonizingly, the riders sat through a wind hold, hoping for another window to ride. There was no improvement, cementing the podium spots from the first run.
Beyond the top three riders, plenty of moments wowed the crowd. Jaxson Riddle claimed the Best Style Award for the second year in a row for his run full of moto-inspired tricks. Freeride legend Cam Zink also reclaimed the Toughness Award for his perseverance and grit. For the McGazza Spirit Award, Tom Van Steenbergen earned the honor for his incredible return to Rampage after a life-changing crash. Last year, Steenbergen had a devastating crash during the contest. His rebound back to the competition was an inspiration to everyone.
"[Kelly McGarry] was a great friend to all of us. Getting to be at the same venue he competed in was pretty special. I wasn't even sure if I was going to make it to [Rampage] or be able to put a run down the hill. It was an amazing feeling, and I obviously couldn't do anything risky—but I'm just stoked to make it to the finish line and be healthy for next year," Steenbergen said.
Lastly, the Digger Award was presented to Rheeder's team of Phil McLean and Austin Davignon. With their hard work, Rheeder's run couldn't have been possible, and they made magic happen on their line.
A lot has changed since those first four competitions at this venue, last visited in 2013. It's barely been a decade, but the sport's progression has been monumental in that time. The tricks are more complex, features are greater in size and gnar, and now single crown mountain bikes aren't unusual on-course.
But despite all changes, there's one common thread that's stayed consistent: progression. It's the sport’s cornerstone, and the 16th edition of Red Bull Rampage was proof of it.
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