For a very select few of the world’s best mountain bikers, the clock has been inexorably ticking ever downward for nearly a year. Every passing day and every passing month leading down to that one final second when they will be given the go to drop in at Red Bull Rampage. The training, the crashes, the sleepless nights and the sweaty palms have all lead them to Virgin, Utah and a date with destiny.
Red Bull Rampage was born at the forefront of the pioneering freeride movement of mountain biking back in 2001. Freeride was really approaching its zenith – born in the back country, it wasn’t interested in racing. It simply wanted to push boundaries; to jump, drop and gap further than ever before all for the sake of finding out what was possible. It pushed riding levels through the roof and left bike technology flailing to keep up.
How does it work?
There's a start line and a finish line. The 21 invite-only Red Bull Rampage contenders get four days and two helpful shovel-wielders to link the two via as creative and spectacular a line as possible.
Best POV clips, ever
Once the event starts, they have two runs apiece in which to nail their lines complete with whatever combinations of tricks they deem appropriate. They are judged by a panel of their peers, receive a score and then have simply to hope that they have done enough. In short, it’s the most spectacular event in global action sports.
Do I need to be a fan of bikes to enjoy Red Bull Rampage?
Hell no. This is a competition that goes beyond sporting borders. Red Bull Rampage is the ultimate action-sports competition. Some of the best bike riders in the world compete by riding down the world’s gnarliest terrain, while throwing some of the biggest and baddest tricks ever seen. This is impressive whether you ride bikes or MX, shred skis or skateboards, play tennis or football. Heck, it's even impressive if all you like to do is chill on the sofa. This is the thing to watch on Red Bull TV live on Friday, October 25, 2019.
So, is it a little bit like the winter competition The Freeride World Tour?
Yes and no. With the Freeride World Tour, skiers and snowboarders pick their lines down a mountain, send tricks and get points for speed, style, tricks and line choice. In that sense, the two competitions are alike.
However, at Red Bull Rampage the riders dig their own lines down the mountain prior to the competition. And the terrain is one of the gnarliest in the world. Basically it's a bit like the Alaskan stop of the FWT: bigger, more extreme and with a lot more risk involved.
What makes Rampage so groundbreaking?
Freeride mountain biking was something that had been happening since the dawn of trail building but only really gained a moniker and an identity towards the end of the 1990s.
Best of Rampage: 2001
Ground-breaking film series such as New World Disorder helped to splinter a strand of mountain biking away from competitive racing and towards freeride. The first Red Bull Rampage was held in 2001 and was fittingly won by Canadian freeride pioneer, Wade Simmons.
What the event really achieved was to bring a form of riding out of the woods and on to people’s televisions. It proved what was possible and inspired a whole generation of riders to think bigger, jump further and to push the limits of their riding.
Is Red Bull Rampage a slopestyle event?
No, Red Bull Rampage is a freeride event. While the two disciplines might look similar at first glance, they're actually very different.
Slopestyle is less about gnarly terrain and more about tricks and style. In slopestyle events, the riders compete on the same purpose-built track full of man-made features, like wooden jumps and big drops. The jumps are big and difficult, but the terrain itself is smooth and easy to ride. The riders also use much smaller bikes: less suspension, some even use hardtails (with no rear suspension), the bikes are as light as possible so they're easy to spin and kick around in the air and they have slick hard-pumped tyres to roll fast and avoid punctures.
While Rampage has the same elements of tricks and style, this freeride event is about bigger lines, even bigger features and it's all done on some of the world’s most technical terrain. It is held in Utah’s rocky, unforgiving desert and the mountainsides are full of cliffs, huge exposure and near-vertical chutes.
The ground is sandy and loose with very little grip. Instead of racing on the same course, the riders pick and dig their own lines down the mountain and, even if they occasionally join together, the lines are all unique. The riders use sturdy downhill bikes with a lot of suspension and big tyres with a lot of grip.
Where's it held?
The backdrop to all of this two-wheeled lunacy are the ochre cliffs of Virgin, Utah. Because, if you're going to hold an extreme event, you may as well hold it in an extreme place, right?!
The area is a US national park and features some absolutely breath-taking cliffs, huge exposure and near-vertical chute lines which are often used to link up aspects of lines.
The organisers will build a set number of 'pre-fabricated' obstacles (such as the huge canyon gap jump) – points are often awarded for making use of these as imaginatively as possible. Some of the most interesting lines however are crafted by those happy enough to eschew the ready built stuff and instead prefer to focus on carving/gouging out more natural lines.
First look at the course
The 2019 edition of Red Bull Rampage will be the second at the new Utah venue that Rampage relocated to last year. What was fresh dirt and a complete blank canvas then will now have a familiar feel to all those who took part in 2018. From start hut to finish area there is a total vertical drop of 780ft (237m).
Why do the riders need a dig team?
Like mentioned earlier, the riders all compete on lines that they have scoped and built themselves. This is hard, time-consuming work. Therefore each rider is allowed to bring two diggers to be part of their dig team. Together they shift and shape the sand and rock to create some of the gnarliest lines in mountain biking. On some features, riders and their dig teams collaborate and work together to save time and create even bigger things.
So can they build anything, anywhere?
Dig days with The Claw
Yes, they can build anything they want as long as it's within the marked out area. They can only use hand tools like shovels and picks - no heavy machinery is allowed - and they can’t build using any outside material. Riders are allocated 75 sandbags and have to use the natural terrain to create their runs. This means that no wooden features are allowed for example.
Get insight on what is like on the dig builds above as Darren Berrecloth talks to Brett Rheeder, Matt Macduff, Brendan Fairclough and Jordie Lunn out on the mountain during the 2018 event.
Red Bull Rampage's biggest moments
Wildest moments in Red Bull Rampage history
In reality, there are far too many of these to list. Virtually every run contains something epic worthy of a mention under that heading. But, nevertheless, here are a selection of some of the biggest and baddest moments in Rampage history.
Who are the competitors at Red Bull Rampage?
The event features 21 riders who get to work and ride on the mountain each year. Of those, 10 are pre-qualified riders that are decided by the organisers each year. They are for this 2019 edition:
Of that elite group, there are four previous winners in Sorge, Strait, Lacondeguy and last year's winner Rheeder. Realistically however, any one of those big names could make a real impact. A further eight riders are invited by organisers by the way of wildcards. This usually includes previous winners such as Brandon Semenuk, mountain bike personalities and up-and-coming talent.
New for 2019 was the official athlete qualifier which gave other riders a chance to take up those remaining spots. The Marzocchi Proving Grounds presented by Five Ten took place in September and saw Reed Boggs, Johny Salido and DJ Brandt advance to the main event.
Rampage fast fact
Canada has won eight of the 13 Red Bull Rampage’s held, including the last four instalments. European riders have only won twice (Cedric Gracia in 2003 and Andreu Lacondeguy in 2014).
Rampage fast fact
British downhill MTB racer Gee Atherton has two Red Bull Rampage second places to his name (2004, 2010) and was due to make a comeback to the Virgin, Utah event this summer but has been forced to abort his plans after sustaining a shoulder injury.
How do the riders get judged?
There's a start line and a finish line, in between those the riders are free to do whatever they like. It's not timed like a race, but speed is a factor as athletes have three minutes once leaving the start structure to complete their run. There's no qualifying but during the finals each rider has two runs and the best score from those determines ranking. Basically, the riders are judged on a score from 1 to 100 based on four main criteria:
- Line choice degree of difficulty: The steeper, gnarlier and more difficult the line choice, the more points scored.
- Tricks and style: Tricks, added style and nailing the landings are things that will score high and give lots of points.
- Fluidity and control: The smoother, faster and more aggressive, the higher the final points will be.
- Amplitude: Air time – how big does the athlete go and how much do they make of the airtime?
Risk, Reward & Rampage: Elements of Style
Rampage fast fact
The most successful rider in Red Bull Rampage history is Canada’s Kurt Sorge who has won the event three times (2012, 2015, 2017).
Can the weather play a part?
In short, yes. The event is of course held in a desert which tend to be places famed for their extremes of weather. As you can no doubt tell from the somewhat arid looking imagery, precipitation isn't the issue, it is instead wind.
There is a total vertical drop of 237m (780ft) from the start arch to the finish line with zero tree line or foliage capable of breaking any wind. This in the past has forced riders into an interesting quandary: risk it all on run one in case conditions turn or get a banker in and see how the points shape up before risking it all in your second.
The consequences are too high at Red Bull Rampage for strategy and run management not to be factors and in turn they add an extremely interesting dimension to the event.
Rampage fast fact
The youngest ever winner of the event was Kyle Strait back in 2004 when he took to the top step of the podium in a bear costume aged just 17 years old. What's perhaps even more impressive was that he'd been competing at the event since 2001 when he was then aged just 14 years old! Strait was the first ever two-time winner when he completed the double in 2013.
What happened at Rampage 2018?
The all-new site produced one of the most fascinating Red Bull Rampage editions yet. With lines being created from scratch and probably needing a bit more work a lot of competition runs on finals day ended in crashes. Those who did make it down the mountain in one piece were rewarded by the judges.
At the end of the contest Brett Rheeder took the win with a flawless and technical run down the mountain. Rheeder was joined on the winners podium by Andreu Lacondeguy and Ethan Nell, who finished second and third respectively.
Watch the Top 5 runs from the 2018 edition of Rampage including Rheeder's winning run below:
Top 5 runs of 2018
Who's to watch in 2019?
Predicting a Red Bull Rampage result is as hard as predicting the Utah weather on finals day! Kurt Sorge, Brandon Semenuk, Kyle Strait, Cam Zink, Rheeder and Lacondeguy stand as former winners of Red Bull Rampage, of course, and have the necessary mental strength to win.
Sorge will be looking for a fourth overall win. The Canadian's smooth and effortless style wows the judges every time he competes. Two-time winners Semenuk and Strait will be hoping they can join Sorge in the exclusive club of three wins. Semenuk steers clear of most contests and freeride jams these days, but the fan-favourite continues to see Red Bull Rampage as important to his career.
In terms of an outsider to look out for as a possible winner, look no further than Ethan Nell. The young American sensationally took third place in his rookie appearance in 2017, and was second in 2018. Clearly the judges like what he does. Red Bull Rampage rookies this year are Spain's Aguado Alba and Mexican Diego Salido.
Where can I watch Red Bull Rampage?
Tune in to Red Bull TV to watch live coverage of the event on Friday, October 25 from 4pm UTC:
Red Bull Rampage 2019
- Virgin, Utah, USA 10am
- Los Angeles, USA: 9am
- New York, USA: 12am
- London, UK: 5pm
- Berlin, Germany: 6pm
- Almaty, Kazakhstan: 11pm
- Sydney, Australia: 3am (October 26)
- Auckland, New Zealand: 4am (October 26)