I first met Andreu and his brother Lluis in 2006 at the Red Bull District Ride in Catania, Italy. They were making their inaugural appearance on the international contest scene, and Andreu ended up in second place just behind Paul Basagoitia. It was instantly clear to me that he was one of those guys that are able to make the crowd go crazy. Since those early days, Andreu has earned the Red Bull helmet, put together a couple of badass segments in the NWD series, garnered multiple victories, including a win at Crankworx Slopestyle with the first ever double backflip in a official contest run, an X-Games medal... and the list goes on.
Year after year, Andreu's riding has always been more natural that most of the others. At contests where everybody had to check and guinea pig the line many times before making it from top to bottom he was showing up late, hitting the entire line on his first attempt, pulling a backflip on the last jump... and possibly going home shortly after if he didn't like the course. I remember Andreu telling me back in 2008 that he was going only going to compete in contests where the jumps were at least 9 meters (27 feet), because he believed that since mountain bikes fall in between BMX and motocross, the jumps should be sized accordingly. In his last few years of riding contests, and with the rise of FMB, I've seen him lose motivation. In 2013 he decided to kill it in practice and then dead sailor every single jump in the final, as was the case with Crankworx Les 2 Alpes, or to choose to not even ride the finals, which he did at Red Bull Joyride.
This year Andreu joined Kurt Sorge, Graham Agassiz, Nico Vink, Makken Haugen and Nick Pescetto, a crew of bad ass riders that were on the same page about what freeride truly is, to claim back their spot in the scene. They started building massive lines around the world and they made a series of week long jam sessions. No results, no rankings, no schedule. It's an invitational, the riders vote on the best line, trick and everything else at the end of the week. They called it FEST. Something big, an event that somehow reconnects with the spirit that was prevalent during the New World Disorder / Kranked era, fueled by the raging need to research newer and bigger lines to ride and to make this happen in some of the most beautiful locations around the world. Andreu finished his 2014 season with a victory at Red Bull Rampage, a win that was no doubt helped by the time he'd spend hitting the massive jumps of the FEST series.
Exciting times lie ahead for the freeride scene - there is a generation of riders that want to go really big and redefine the limits of the sport. These riders can't find room in the FMB events that are more trick-oriented, events that I personally enjoy, but which are also casting out some of the heroes of our sport, those riders who seem to only find the space to showcase their talents at the Red Bull Rampage.
Is this another evolution in our sport? Is this going to be the moment where freeride/slopestyle and freeride/big mountain take two different roads? Will we see Semenuk, Rheeder, Pilgrim, Soderstrom and Granieri keep pushing the level of tricks in the more traditional slopestyle format on one side, and Lacondeguy, Sorge, Vink and Agassiz pulling easier tricks on huge jumps down some beautiful natural terrain around the world in a FEST Big Mountain series? Only time will tell.
I recently spent a week with Andreu in the Pyrenees where the first snow of the season was falling, but not enough to stop us from riding, shooting, talking, digging, and more than anything roaming, lines, shots, locations. Andreu is a friend. Over the years I have witnessed some good, bad, amazing, pissed off, fed up, wild, funny, out of control, chilling, irreverent and surprising moments in his career. Some think he is the last rock star in mountain biking, the only one able to claim the spot that Shaun Palmer created in our sport and that Cedric Gracia has been sitting on for years (and still is). I have to say that I agree: he is a rock star. But now he's really able to trigger it only when he is riding. This is a guy that is truly passionate about what he is doing, a man on a mission to redefine the limits of mountain biking.
Then and now. Andreu and Lluis Lacondeguy in 2006 (left), and in the Pyrenees in 2014.
You just moved to the mountains, how is it going? Was it hard to leave Barcelona's SoCal-like weather?
Yeah, I just moved to the Pyrenees, close to 'La Molina' bike park. I live here with my brother Lluis and our girlfriends. It's not that far from Barcelona, just a couple of hours, but here you wake up, get breakfast, and then you go to the mountains to ride, to build trails, to scope locations for shootings and all that stuff. I'm just staying out of trouble and riding as much as I can - I think that is great for my career.
Barcelona was good and worked out, but we were kinda of over it and wanna scope new stuff, so the Pyrenees were the natural choice and we have a project going on with Red Bull and the Bike Park for the next year and a half. It's sick here, man! There are seven ski resorts all around, Andorra is 45 minutes away, the mountains are steep, the trails are gnarly with rocky sessions, steeps, roots, nice forests and the trail network in the valley will take a long time to ride - I love it!
Good skiing, good snowboarding, and I also ride a lot on my moto out here. There are also a couple of bad ass full-on moto tracks in the valley too, I still haven't ridden those yet. I wish I had my ramps here cause I haven't ridden them in a while and I really miss that kind of action. I'm working on it, and that is gonna happen soon.
It's sick here, man! There are seven ski resorts all around, Andorra is 45 minutes away, the mountains are steep, the trails are gnarly with rocky sessions, steeps, roots, nice forests and the trail network in the valley will take a long time to ride - I love it!
It's the end of 2014; you are now 25 years old and just had one of the best years of you career. Do you want to recap the season?
Yeah, 2014 was good. I rode the FEST lines at Aggy's, Nico's, Makken's and Sorge's and I built the confidence on the bike that ended up in the winning run at Rampage. A lot of people were asking me how I went from getting three fourth place finishes in a row to a 1st with the most bad ass line this year. I'm sure it's because of the FEST - I spend the whole year riding big stuff, and when I got to Rampage with Nico Vink and Aggy the line choice was not even a question - we knew that was the only line to choose. Big stuff because we have been doing that all year, and also because big stuff is what Rampage is all about. That is what I love about it - it is a real freeride event - you go there and the sickest and most creative line wins. The spirit of freeride!
2014 was also the first year I didn't compete at all in the Red Bull Joyride at Whistler. I've been in it since I was 16, but I've been kinda over it for the last two years. When you asked me to take part in the Deep Summer Photo Challenge I was like.. hmm, I never thought about that, but it's gonna be cool, and the team was bad ass with Gully, Zink and Ollie Jones, plus the two legends Brett Tippie and Richie Schley. I couldn't miss that.
I didn't really know what to expect, but we just did it, we rode and shot the entire mountain basically. Schley and Tippie were showing us everything secret, cool, classic and gnarly.. man it was great to ride with those two dudes. They were like 'let's go shoot that rock I made 20 years ago in Kranked 2 or NWD3', and I was like 'Yeah, I got it for sure.. new bikes and new everything will make it easy,' then you get there and you see the line and you're like, 'Wow.. this is gnarly.' I made everything, that was the goal, but I remember Richie, Tippie and Wade hitting those lines 20 years ago with sketchy bikes and killing it.
One day Tippie said, 'Let's go I have this line I wanna hit for Deep Summer - it's gonna be sick.' We got there and I didn't even think about going to see the line from the top. It was this almost vertical three meter flat rock to a two meter drop to a 45 degree exposed right turn on a bed of soccer ball sized sharp rocks - apparently only Wade Simmons and Tippie have ever made the move. One of the most techy lines I've ever seen - I thought he was crazy.
He tried once and he went over the bars landed on the sharp rocks and bounced on the road below, one of the gnarliest crashes I've ever seen, and I got to see it twice cause after that he goes, 'I have to do it again before I get scared,' and he went up again and ate shit even harder. I was like, 'Wow, these two dudes are 20 years older than me, but man they are still just going for it!' Man... respect.
That was one of the craziest moments of the shoot and then riding down Trespasser with Tippie in the darkness... holy dude that was crazy. We worked our asses off for those three days. We rode the all-mountain trails in Whistler, the rock lines on top of the mountains, we went to Squamish to hit the crazy stuff in the forest, we rode the gravel pit where some gravel snowboard action by Tippie went on, and then we partied a little bit, and then we partied a little more, and then we partied even more and we won Deep Summer! Good times, man.
Richie Schley dropping in.
Andreu told me it was his first time hitting up Squamish and he loved it.
For the 2015 Red Bull Rampage are you going be on the same line or is there anything more extreme to do?
I think it's on the same venue. I don't know how it's gonna go. There's probably a bunch of people wanting to ride the same line 'cause it's the winning line from last year, but I think I'm gonna stick to the same thing - I think it's the gnarliest on the mountain, and I'll also check what the Red Bull guys will be building up to see if there is any link to that line or something else to switch up a little bit. There are a lot of tricks that you can add onto the line and I think I'll be focused on that, especially now that I know how to ride it.
I'm pumped 'cause I'll be able to spend more time on the actual riding this year; last year we were building for more than a week and the riding time was limited. This year is gonna be less work, for sure, cleaning up a little bit, maybe build a few lips where we need to and just have fun. This year I had fun but I was on a mission since this was a very important event for me and I needed to be very focused on it and calculate everything. Next year I'll be more relaxed and I'll try to enjoy the line even more. Ride more. Risk more. It's gonna be fun.
Also, Nico and Aggy will stay on the same line I guess, after their injuries that took them out of the finals. We teamed up together and we worked on separate sections. It was the most efficient way to build the line. It's easy when you have the same vision. When Aggy scored the 94 in quali, I knew he was one of the guys to ride with, but also to battle with and then he went down in practice. The stuff is so big there that a little mistake became an injury. He over-rotated this 360 and his knee was f*cked up, Rampage over, and for Nico the same thing - he overshot the stepdown and that's it, Rampage over. I love those dudes - they are two of my favorite riders ever. We ride a lot together in the FEST series, and I'm sure they will be up there next year - same line, even more insane riding.
Freeride lines in the forest. With the snow it's just more fun.
Let's talk about the FEST series. Who are the 'OG'?
Well, there are a lot of FEST riders out there who support and ride the FEST movement, but the guys who are trying to make things happen are: myself, Nico Vink, Sorge, Aggy, Nick Pescetto and Makken. We are trying to find the sponsors to make something happen. The goal would be to have the budget for a media crew to take care of some cool productions. We want to produce our own stuff, video and photos. Quality stuff. Calling up the guys we work the best with and that we know are going to deliver the best possible product and then use it in the best way possible to get more visibility and to show to people what freeride is about in our vision.
Are you guys thinking about moving towards a live streaming type of event?
No, we don't think that these are the live streaming kind of events. There's no room to set up a date and time with what we do - the weather is one of the main factors in our sport, so it's not gonna work. What we wanna do is to go in a location for a week, ride when the weather is good, shoot and film when the light is sick, party when it's time to party, document this with the best professional filmers and photographers around, and then show it to people 'cause that is what is all about. We are trying to bring the sport forward, to find how far these bikes can go, because big bikes are so good now!
How important is the location choice for the FEST events?
I really think that the location is one of the main thing about the FEST series. This year we traveled from Norway to Kamloops to Belgium to Retallack, and next year there are talks about Japan, Spain, Santa Cruz, South America, New Zealand. The FEST movement is growing, but the cool thing about FEST is that depending on where you are going you are visiting a different bunch of locals that are just waiting to show how cool and rad their place is. This way you live the whole experience, it's not just going there to jump the line 24/7 but it's also riding and exploring all the mountains and spots. It's the best way to know a location and when you're back home you can say you were riding there and you know the spot. The real freeride experience, one that's way better than flying to an airport, taking a shuttle, going in a hotel, to a restaurant, doing your tricks for two days in front of 2000 people usually in the city street, and then having a schedule, points, ranking, rules and at 3:25 pm you have to send your run no matter what.
We'd rather have an event in beautiful locations where you can actually ride and explore. and then you show to people. We believe this is the best way to bring people to do the same... and another cool thing is that the hosting rider is the local and he builds his vision of FEST line to try and set the bar higher.
So FEST is also about exploration?
Yes, it is.. the soul of freeride. To just go there and ride with the locals on all the secret gnarly stuff they have and you do those high speed 20 rider trains with all your friends and you're just bombing down and riding the sickest trails.. it's insane. Dude...so sick!
Andreu down a steep section.
And Lluis following.
2000-2010 was a decade of freeride domination, a decade that helped with the evolution of lift assisted riding areas all around the world, but over the last five years the market and the industry seem to have focused more on the pure racing side of our sport. What has been missing?
I think people wanna see new stuff. They wanna see the next thing, as always. I think that part of the freeride scene has been caught up in this Euro-tour-event kind of thing, but if people wanna see number and results they watch the World Cup - that is bad ass.
But, dude, we need to make something new, something entertaining and for some reason Rampage is entertaining, so we have to go in that direction, seeing that is by far the event that reaches the most people in the world. Kelly's 2013 POV had 22 millions views. Those are numbers that any other MTB related video can only dream about. Racing too. I had 1.5+ million views on my Belgium FEST POV this year. This is why I have good reason to believe that FEST is producing something entertaining.
Rampage is sick because it's a unique beautiful environment and the competition is big, scary, challenging, unpredictable and there are crashes and that is what people wanna see if we wanna make the sport big we have to go big. That is where we have to go. We have to build new stuff, explore new places, never stop creating. and never stop going bigger and bigger cause as soon as we do people will stop watching. It's natural.
So the FEST series has the chance to bring attention back to freeride?
I don't want to put too many responsibilities on the FEST series... What we wanna do is to make the coolest stuff to document what our vision of freeride and see where we are now and how far we can push the limits of the sport.
Are you guys currently looking for sponsors?
Yes, absolutely. But we have to find the right sponsors to work with. We are not gonna put a ranking in front of people and that is what most of the sponsors wanna see. We are gonna put the best riding, the coolest lifestyle and the best quality. We know the guys that can make the best thing out of this and we need the money to make things happen.
The shuttle is waiting.
Time to regroup before the next lap.
The end of the day in the Pyrenees, where I honestly had one of the better pasta meals I've ever eaten, and I'm a demanding ass Italian!
What's in store for 2015? How about even further down the line - any major goals for the future?
This year I'm working on my own project with La Molina Bike park, YT Bicycles and Red Bull to make something really sick. I'm gonna move a lot of dirt... I can't wait to be able to give you guys more details. I'll be focused on this project, the entire FEST series and then I'll be going to Rampage again. Things are changing quickly these days so I don't really wanna make long term predictions, but I wanna keep exploring the big mountains in the world for a long time. That's for sure, man.