Here I sit in front of the computer, in the comfort of my own home trying to put the crazy days of Rampage into words. I'm rested, showered, unpacked, hell I've even done some laundry. Funny thing is, the words I've laboured over since returning just don't seem to do the Rampage justice. I'm not sure if it was too much Red Bull, the desert heat, the dehydration, the copius amounts of Utah dust I've ingested or if it's simply a lack of any short term memory. In any case, as you read, keep in mind I'm not even beginning to scratch the surface of the gnar factor we were witness to in Virgin Utah.
Compared to the years previous, there was much more emphasis put on differing lines this year. There had to be at least 35 people (plus the riders) grooming, raking and shaping lines. Shoot, Bender's drop had a crew of 7 all by itself. By the time riders and their shovel bitches had put down their tools, there was damn near an infinite number of line combinations that could be hit (particularly in qualifying).
Beyond the competition, there's just so much that stands out in my mind about the Rampage as a whole. At the top of the list has to be the McCaul brothers. After a full day of digging and practise in 90 degree temperatures, the McCauls could be found ripping Flying Monkey with those of us jonesing to ride. Then, while we'd load up they played at the drop zone just outside of Virgin until it was too dark to ride. Even after the competition, when most riders were packing up, half way through the beer cooler or were generally just winding down, Cameron and Tyler were hiking up the Rampage course to session the hip jump before the sun set. It's great to see such passion coming from the sport's young (soon to be) superstars.
This place is nuts, some of the event's veterans looked quite calm and comfortable with what they had to do, while more than a few of the others looked more than a little scared of the task at hand. Who can blame them? I was scared just walking some sections, the exposure was crazy and room for error was almost non-existant. As you can see from the photos, most riders began to feel at least a little comfortable as the days went on. By the end, even I could make the hike up and down without crapping my drawers.
Next would have to be the hordes of riders not competing who were using canes, crutches and various braces and casts to get around. Riders like last years Rampage champ, Tyler Klassen, UFC winner Matt Hunter, Red Bull rider, Shaums March, and Darren Barrecloth, all injured enough that they couldn't compete. All took the time to hobble around the course eyeing lines, offering advice to friends and teammates and even occasionally picking up a macleod and getting dirty. You could see that each was dying to ride, yet still content to enjoy the show.
It was interesting to see how some riders were sharing line information, soliciting feedback from their fellow competitors, while others wandered off by themselves tools in hand looking for that secret stash. As a whole, I'd have to say the World Cup DH crowd seemed a little more laid back, while the freeriders kept their cards close perhaps feeling a little more pressure to perform in their chosen discipline. No one was more laid back than eventual winner Cedric Gracia who could be seen (and heard) sharing his lines with a Brrrrraaaaaaap, wingninngning, brrrrrrrraaaaaaaaappppppppppp, wiiinngggggg, braaaaaaaaapppppppp.....!!! Cedric was having fun here, and it showed. I've come to realize that's what makes Cedric (in my opinion at least) the best all around rider on the planet. Not only is he super stylie and crazy fast, he's also not afraid to go big, real big, and he never fails to have fun!
Then there's the judging. While I agree the top 3 riders each deserved their place on the podium, I did think the judges were sometimes inconsistent in their scoring, especially during qualifying. Riders putting a foot down (for any reason) were given a big penalty. Some lines were scored brutally low and still others were scored way above what I expected. That being said, by the time the final round started, Red Bull's judges seemed to have it together and most everyone would agree, the podium reflected the best riders and lines of the day.
How about the locals? I'm sure the entire town of Virgin had to be in attendance. Parents with young children were shaking their heads in disbelief at the riders antics, all the while not noticeably concerned with their own children playing in the dirt with sheer cliffs nearby. While we were chilling in the desert, spending some free time writing just down from the Rampage site, two locals arrived with their children, Yamaha BW50 in hand. While waiting for action to begin, the kids ripped around the desert taking turns on the bike. The proud fathers remarked how great the Rampage was for Virgin and how it was, without a doubt, the biggest thing to happen in the area over the last few years. With well over 500 spectators, media, and competitors coming to the area from abroad, there has to be some significant financial benefits for the communities. Hell, beer sales alone must double some stores' sales numbers for the month. Not to mention the local hotels, motels, campgrounds and restaurants.
I'd be remiss to not mention the a*sholes out there. First there's the dough-headed media types that littered the course, not knowing what lines riders had chosen or simply neglecting or just plain slow to move. I was embarassed to be associated with the offenders (so was nearly every other credible media type in attendance), but as a whole, most were well behaved, quick to get out of the way or just generally knowledgable about who was riding where. Some of the TV media in attendance was off the hook as well. After John "Gibby" Gibson and I waited patiently for the podium ceremony to begin (in prime location), an overzealous TV cameraman (who had just finished interviewing Cedric) crouched immediately in front of more than a few photographers (Gibby in particular). When folks started speaking up he replied "I'm shooting television, you're shooting stills, you'll get your shot, $#%& off." Normally a mild mannered, polite fellow, Gibby began swearing like a truck driver and "dick" reluctantly moved over. Then there's Cliff, the start guy. While course marshalls and volunteers were pleading with spectators and support crew to stay off the rider's landings (in an effort to keep them from getting too soft) Cliff chose to run down the transitions at full speed, creating huge craters in his wake from his size 10 feet. When asked to find another way down, Cliff says "I'll walk whereever the #$%* I want, do you know who I am? I'm the starter and if you've got a problem why don't you come and talk to me?" To which I replied, "I thought that's what I just did, it's a big mountain, try to stay off the riders' lines, we've worked hard to get them the way they are, I'd like to see them kept that way. Isn't Rampage about the riders?" Obviously a very busy (or at least self important) man, he stormed off, leaving those of us within earshot shaking our heads in disbelief.
Speaking of earshot, here's some of what was overheard during the competition."I'm in the final, I am going to #$%^ing go off"
- Cedric Gracia when interviewed post-qualifying."I'll try to do something off a jump, even if it's suicidal you know, not just a jump"
- Greg Minnaar when queried as to what he'd be pulling off on run two of the finals."What a bitch thing to do!"
- Kyle "Herc" Richey when he witnessed another (unnamed) rider tossing his bike down the course because of what Herc percieved to be fear."Brakes are for gays!"
- Cedric Gracia"Cedric's a bike ninja, he loves it when I tell him that"
- Cedric's girlfriend Lisa speaking to the Bourdon boys after his first ever backflip off the hip."Is this a good place to put the spineboard?"
- Unnamed EMT setting up, eyeing Mike Kinrade's huge finishing drop's landing zone."Any media that obstructs a rider will be shot with a large caliber weapon or pushed off the nearest cliff! Those that survive will have their media passes pulled!"
- Announcer Brad Ewen addressing the obvious."That drop is bigger than I've ever gone before, I'm sitting there looking at it and these young kids, (Strait and Zink) just ride up and drop in - I had no choice but to hit it!"
- Greg Minnaar speaking about the first drop in on the Canadian Bacon line (a good 15-20 footer) - Greg was seen going even bigger on more than one occasion during the weekend."$3500 bucks, that's it? I wouldn't do that kind of shit for just $3500 bucks!"
- Locals remarking on just how crazy this show really is.
So what went down in the final? I don't imagine you're reading this to hear me rant about who's a dick and who's not. Did you want to hear about the competition? Alright then, let's get down to the nitty gritty!
What can I say? Cedric's winning run was (from my perspective at least) flawless. He flowed huge lines with unbelievable style. Just like he promised, he $%&*ing went off in the final, and took home $3500 courtesy of Red Bull. Let's hope this marks a change and we'll begin to see more World Cuppers shredding the freeride realm!
Andrew "I was raised by billy goats" Shandro flowed his steep, tech line without nary a dab until the lower cliff drop section. "Goat boy" was forced to put a foot down to stay on the landing strip and on the subsequent 25+ footer bailed on the bottom of the wash. His next run followed the same line where, once again, he had trouble with the super-tech billy goat landing (I'm really not sure it's a line that can be cleaned) but stomped the big finishing drop. He was well rewarded by judges, and had he somehow stuck that one landing, may have had enough points to eclipse Cedric for first place.
Ireland's Glyn O'Brien quickly adapted to his foreign environment and rode World Cup racer style into 3rd place. He looked comfortable all the way down (including across the canyon gap) and stomped a new drop he had carved immediately across from the judges just minutes before his final run.
Michal "the tank" Marosi was happy to do his own thing for most of the weekend. A specialist of the 4X circuit, Marosi rode like a tank, never giving up and he was one of the few riders hitting almost entirely unique lines. Watching him ride in the finals was reminiscent of skiers bagging super tight, fresh turns down a powder covered slope. He hipped, transferred, jumped and carved his way down the course in a style all his own. His first run in the finals was marred only by coming up short and 50/50ing the Canyon gap (after his sweet superman on the preceeding jump). His second run was even better, but on the Bourdon transfer he launched off with his bike in trail and landed in the lap of one or more cameramen sitting below the jump. I'm sure we'll see more than one of those shots in various publications over the year.
One of the most talked about riders of the competition had to be Kelowna's Steve Romaniuk. After I (incorrectly) reported he wouldn't be riding thanks to the 2 broken ribs and broken nose he suffered in practise Steve came out and stomped the course. After slightly missing the run-in line to the booter he'd built two-thirds of the way down the course (apparently Romaniuk isn't happy with just dropping in, he built more than one booter 10 or more feet back of the drop to increase his amplitude) Steve hit his landing just right of the sweet spot and s-turned his way into a heap at the bottom of his chosen transition. After speaking with medical personnel, Steve finished his run on the walk up, double checked chosen line before his final run. On his second run, Romaniuk busted a big no footer off the same booter and finished up with Bourdon's gap. Remember his name, Romaniuk is one kid you'll be hearing about for some time to come, he showed he can hang with the best of them, though I'm sure he'll be feeling some pain for a good while after the week's events.
Thomas Vanderham rode a parallel line to his Sombrio teammate "goat boy" Shandro. He busted some clean steeps with the world class style we come to expect from the now grown prodigy. Across the gap he pulled a clean no footer, but on the drop in to Shandro's finishing move, he fell, was unable to hold onto his RMX and it tumbled dramatically to the bottom of the wash.
Greg Minnaar had some trouble breaking from the racer style but ripped the course in his jeans at breathtaking speed. Never one to lack style, I believe Minnaar was just beginning to get a feel for what the judges wanted to see and had there been another round or two, he'd have been much nearer the podium and its big money!
Mike Kinrade looked a little nervous on his first run down but he stuck every landing and stomped the huge hip transfer we'd carved (the one with the size 10 craters) at his request. On the second run, dropping a unique line riders right, he was hit by a gust of wind that tossed him into the off-camber dirt and over the bars.
Now a wily vet of the freeride game, Greg Smith rode well into the finals. Smith picked a unique line down the center of the course, only to disappear from my view for a good 40 seconds. When he reemerged, he flowed into the big canyon gap looking a little squirrely but still took home some cash for his time and troubles.
Shaums March's young prodigy, 15 year old Kyle "Herc" Richey got some very valuable experience under his belt riding with the world's best. He rode well above expectation but was stomped by the soft Utah dirt on his first run. His second effort was much stronger, and I'm confident this is another rider we'll be hearing about for a long time!
Richey Schley pulled some very large one handed drops, but one way or another had trouble on various sections of the course. Even after crashing twice, Schley still had time to show big style with a suicide no-hander off the canyon gap and tweaking off the finishing drop.
We were robbed of Joe Schwartz's smooth style when he crashed just beside the drop that took Canfield out of competition on Friday. Medical personnel was forced to hike quite a distance to get to Joe and he declined his second run complaining of some serious shoulder pain. Remember these riders are professionals, riding on a closed course.... yada yada yada...
So there you have it, remember to take my words and amplify them by 5, since there's only so many words in my pocket thesaurus that describe smooth, fast and big. It's a damn good thing they don't hold this early on in the season, many rider's race seasons would be ruined for sure. Many were heard saying, "it's the end of the season, I've got plenty of time to heal!" Please, before you start emulating what you've seen here, heed Schley's advice, "we built up to this level over many years, don't play stupid and ride over your head!" That's a wrap, now go for a ride! So you want to watch the movie and see all the riding in it's sickest? The only way to go and the closest thing to being there is to check out the Red Bull Rampage 2002 DVD.