Join us as we pick up the trail with three-time winner, Kurt Sorge and people's champ, Brendan Fairclough, as they go to battle on opposite sides of the all-new Rampage venue. Already halfway through the build process, Sorge has a line shared at first with Graham Agassiz, before breaking off towards one of the biggest gaps on the hill at almost 70ft and finishing on a monstrous elevator drop shared with a handful of others with the minerals and skills to survive it. Meanwhile Fairclough has choosen to split from the herd and go his own way entirely. First tackling a rock-drop of epic proportions, before hoofing it over a yawning canyon gap and taking a casual line down a 'death chute' towards glory.
With already arduous task of transforming a blank canvas just like the 2016 event, this time the fresh location was also higher and steeper than ever before. The 2018 Rampage was set to bring the biggest challenge of most riders' careers no bones about it. Both Brendan and Kurt seemed at this point to have chosen lines that had the potential to win the contest, but then again the majority of the field seemed to be shooting for the moon this time around. Simply put, there was no easy way off this mountain and the 2018 contest was wide open. 'Go big or go home' is the only mantra they know out here in the Utah desert.
Sorge's elevator drop aka 'The Notorious B.I.G.' was nothing short of a multi-storey monster. Rising star, Adolf Silva, was kind enough to pioneer the sender before nightfall on the first day of practice, but as you may have seen did little to inspire confidence for Sorge and co. Still Kurt was confident the build was spot on, just that a little more speed was needed to grease the landing.
Fest friends, Aggassiz and Sorge worked out the top of their line together - first tackling the step-down before moving on to their huge ridge-line hip-jump. There aren't many more exciting people to watch on two wheels especially for first attempts.
Fairclough's line began up among the desert trees and scrub and looked like the set of a wild west movie. Rough and ungroomed in parts, it looked like the Englishman was onto a unique and potentially high-scoring line dissimilar to all others. He may not have the varied bag of tricks of the top slopestylers, but speed and aggression could surely compensate for that in the right doses.
Despite cooler temperatures than years gone by, this year's dig was about the toughest on record and Fairlough had his loyal diggers, Olly Wilkins and Ben Deacon slaving hard everyday. Of course he did his fair share despite the need to be fit for the ride of his life at the end of the week. Fairclough even roped up to craft his 'icing on the cake' feature, the infamous 'death chute' of err death, to top-off his wild line.
Although it already seemed to be in good shape, Brendan wanted to re-work his landing from the Dwayne Johnson feature. The proportions were the kind that demanded perfection so he and crew hiked up with tools to get everything looking spot on and extra firm to handle the huge compression and a few practice hits could be had before the big show.
With everything looking good to go for tackling the huck in the evening light, but the wind was gusting hard and keeping most riders off the hill or at least forcing them to stick with the shovels instead their bikes. Numerous practice runs and it still seemed risky. Finally after sun-down the wind calmed momentarily and gave Brendan the window he needed to face the demons and send it.
With the big girl ticked off, Fairclough was now in the rare and enviable position of having practiced his entire run, after riding his canyon and death chute during the morning session. Things were looking good for turning up the heat for finals.
Meanwhile on the other side of the mountain, Sorge was patiently waiting it out, shaping and reshaping the kicker into his 70ft sender, hoping for a weather window. The wind was still out of control and the chance of him getting to practice the massive step-down before finals day slowly faded out with the dwindling light. This is Rampage and it's considered the toughest event of the MTB calender for a reason.
Finals day arrived way too soon for most riders and good deal of features were still unridden, either due to overrunning on the builds or in Kurt's case, the wait for the wind. Unfortunately regular strong gusts were still sweeping across the mountain and riders were forced to warm up at the bottom and leave tests runs higher up to the absolute last minute of the extended practice session.
Waiting for over an hour in the shadow of the mountain wasn't exactly the ideal preparation, but Sorge knew what had to be done and he stayed calm and collected to the end. This was the last feature he was yet to pioneer and it needed to get sent with immediate effect before finals. With a drop in the wind at long last, Kurt wasted no time heading back up to his bike. Coming in a little quick, he went huge and super deep. The compression proved too great and his feet blew off the pedals and he went down hard, crashing into the upslope of the next jump.
A long way from the perfect warm-up session, Sorge seemed sombre, but then again so did most. That's usually the tone at the traditional mandatory riders meeting right before go time. After all, serious stuff is about to go down and everybody knows it.
For the big show the boys didn't hold back. Fairclough cleaned his line perfectly on the first run, taming all that madness and quite possibly making it look far too easy. The score came in and the feeling was it was on the lighter side of what was expected, but then the first rider down has to set the standard for this crazy show. Sorge came out swinging, flipping his first step-down, but immediately feeling the effects of his crash in training. Win number 4 was most definitely off the table and survival mode was initiated. Still, somehow the three-time champ 'nursed it' down some of the burliest features on the mountain and threw in a flip at the end for good measure.
Well no one said it would be easy, even for two of the biggest names in the game. For Sorge it was to be ninth place, the automatic invite back next year and some solid reprisal on the super-sender, having landed it clean in the contest. Meanwhile, Fairclough's insane line and pin-point riding wasn't going to go unrecognised and he took the Kelly McGarry Spirit award for his efforts. Roll on next year. Who knows what these legends will be capable of pulling off on these lines in 2019.