Launching into action at Crankworx Innsbruck.
He's won at nearly all of the stops on the Crankworx World Tour. First, Nicholi Rogatkin won Best Trick in Les Gets in 2016. Next, he kicked off 2017 with a bang, securing the coveted top spot of the box in the Crankworx Rotorua Slopestyle in Memory of McGazza. Most recently, he took the inaugural win in the Crankworx Innsbruck Slopestyle presented by Kenda.
One remains. The original. The biggest. The most coveted. Red Bull Joyride
And while this final competition at Crankworx Whistler is always on another level, this time the stakes are even higher, with Nicholi on track to win a never-before-claimed prize: the Triple Crown of Slopestyle
Created in 2015, the Triple Crown is intended to sit just beyond the grasp of most riders, who must win three of the four Crankworx slopestyle events in a single year to wear the crown. Brandon Semenuk has managed to win three Crankworx slopestyle events—Crankworx Colorado, Crankworx Les 2 Alpes and Red Bull Joyride at Crankworx Whistler—but never in a single year. Brett Rheeder came close to the crown in 2015 but ultimately fell to the pressure at the final stop of the season.
On top of the honour, there's a $50,000 paycheque on the line—the largest prize in mountain biking, by far. $25,000 for securing first place at Joyride and another $25,000 for the Triple Crown itself.
No pressure, right?
We talked to Nicholi Rogatkin ahead of the big show.
You told us at the beginning of the season your goal was to top a Crankworx box. You’ve done that twice now. How does it feel?
Red Bull Joyride 2017 training.
It feels incredible. Setting that goal for myself it was… I definitely put a bit of pressure on myself for it. Whistler last year didn’t go as planned for me. I had two big crashes but I was still able to get up and finish my run and finish high enough to procure me an FMB World Championship, so even though it was successful in one way, it was kind of devastating. So for this season I went in and I just thought it would be a really crazy feeling to do a run that would get me on top of the box at Crankworx, because that’s one of the hardest things to do in slopestyle mountain biking. So yeah, definitely put a bit of pressure on myself setting that goal. To get it done was quite emotional. Especially again after a big crash in Les Gets, it was quite overwhelming to do it all again in Innsbruck. I definitely feel satisfied and definitely a little overwhelmed, and a bit shocked when I step back and think about it, to see that I’ve won two out of three of the events so far. But the biggest event is still upcoming. We’ll see.You’d mentioned last year that a podium on the course that was designed by Kelly McGarry and Tom Hey was really emotional, and you mentioned again just now that it was really emotional. Can you tell us a little bit about what that feeling was like on that day?
It seems like every Rotorua slopestyle has been so epic. All the riders, we’re always in such a good vibe. We love the course. We love the overall there. Especially these past two years, we’ve just been giving our all for Kelly, for such a legend. It’s hard for me to say if this year or last year was more emotional. With all the riders coming down there, we all just come together for a common goal. So to be able to have some success down there, and this year have my first ever Crankworx win down there, I couldn’t have wished for a better first one. Super emotional. I couldn’t believe it after finishing the run. It took quite a while to soak in.
I think it’s a vibe that people can feel on site and that people can feel when they’re watching the broadcast as well. I think you can tell that you guys are a community of riders that really care about each other, and you can tell that Kelly was such a powerful part of that. I think they could see that when you crossed the finish line and saw your score, it’s a vibe that was palpable. It was awesome for us to witness and sounds like it was an awesome moment for you.
Taking home his first Crankworx slopestyle win in Rotorua, 2017.
Absolutely.Let's talk France—that obviously didn’t go your way, with that 14th place finish in Les Gets. Did it motivate you to get centred and come back into Innsbruck ready to fight?
I think it was a motivator, but definitely, a lot of pressure arose from that. Coming off a win and then straight into a 14th place was definitely like, “Damn, I need to get my act together in Innsbruck.” But I mean Les Gets was tough for a lot of the riders. It was a pretty tough course, in terms of speed, and we had a lot of weather issues with a very windy week, so it wasn’t the most ideal practice. We saw a lot of the guys crash out in their runs. Unfortunately I was part of that.
It was heartbreaking to crash on that last jump. That’s one of the worst feelings when you do your whole run and then you get there and basically nothing comes of it. That was quite tough. It was easier to get over because some of the other riders had a bit of trouble and we all knew that there was another huge stop coming up the next week in Innsbruck. That crash and that 14th spot was definitely a huge motivator, but also some heavy pressure to get my act together and get back on track.Did you watch yours and Rheeders' final runs in Innsbruck? That was some intense stuff. One of the tightest battles ever.
I actually haven’t gone back and watched the proper battle between us. And I think the reason for that is it was such an incredible feeling in the actual moment, that I want to remember that, rather than the feeling of watching it on screen. I remember his first run was pretty much spot on, but all of us riders knew he had some more in the tank, so the feeling for me dropping into that second run was that I had to put absolutely everything on the line, absolutely 100%. I had a lot of points to make up, so I put it all on the line.
The feeling of landing that and then watching him throw down an absolutely perfect run—I just want to remember that feeling. I think it was a pretty epic moment for both Rheeder and I. I think we’re hoping for a similar battle one day between us. Epic moment for you guys, and I think for everybody who watched that—a great moment in sport. I don’t think anybody could really believe that those second runs were both about as close to perfection as you can get. You have to wonder at how hard it must have been to judge something like that.
Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t want to be one of the judges up there that day. It was tight for sure.When you think about two competitors, say yourself and someone like Semenuk or Rheeder, you have fairly different styles, and it’s something that seems to divide the fans a lot. Say Rheeder comes in first and you come in second, the internet always explodes with “Nicholi got robbed" comments. There’s sort of an army of people that seem to think your type of riding is really progressing the sport more than that more style-heavy type of riding. What do you think?
I think that debate between styles is the reason why all of us mountain bikers, or mountain biking fans, love the sport. It’s pure freestyle. Everyone rides the way they want to and the people watching then have their own opinion on whether they prefer the stylish tricks, the technical oppo stuff, or those heavy-rotation and tail-whip tricks that I’m used to. So I think that variety is what makes the style so great. Everyone can have their own style. I think we’re all trying to push the sport in our own respects and I’m stoked that some people think the way I ride is progressing the sport. That’s a huge motivator for me to continue pushing and sacrificing and getting slammed, then getting back up. I think Rheeder and Semenuk, and all the other riders, feel the same for their styles, and I think it’s cool we have the freedom to do that.
The big question: We’re heading into Red Bull Joyride and you’ve won two out of three Crankworx slopestyle contests this year, so... the Triple Crown. It's within your reach. It's never been won before. What would that mean to you?
Coming in to the final feature at Red Bull Joyride, 2016.
The Triple Crown. It speaks for itself. It’s never been done. Brett came so close back in 2015. There’s definitely a lot of pressure there. It seems like an impossible feat to three times win the hardest competitions in slopestyle mountain biking. To have the opportunity to make a run for it—I’m honoured. Stoked to be in that position. It’s definitely going to put me under some immense pressure in Whistler, but it’s also a huge motivator. It would be quite a life-changing moment for me if I was able to do so.
I’m going to strive for that and try to not put too much pressure on myself, and try to enjoy the vibe of dropping into Crankworx Whistler. I know a lot of riders dream of that, and us riders that have been fortunate enough to drop into that know that it’s an incredible thing to be a part of. I’ll immerse myself into that incredible vibe and see how it goes for me.What would you do with an extra $25k in your pocket?
It’s definitely far from my stream of thought right now. Us riders, we definitely ride for our passion of mountain biking instead of the money. That being said, 25k would be some nice icing on the cake if I was able to do that. My goal is more to try and make it down the course in one piece. If that happens and you can score the highest, then that would be some icing on the cake with that prize money. It’s definitely not the first thing on my mind these days.You’re coming off a win at Colorado Freeride Fest. and at O Marisquino in Spain. Add that to your win in Innsbruck, and you’re on a pretty solid streak. What does that do for your confidence going into the biggest slopestyle contest of the season?
Winning Colorado was also quite emotional. For me, it was the first slopestyle competition I actually ever rode back in 2013. I had a sixth-place finish there which actually was the only way I got the invite to ride Best Trick at Crankworx back in 2013, which kind of inspired me to keep riding mountain bikes. So it’s a soft spot for me, to go back there. I’ve been super hungry for a win. I’ve been ever so close with third and second place finishes there, so to come away with a win in my first event after Innsbruck was great. I feel pretty confident putting a full run together and landing my tricks at the moment. Hopefully, I can continue with some of the same and stomp some tricks that make the crowd go wild in Whistler. That would be awesome.
Last year the Twister was something new we hadn’t seen before. This year you seem to have it totally dialled, and it seems almost routine for you. Where on earth do you take this sport next?
Fer McGazza. Fer Gold. Crankworx Rotorua, 2017.
There’s always the next step for progression. Rewind it back two years and see how the progression’s gone just recently. It’s mindblowing. So the progression always has a place to go. The jumps are getting bigger. The riders are adding bar spins and tailwhips and rotations to every trick. You see guys like Emil Johansson, who’s just adding bar spins everywhere and just doing some of the most progressive technical stuff, and we’re starting to spin things the opposite way. You see Brett doing cork spins the opposite way, no problem. The sport seems to have endless space for progression.
As we talked about earlier, my riding is pretty heavily trick based, so I’m trying to see if there are possibilities to add extra rotations to the Twister, or maybe a trick in there, or just completely go off on a different access of rotation. There’s definitely a lot of experimentation involved in the process. I do have some things up my sleeve that I haven’t done that could be possible for Whistler, but we’re going to have to wait and see until I get to the course. But in terms of progression, it’s endless.
Let’s talk goals—do you see yourself being someone like Zink who’s still competing and pushing it, while relatively settled with a family, or do you see yourself going in a different direction, maybe moving behind-the-scenes, or like Nyquist, pushing into other disciplines?
After landing the Twister for the first time in Crankworx competition. Rotorua 2016.
There’ve definitely been thoughts about the long term, and I say this a lot but I think most of us riders, we’re basically taking our childhood dreams and making them into our careers. Especially us contest riders, we’re really living in the moment and trying to enjoy the fact that we get to travel and compete on the biggest stage of mountain biking with some of our best friends. Some of us younger riders, we really are inspired by guys like Ryan Nyquist because it makes it seem like a possibility that in 20 years we could still be able to ride at a competition level. Those older guys inspire us but we’re really trying to live in the moment right now, enjoy life on the bike and push the sport as much as possible.
Going big in practice at Crankworx Innsbruck, 2017.
Watch Nicholi make his final push in his year-long campaign to win Triple Crown of Slopestyle. Red Bull Joyride is LIVE on all your devices on Redbull TV
and on crankworx.com
Sunday, August 20, 10:30am–1:30pm PDT
Sunday, August 20, 7:30pm–10:30pm CEST
Monday, August 21, 5:30am–8:30am NZST