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Red Bull Rampage returned on Friday for its 20th anniversary, packing in all the fervor and intensity for which the premier big-mountain freeride competition is known. Second runs were the story of the day in Virgin, Utah, resulting in an edge-of-your-seat atmosphere all the way up until Kyle Strait—the only athlete to compete in every Rampage—who sat in first after round one, dropped in for the last run of the afternoon. Each competitor gets two runs, but the wind in the Utah desert tends to pick up in the afternoon, so the drama usually happens in the first round. This year, as the light breeze stayed steady from the morning into the afternoon, the final leaderboard was largely decided in the second half of the day.
Ultimately Brandon Semenuk walked away with an historic win, becoming the first-ever four-time Rampage winner—a designation he earned after greasing his second run, in which he threw a technical and highly difficult trick on nearly every feature down his line. He did so while riding a downhill bike set up with a single-crown fork—the only competitor to do so—opening up more possibilities for bar spins and tailwhips, of which he took full advantage. His bike setup and the flat-drop tailwhip off a massive drop he did on it (the first in Rampage history) pushed the boundaries of what’s possible at Rampage, and confirmed his G.O.A.T. status.
Kurt Sorge, the only other three-time Rampage winner going into Friday’s final, neared Semenuk’s score of 89, landing an 88.33, after cleaning his second run, highlighted by a backflip on the top ridgeline, then a backflip nac nac followed quickly by a backflip off the Ski Jump. Sorge won in 2017, the last time Rampage was held at the same venue as Friday, and utilized most of his existing line from that year, so he was definitely among the favorites going into the day. Reed Boggs, who grew up in nearby Hurricane, and was originally listed as an alternate for this year, proved his place on the podium with an 87, after hitting a technical stepdown into a 360 drop. “I’ve been working all year for this, it’s so relieving,” he said in the corral at the end of his run. “I did what I came here to do, stomped the three and rode out.”
Rampage veteran Cam Zink sat just off the podium, with an 86.33, and Tyler McCaul landed in fifth place, which must’ve felt nearly as good as first, after battling through an 18-month ankle injury recovery and questioning whether he’d ever be able to ride at Rampage level again. Strait ended up in sixth-place, Thomas Genon in seventh, Ethan Nell in eighth, Rampage rookie Jaxson Riddle in ninth and Szymon Godziek in tenth. The top 10 finishers are automatically qualified for next year’s event. Riddle, 20, who was the only rookie this year, impressed with his moto-inspired tricks that brought a new dimension to the competition. With Virgin as his backyard—Riddle lives in nearby St. George—he’s sure to have a long Rampage career ahead of him.
Tom van Steenbergen also made history on Friday—throwing the biggest flat-drop frontflip ever, off the The Prow jump, a truly stunning feat that won him the best trick award. Just after he landed, he backflipped the Ski Jump and crashed on the landing. A tenuous and scary medical hold followed as van Steenbergen was assessed by the medical crew. After he was transported to the hospital the extent of his injuries was extensive breaking both his left and right hip sockets into multiple pieces, a piece off the top of his femur, and a piece of his lower vertebrae. On top of all that Tom unfortunately separated the same shoulder he just healed as well.
Held on the chunky, exposed ridgelines above Virgin, Utah, Rampage is a high-stakes game that only the top freeriders in the world play, and requires the utmost precision, skill and speed calculation to complete a top-to-bottom run. This year, 15 athletes were invited, and as of finals day, only 10 of the original invitees dropped in. Perennial podium threat and 2018 winner Brett Rheeder withdrew before the event with a knee injury from an earlier crash, and Brendan Fairclough also withdrew early on due to an injury. Those spots were filled by Boggs and Genon. Carson Storch, Brage Vestavik and Andreu Lacondeguy all suffered injuries in crashes during practice and had to withdraw from finals earlier this week.