The stage is set at the year’s gnarliest gravity mountain biking competition. Here’s a close look at the 2022 Red Bull Rampage athletes and venue as the action draws near.
Red Bull Rampage goes live on Friday at 10:30 a.m. MT (pending good weather). When it does, you’d better be ready: The action will be fast and furious. You can watch Rampage live in Virgin, Utah, or on ESPN+. (Or on Red Bull TV if you’re not in the U.S.)
But what should you watch for? Sure, the world’s best gravity mountain bikers will spend hours careening through the sky and tearing up the dirt. But to really squeeze the juice out of the daylong sending, it’s worth knowing a little more.
Find a few key entry points to Red Bull Rampage 2022 on GearJunkie.
Riders to Watch
There’s only one way to put this: All eyes are on Brandon Semenuk ahead of this year’s competition. The 31-year-old became Rampage’s only four-time champion (and its oldest) last October. He also won his first-ever Rampage back in 2008 at just 17 years old.
If that all makes Semenuk seem like he might be ready to take his foot off the gas and bask in the glow, think again.
“[T]his is a passion. I do it because I love it,” he told the print publication The Red Bulletin. “If I start to do it in a way where I’m not gonna love it, then it’s not really worth it to me anymore. I’m not gonna risk my life if I’m not in it — if I’m not super down for it.”
Semenuk’s presence in Virgin this year, therefore, signifies his competitive intentions. But that doesn’t mean he’s the only rider who will grab the crowd’s attention.
Veteran Kyle Strait is the only rider to compete in every Rampage since the inaugural 2001 competition. He’s ridden the gravity gamut during his lengthy career, from slopestyle to downhill. Look for Strait to craft high-speed, slashing runs.
Editor’s note: Strait was injured during practice on Thursday and airlifted from the venue. Red Bull confirmed Strait is undergoing surgery and will not compete tomorrow. Red Bull said it will release more information at the family’s discretion and plans to prime TV audiences before the event starts on Friday.
If you’re into speed, you’ll also want to keep an eye on Virgin, Utah, local Jaxson Riddle. He used his distinct style to leave a lasting impression at his Rampage debut last year. As a longtime motocross rider, he prioritizes pacing and tends to throw different tricks than most of the rest of the field. And if you take it from him, he’s less concerned with his scores than he is with playing the game the way he wants to play it.
“I’m there to make memorable times with my homies, that’s what’s most important to me,” he told The Red Bulletin. “[J]ust have the most fun in my life, with my best friends, versus putting all this pressure on myself and blocking out the fun aspect. At the end of the day, that’s why I started riding bikes. And that’s what I want to keep it as.”
You’ll also find newcomer Dylan Stark on this year’s roster. Stark spent his younger days cultivating a strong BMX career (he was pro by 16), but his prospects started to fade along with the sport’s popularity in the 2010s. When he built a mountain bike and started posting clips of himself riding for fun to YouTube, Semenuk reached out and gifted him a Trek Session from the back of his shop.
The rest is history. Stark arrives in Virgin this year after the recent death of his father, who raised him more or less alone.
“[O]n the way to Utah, I’m going to pick up his ashes, and I plan to spread some before I drop in. Whatever happens after that happens, but I know he’d be really proud of me,” Stark told The Red Bulletin.
Elsewhere, Carson Storch roars back to the ridgeline after a devastating injury year in 2021. A tibial plateau fracture during an April practice session came first. Then, he broke both collar bones in two separate accidents — the second one during Rampage practice.
Alex Volokhov, Kurt Sorge
Alex Volokhov arrives at Rampage for his ninth straight year but is slated to ride for the first time ever. That’s because he’s graduating from his longtime position as Kurt Sorge’s lead builder to the rider field thanks to a wildcard bid.
And don’t count out Sorge. He’s won three previous Rampages, including the last one he competed in in 2017.
The Terrain Guides Ride Style
A few riders will find this year’s Rampage venue familiar — but far from the whole field will share the feeling. The mountain last served as the terrain for Rampage from 2008 to 2013. It’s the competition’s second-oldest venue, so it amounts to something like a comeback tour for riders like Semenuk, Strait, and Sorge.
But it’s also changed a lot due to erosion and shifting Rampage rules.
The mountain, off Utah State Route 9 a few miles down the road from Zion National Park, plunges about 1,000 feet from the summit ridge to the bowl at the bottom. Secondary ridgelines, arroyos, and wandering ramps lead to the bottom.
Riddle, the local, is familiar with the area and noted that it facilitates a huge range of riding styles and possibilities.
Anyone who’s ridden it in previous Rampages most likely had to start almost from scratch in the digging phase this year. Wet weather rapidly makes mud out of the soft, loosely consolidated Southern Utah sandstone.
On top of that, Rampage rules have changed since 2013. Back then, riders could incorporate wooden structures into their runs. But since 2015, the only structural components Red Bull allows are sandbags. That means one prominent gap jump at mid-height will change in character. Instead of a gap send, look for drop-ins this year.
To track the action, look for riders to huck big drops (up to 70 feet) at the start of their runs, then bring it home by stringing together tricks in lower-angle terrain, where landings are less risky.
The Bond Between Rampage Riders and Diggers
No two Red Bull Rampage runs look alike because there’s no prescribed way to sculpt or ride the terrain. You’ll generally see big-mountain-style riding near the top and slopestyle or freeride techniques below.
But each rider brings their own style and skillset to the routes they sculpt on, and carve into, the mountainside. That makes the role of each rider’s two diggers critical.
Almost every Rampage athlete recruits digging help from people they’re close to. Diggers have to know their rider’s style and be able to communicate fluently and transparently about how they can best express it on the terrain they’ll create.
And that still glosses over the most important component of a crew’s success: the rider getting down in one piece. Crews have to strike a balance between scoring and safety in route design. A rider can only rack up points on a mega run if they’ve got a wide enough safety margin to feel comfortable riding at full tilt.
“There’s a lot of pressure, because you don’t want to build something wrong that your best friend is about to do the craziest thing in his life on,” Volokhov told The Red Bulletin.
‘Craziest’ Ride of Their Lives: Mental Fortitude Is Key
Maybe Volokhov said it best: It takes a special individual and a lot of commitment (from the rider and their team) to drop into a Red Bull Rampage line and go full send.
“Nerves are high at the top,” Sorge told The Red Bulletin. “When you’re up there, your heart’s racing, and you’re doing breathwork. You do a couple of squats or circles with your arms to stay warm and limber. But then it’s just visualizing every maneuver and every section of the course … You go off the top and just roll over into the abyss.”
Sorge’s lyric description of that pivotal moment is the tip of the iceberg: Rampage is notoriously challenging mentally, and riders spend months building the confidence they need to perform in such a demanding arena.
“Here, it’s more about your overall bike skills, less about tricks. The best way to prepare is to ride as much as you can in different places, to get a better feel for the bike. If you come in feeling strong on the bike and strong mentally, you’ll perform well at Rampage,” Thomas Genon said.
Storch added, “Rampage takes a few months of mental preparation, to be prepared in a lot of different aspects as possible, having the right tools and being comfortable. You want to feel good on the bike, but mentally preparing for the build and everything that ensures as well, because it gets pretty hectic.”
If you’ve ever seen anyone on a bike do anything as crazy as the Rampage riders, please send us the video.
And if you haven’t, tune in this Friday.