Words by Brice Minnigh
Photos by Anthony Smith
Clear blue skies and rising winds heralded the beginning of today's Red Bull Rampage qualifiers, but despite a few brief windows of hospitable weather, the wind, rain and lightning ultimately brought about an untimely end to the second qualifying runs. Ten riders are still hopeful that they will get a chance to join the 10 pre-qualified riders for a shot at big-mountain glory. Here's a gallery with highlights of today's action:
Rampage organizer Todd Barber lays down the gameplan for the day's pandemonium.
With an early-morning Utah wind kicking up well before this morning's riders' meeting, the couple-dozen qualifying hopefuls listened to the instructions with nervous anticipation.
The fans, on the other hand, didn't give two shits about the wind, and chanted, "Rampage, Rampage" as they chugged their morning lagers and watched the world's sickest riders throw down their best in the world's gnarliest big-mountain contest.
The first rider to drop was the independently minded Wil White, who always rides to the hum of his own freewheel. After competing in several Rampages and always putting in a solid performance, White has proven that there is still a place for privateers and industry outsiders at Rampage.
After spending the last two Rampages as a pivotal member of Brandon Semenuk's build crew, Aptos, California loc-dog Kyle Jameson proved that his riding skills can rival his digging prowess. Even though he didn't qualify for the finals, he was one of the most stoked dudes on the mountain.
Speaking of perpetually stoked Aptos locals, Ryan 'R-Dog' Howard channeled his enthusiasm into a provisional 10th-place slot. Only Mother Nature and the 10 riders left waiting for their second qualifying run can determine his fate for Sunday's final.
In his debut Rampage appearance, Carson Storch looked far from a rookie, laying down a second run filled with flips and no-handers that suggested a veteran-like poise. Was this really Carson's first Rampage rodeo?
Despite a fourth-place finish in the 2012 Rampage, some would argue that James Doerfling has never unleashed his full potential at this contest. However, if his eighth-place qualifying position holds steady until Sunday, he might get the opportunity to show the world what lies beneath.
Almost every rider in today's qualifiers would have been a lock for the Rampage finals in years past, but 2014 has set a new benchmark for what it takes to make it to Super Bowl Sunday. Frenchman Louis Reboul showed that he has everything it takes to make it to the finals, and he still has his second qualifying run to earn that berth.
While riders took different lines into the canyon gap, Tom van Steenbergen opted for the steepest, most direct route into the abyss, solidifying his abject disrespect for the laws of gravity. Could this mean he has something bigger up his sleeve for Sunday's finals?
For two years in a row, Tom van Steenbergen was the first rider to hit the massive canyon gap at both the old and new venues. Despite the fact that Polish phenom Szymon Godziek followed up with the first-ever backflip of the canyon gap, Steenbergen's overall run was impressive enough to keep him firmly in second place on the qualifying list.
While Szymon Godziek's backflip over the canyon gap stunned the crowds, his high-speed traverse into that gap did not go unnoticed by the judges. The sum of all the parts has him sitting squarely in third place.
First-place qualifier Brett Rheeder made his line look like his favorite local trail, capping off a seemingly effortless run with a gargantuan backflip that seemed to last forever.
If your claim to fame is a raw, natural line, then your build crew's pre-run inspection should look a little like this.
Rampage legend Robbie Bourdon totally lived up to this claim, forsaking jumps and tricks in favor of massive, unmanicured drops and some of the steepest lines of the contest. His performance was a throwback to the seminal freeride days and the birth of Rampage itself—and the fans loved every second of it.
Graham Agassiz is always a threat to win it all, and he would never take the easy route to qualifying for finals. This no-holds-barred approach meant that he was the first rider to guinea pig the massive cliff drop that will also be Brandon Semenuk's and Andreu Lacondeguy's entry into their pre-qualified finals line. Unfortunately, he crashed hard in his first attempt, and now must stomp his second qualifying run to make it to the finals. But regardless of how his second run goes down, he will always be respected by competitors and fans for his all-or-nothing approach to big-mountain riding. We're not alone in wanting to see Aggy get his shot in the finals.
When the rain started coming down this afternoon, the event organizers—including bossman Todd Barber—weren't afraid to get on their hands and knees in an attempt to keep the contest rolling along safely.
For a brief, magical moment, it appeared that the Gods were looking down upon the remaining qualifying hopefuls, but a sudden onslaught of rain, wind and lightning prompted organizers to call off the day's contest and send the riders and fans off the mountain.