Rampage announcer Cam McMaul summed up this year's competition aptly in the moments following the event held last Friday in Virgin, Utah: "Best. Rampage. Ever."
In the 12th running of the competition, in which the world's top freeriders and their diggers sculpt the cliffs of the Utah desert into their own courses, the day was characterized by consistent top-to-bottom runs and camaraderie over controversy. Rampage starts on a knife-edge ridge 1,000 feet above the valley floor, and riders have two attempts to lay down a run that exemplifies the speed, style, skill and sheer guts it takes to compete at this level.
In a world of dust and sand, water makes for wins. Cam Zink sprays down his line alongside his dig team to make sure everything is in prime condition for his run. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
After stomping three huge backflips in his first run, Canadian Kurt Sorge took the top podium step with a 92.66, making the Nelson, British Columbia, local the first-ever three-time Rampage champion, following wins in 2012 and 2015.
Sorge edged out another Rampage veteran, Cam Zink, who spent most of the first round in the hot seat, after starting fourth and turning out a palm-sweating run in which he dropped into the steepest face on the mountain, then landed the biggest flat-drop backflip in Rampage history, resulting in a score of 90.33.
The biggest flat-drop backflip in Rampage history. Most people would settle for just that, landing it. Cam Zink went for it—and landed it—twice. Photo: Scott Markewitz
But it was third place who had the crowd in a frenzy. In the second round, 20-year-old Virgin local Ethan Nell—who was 5 years old when Rampage debuted in 2001 and qualified for the first time this year after digging for other athletes in the past—bumped defending champion Brandon Semenuk out of third place with a rowdy run that linked a flat spin off the first feature with a stepdown flip, followed by a suicide no-hander and another amplitude-filled flat spin off the final jump.
From Ramapge they rise. When Rampage first started, Ethan Nell was a 5-year-old grom. Now he’s 20 and commandingly took third place. This is the first year the Virgin, Utah, local didn’t dig for others and it showed in his performance. The 20-year-old fan favorite landed in third place after laying down a fluid second run. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Antoine Bizet handily walked with the People's Choice Award after a gutsy double-backflip failed to earn him a Top-10 finish, while fellow Frenchman Pierre-Edouard Ferry took home the Kelly McGarry Spirit Award.
Pierre-Edouard Ferry charges his line, which consisted of a 65-degree slope. Correct, not a typo, 65 degrees. 90 degrees is vertical. Only PEF, Commencal teammate Kyle Strait and Cam Zink braved the steepest entry line in Rampage history. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
This is the complete Top 10 from the 2017 Rampage:
1. Kurt Sorge (CAN) – 92.66
2. Cameron Zink (USA) – 90.33
3. Ethan Nell (USA) – 90.00
4. Brandon Semenuk (CAN) – 89.66
5. Brett Rheeder (CAN) – 89.33
6. Thomas Genon (BEL) – 89.00
7. Carson Storch (USA) – 87.66
8. Kyle Strait (USA) – 87.33
9. Tyler McCaul (USA) – 87.00
10. Tom Van Steenbergen (CAN) – 84.33
Commitment. Riders do not come here with false intentions. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Man versus ridgeline. The ‘Claw’- and ‘T-Mac’-built Goblin Drop is one of the most distinct and exposed features on the mountain. Photo: Scott Markewitz
Life after drop-in: Cam Zink and Pierre-Edouard Ferry let their nerves settle at the bottom of the mountain. Getting to the bottom unscathed is a huge accomplishment in itself, let alone progressing the sport. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Cliff-dwellers: The sun is hard to escape in the Utah desert. Diggers take a break in the shade. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Reed Boggs looks up his line from half-way down. After much calculation, it is not uncommon for athletes to throw tricks for the first time of the week during their contest runs. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Those risking life and limb aren’t living a pampered life. Kyle Strait pulls on his socks outside his trailer, gearing up to ride the steepest lines in mountain bike history. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
This photo has not been tilted, it is that steep. Adding drops and jumps into this sort of terrain is only rideable by the best of the best. Here, Ryan Howard gives it a go. Photo: Ryan Cleek
Working with desert dirt requires lots of water and serious dedication to shape. Athletes and diggers are not allowed to use power tools, so all building is done by hand. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
When the terrain gets more technical, the tucks get tighter. Brett Rheeder backflips a drop mid-run. For almost all of the drops riders are hitting, the landings are out of sight. Rheeder took 5th place at the end of the day. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
If 65-degrees of death isn’t enough to worry about, why not cross a chasm? Kyle Strait (pictured), PEF, and Zink were forced to send this gap directly following the heinously steep line they teamed up to build. Many of these athletes are used to filming one or two hits at a time. Rampage is one of the few times during the year where they work to link everything together in one run. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Tyler McCaul sends the Goblin Drop on his 26-inch wheels. T-Mac and Darren Berrecloth teamed up to create this line and were the only two riders to send the drop. Photo: Ryan Cleek
Riders face a narrow window of execution. Between building and competing, riders have only a few days of practice. Oftentimes the wind will pick up and cut sessions short, which means when the lines are rideable, athletes take any chance they can get – from dawn to dusk. Here, Brett Rheeder gets in a couple last laps before the sun sets. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
The sheer scale of the landscape speaks for the danger itself. Carson Storch is dwarfed by his 360 drop. Directly after landing, Storch presses through a full compression into a massive hip at full speed. Photo: Ryan Cleek
Losing your line is not an option. Reed Boggs drops from knife-edge ridge to knife-edge ridge, where an unlucky gust of wind could send him over the cliff face. Rampage is judged on a mix of freestyle and big-mountain freeride lines.
It is still 65 degrees. Cam Zink drops into a line he, PEF and Kyle Strait teamed up to build. It is one of the steepest lines in Rampage history. Photo: Ryan Cleek
Not long ago, many wouldn’t believe people would be spinning downhill bikes. Belgium’s Thomas Genon proves otherwise while spotting his landing toward the bottom of his run. Photo: Scott Markewitz
Big mountains, little people. The scale of the Rampage venue is mind-boggling. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Lower down the mountain, riders switch their focus from avoiding cliffs to tricks and massive jumps. Bas Van Steenbergen eyes his line off the ridge of Rampage mountain. Photo: Scott Markewitz
Thomas Genon rides a ridge line straight into a massive drop. The scale of these hits is hard to describe, with most of them being much larger and way more exposed than what can be ridden at a bike park. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Darren Berrecloth contemplates his line. The 37-year-old Rampage veteran started competing in the big-mountain contest in 2002. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Carson Storch throws one of the biggest 360s at Rampage during his 7th-place finish. On his second run he came up short, casing the landing but walked away unhurt. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Semenuk takes a break with diggers in the Utah desert. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Kurt Sorge in the middle of one of the three backflips he landed during the same run on his way to becoming Rampage’s first-ever three-time champion. Photo: Scott Markewitz
Approaching the end of an adrenaline-filled line that included a flat spin near the top of the mountain, Ethan Nell throws a suicide no-hander during his final run, securing third place. Photo: Ryan Cleek
The race-day forecast called for light winds, blue skies and Champagne showers. Photo: Adrian Marcoux
Athletes, diggers, friends and spectators descend on Virgin, Utah, every year for Rampage. It creates an environment of camaraderie and encouragement that always pushes athletes to their limits. Photo: Adrian Marcoux