Rampage: Where I can be my own rider
SRAM — Red Bull Rampage moved to a new venue this year. You’ve filmed there, and, with the 2016 win fresh in your pocket, it would be hard to believe you’d have anything bad to say about the new venue, but tell us how this new Rampage location affected the event.
Brandon Semenuk — Yeah, that new venue is amazing. Compared to the last one, it was a lot more…there were a lot more ridges that were a lot more evenly matched. There wasn’t just one ridge that was particularly great; they were all, like…they were all pretty good, they all had their plus sides and down sides. I think that was kind of one of the reasons that this year was good — it spread everyone out, no one was looking at the same thing, and you had to get creative.
Brandon rode to victory aboard his Trek Session equipped with SRAM X01 DH and SRAM X0 Hubs. AVID Code brakes kept him in control, while RockShox BoXXer WC and RockShox Vivid R2C, were there to soak up all the big hits.
Rampage is the only event of its kind, in that you build your own “course.” It also seems that at Rampage, unlike many ultra-elite-level events, riders are content — happy even — just to finish, and that the results are almost secondary. Almost.
You find your line, you build it, and then you’re pretty much stuck with that line at that point. So you’ve gotta be pretty confident when you start the build that it is a competitive line. You can never say that it’s a winning line out there, because you really just don’t know.
And you’ll see people get over their heads — start to build some really insane stuff. Like, “Alright, I’m gonna do this because then my line is gonna be better than everyone else’s.” And then they build something scary that doesn’t end up working, or they eat s*** on.
So you really have to work that fine edge, where you’re like, “Okay, this is within my boundaries, but this is still a competitive line. But you don’t really know until the line is done, and you’ve ridden it, and you’ve seen everyone else ride their lines…"
So, yeah, you’re pretty much stuck with just being content with what you’ve got.
How much is your dig crew involved in the creative process of finding that line and determining what your run will look like?
It’s a little bit collaborative. Obviously, I kind of have to be able to envision the line myself. So, usually, I’ll find the moments on a hill that I’m like, “Okay, this could be cool. We could build this.” But then I’ll definitely lean on them for reassurance. “Do you think this is rideable? Do you think we can build this in time? Is it going to connect with the next feature?” So, there’s definitely a lot that decides the build that I lean on those guys for. They are definitely a good second and third opinion.
You pedaled into that big flat-spin 360 like you were sprinting for a World Cup Downhill win.
Yeah, I did. When we built the jump, and I tested it the first time, I was going into it no pedals, and I cased it a few times. We were kind of like, “Oh f***, that’s an issue.” But it was really new, and we had just finished slapping it, and there was a lot of fresh dirt on the face of the run-in. So, we’re like, “Ah, we’ll just slap it again,” which we did, and we got it quite a bit more packed. So I hit it again the next day. The first run I no-pedaled it again, and I didn’t case as bad, but I was definitely not getting enough speed to trick it — I really wanted to flat spin this jump. The problem with that is I need a ton of speed — the jump really just being a lot bigger than we expected it to be.
After that, I was like, “I’m going to go slower [on the feature leading into it], and land higher, and just try to get a crank in. It’s a fairly long run-in into the jump — it was a steep, long landing. So I did one run where I put my bike in the hardest gear and did a crank and cleared it fine. And then the next run I was able to spin it. So I was like, “Alright, that’s what I’ve got to do. I have to land right at the top of this [the previous] landing, so I have time to pedal down it.
You’re a very cerebral competitor, so we have to assume there was going to be more in that second run if you had to, and were able to, ride it. Did you have more in the plan for run number two?
Yeah, for sure. I definitely had more. Nothing in particular — like, I was kind of just going to go off of what everyone else was doing. But I was pretty happy with my first run, and I had a pretty good [points] spread from everyone else. But I was pretty confident that I would have to do a second run. I just thought someone was going to just get crazy and pull something out that would potentially bump me. Because I was going early, I was planning to do a similar run, but just charge a bit harder and add just a couple things throughout the run instead of just one really big thing — add more to it, add more to the tricks I was already doing. That was my plan.
But the way the second runs were going, the wind had flipped on us. It was a little bit side-wind for me, and headwind for that big jump where I needed speed. It seemed as if it was just going to be so much harder to get a run down.
It was gusting up there.
It got super windy. It got really windy. But there were some breaks. The problem was it would be windy for like 20 minutes and there would be a break for like, two. So it was hard to trust.
You can see it in the webcast that quite a few people got kind of screwed over by the wind on their second runs.
If this had been Red Bull Joyride, even with wind like that, you would’ve done a “victory lap” but not at Rampage. This beast is that gnarly, isn’t it?
It’s gnarly, for sure. Some of the stuff, I only rode once before finals, and then obviously I rode it for my finals run. But being windy, I’m not going to ride it again just because. The risk on that stuff, like some of that exposure stuff at the top is just huge. Even if I felt comfortable with it, the reward of me riding it again isn’t really worth what the risk could be.
Not the kind of thing you want to be casually riding down, but rather you want to be hyper focused.
If I’m going to be riding down that stuff, I might as well be doing another [competition] run.
The new venue also brought some new rules and a panel of judges comprised completely of former Rampage competitors. In 2015, you were the People’s Choice but the judges didn’t agree with the people. This year, you won over both the jury and the voting fans. You’re obviously not going to bite the hand that feeds and say that the judging was bad, but can you talk about judging Rampage a little bit?
Rampage in general is probably the most difficult event to judge. I can look at slopestyle runs and feel pretty confident with where I think people should be. But when you’ve got 20 different lines, and you haven’t ridden them all, you’re really just going off what they look like — how you picture it in your head, riding. It’s not necessarily like a calculation; it’s just like an opinion, which, I guess, judging is. But [Rampage] is maybe more opinion than judging normally is. It’s tough to judge.
I think they did a really great job. They obviously took a lot of time and really talked it through this year. But I think the biggest thing for me was just to see the points spread be not too crazy. I think that was the problem with Rampage before — you know, someone would have a better run, than the next guy, but instead of getting the two to three points more than he should’ve gotten, he gets like eight to ten points more.
I think they kept it pretty fair, and just from watching some of the athletes go down, and where they ended up, I thought they were pretty accurate.
In the finish corral, no one looked like they thought they had been totally robbed or anything.
I think there were maybe a couple of athletes that were like…you could’ve questioned it [the score] a little more, but I think that everyone was pretty much where they would’ve been.
I think that those guys did a great job. Obviously, they’ve all ridden this before — they’ve all done Rampage before — so they have the most understanding. If anyone’s going to judge it, [it should be] a crew like that.
How many more years will we see you dropping in to a Rampage line?
It’s hard to say — I don’t plan on stopping…I don’t plan on not competing next year or the year after. I think it’s one of the ones I’ll do for at least a few more years.
I actually quite enjoy Rampage. It’s really gnarly, and it’s a lot of work — you’re basically digging in the desert for, you know, 10 days before you drop into this pretty scary run. But the whole event is quite cool and is a really amazing experience. I like that I can just go out there and do my own thing — I get to be my own rider, I get to be creative with what I build and what I ride.
Photos by Ale Di Lullo