Wednesday at Red Bull Rampage brought many more hours of shoveling, with riders either grooming sections they built on Tuesday or moving down the ridges to lay out the rest of their runs to the finish line. It wasn’t all work though; the bikes came out late in the day as the heat slowly eased, and there’s certainly more action on deck for Thursday, the last day of practice.
There was plenty of activity on the ridge below the #1 start gate; at the 2008 event, it proved to be the fastest section of the course, favored especially by the downhill racers in the field. Creativity is key at Red Bull Rampage, so several new lines opened up as the day wore on. The section below now boasts many more jump features than it did in ’08, with gaps and hips scattered throughout to take advantage of the speed coming out of the upper section.
It’s hard to see what’s been created on the upper sections of the three ridges, so I hiked up to get a closer look. I found paths winding through the pulverized rock and dirt, most of them leading to a sheer drop. There simply is no impossible line for this crew of riders and this event. Coming out of the #2 start is a steep drop, followed by a number of narrow trails cleared of loose rock and dirt, some carving into short berms, and almost all leading into an abyss.
The blind drops are often marked by two small rocks so the riders know precisely where to shoot off the cliff (between the rocks) in order to land in at least a somewhat manageable location below, usually followed quickly by another drop. Although their bikes are complex machines with advanced suspension to dampen the impacts, nimble reflexes and quick thinking are the rider’s most valuable tools, and second-guessing leads to disaster. These guys are nuts.
With the wide variety of riding backgrounds in the field, you can definitely see that some competitors are more comfortable than others. There’s one particular drop-to-step-up-jump line that many of the riders latched onto early in the game, as it’s the most familiar contest set-up to them. While some eyed up tricky gaps elsewhere on the course, a full-on step-up session broke out today, with guys like Kurt Sorge and Alex Prochazka blasting and Andreu Lacondeguy and Tyler McCaul throwing stylish whips.
The show on the step-up helped turn the intimidating Red Bull Rampage terrain into a fun and somewhat traditional session among friends, bringing the much-needed confidence to move on and attack the rest of the course. There’s no doubt that a few features or sections won’t get ridden until the official runs go down, but we’re bound to see some big moves tomorrow as practice wraps up.
So who’s responsible for putting all these features in place before the riders hit the course, anyway? A seven-man build crew led by Paddy Kaye has been installed on site since September 1st, taking only a single day off since then in their mission to prep the venue for the world’s best freeriders.
Paddy and builders Jeremy Witek, Randy Spangler, Adam Billinghurst, Josh Bender and Robbie and Dennis Bourdon worked magic to bring slopestyle elements to a big-mountain setting without compromising the freeriding mindset. Riders themselves, these guys knew exactly what they were doing; in fact, Robbie Bourdon was a podium finisher at the 2001 Red Bull Rampage, and he’s still a competitor here in 2010.
I spoke with Paddy while the riders were on course today for a little background on the build process; read on to see how it all came together.
Was the course plan in place ahead of time, or was there a lot of design-on-the-fly stuff?
We actually had a huge advantage this year, because the crew came in for the 2008 event and started with nothing. They established the roads and a lot of the main lines; I was here for the event and watched what the athletes were hitting to see what worked and what didn’t. We had to spread all the features out and keep the flow going on each line as much as possible while trying to leave the least amount of footprint. It was very challenging as far as the layout and design, but a lot of it was done, credit to the original crew.
What was the best part of the project?
It’s hard to say right now; I think the best is yet to come for me, to get to see the fruits of our labor in the contest. One great thing has just been hanging out here in this valley. There’s so much history; it’s the wild west. Just being able to be here for a month and watch a whole moon cycle go down, that was really cool.
How has this compared to other projects you’ve worked on?
It doesn’t compare. I’ve built a lot of jumps and shaped a lot of dirt in the past, but this is so much larger in terms of everything we looked at, everything we did. For the first time in my build career, there were no limitations. There aren’t many jobs where you have that opportunity, and you have to thank Red Bull for continuing to believe in the sport and making this type of event happen. There’s nothing else like it.
What happens to the course after the event?
We knock it down and do as much cover-up as possible. Obviously, there’s still going to be a footprint, but the jumps are torn down. At least until the next Rampage, when we’ll put another month into it and bring it back to life.
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