Kyle Strait Becomes First Repeat Winner of Red Bull Rampage; Zink Lands Backflip Off Icon Sender

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You can only be so ready. It doesn’t matter how many hours are spent fine-tuning lines, assessing angles, dialing-in bikes – the host mountain for Red Bull Rampage almost always wins. The best riders in the world have slip-ups. Rocks give way, winds kick up, the light plays tricks on the eyes. It’s just the nature of the most challenging and exhilarating steep mountain freeride mountain bike event of the year. And 2013 was no different.

Nearly 50 freeride MTB riders descended on the Virgin Valley in southwest Utah. They arrived days in advance to begin planning and riding and, most importantly, digging. The lines don’t build themselves; friends and sponsors and parents and even girlfriends pitch in. Top to bottom in under four minutes is the only regulation. Anywhere on the mountain is fair game. Technical riding is critical, but so too is the ‘wow’ factor.

To help elevate that element Oakley once again built the Icon Sender. With its five launch points onto three different landings, it was a fixture of most of the Finalists runs. When Andreu Lacondeguy got his first look at the thing, rolling out onto one of the mid-level launches, he looked back to the crew and the Render the Sender winner (Corrie Lindsay) and said, “this thing is f*cking nuts.” It would take him a dozen roll-ups before he’d finally give it a first go.

The man who best conquered the mountain was no stranger to Rampage success. In 2004, Kyle Strait was just another up-and-coming talent among many. He declared himself in the final round with a suicide no-hand step down to claim the win at just 17 years old. Coincidentally, it would be the same suicide no-hander that would help him to an unprecedented second Rampage title. After expertly navigating the top section of the mountain, Strait approached the “Big Girl” drop of the Icon Sender, and flew into the breezy afternoon sky. He made most of the 65-foot drop with his arms stretched behind his shoulders and landing cleanly and finished his run in style.

“Heading into my run, I was just not trying to think about the wind and just roll with it. I knew I had to have the correct speed on everything; every part of my line you had to have dialed speed because it connected all the way down. At the top you couldn’t have too much speed coming in, along with all those step downs I have before the big drop, they were all pretty much connected, so if you mess up one, you mess them all up,” Strait said of his winning run. “This is my favorite event and to win this twice and to be the only person to ever do that is amazing.”

The excitement over Strait’s ride would shift to another rider on the very next run. Cam Zink knows pain, but he also knows no limits. In 2010, he landed the biggest 360 the sport had ever seen on his way to the Rampage title. This year he was battling a nagging hematoma suffered from a collision with a tree stump days prior. He’d had it drained twice in the days leading up to the Final, and yet, rumors of another sport-shaking trick were spreading. Zink wanted to backflip off the top drop of the Icon Sender. And come Finals day, with his (extremely) pregnant significant other at the base of the Sender, Zink still rode, still sent it and landed the gnarliest, most critical backflip anyone in mountain biking had ever seen.

“I’m still a little bit in shock. I landed and then couldn’t really find my line, so I didn’t hit anything at the bottom, otherwise it would have been a winning run. But I’m not bummed. I was sitting in the hospital for like eight hours the other day and the doctor wanted to do surgery and they said ‘We can do surgery and you can not ride or you can just not ride,’ and I was like, ’I’m going to f*cking ride, so you’re not doing surgery,’” Zink said. “I like Danny Way as a skateboarder rather than Nyjah [Houston] doing the tech stuff; I want to see someone go gigantic. So to have landed the biggest 360, the biggest flip, like bar none, that’s pretty bitchin’.”