Kona Gravity rider Antoine Bizet is competing in Mountain Bike Slopestyle at this weekend’s FISE World Series stop in Chengdu, China. The events are streamed live on the FISE site – for the full schedule of events, head HERE. Good luck Antoine!
Graham Agassiz has been chasing the top step at Red Bull Rampage for years. The steep and loose Utah desert terrain suits Aggy’s big mountain style, and in addition to the FEST series jams, Rampage has been a big focus for him for the past few seasons.
In 2013 Aggy qualified in 1st place and nearly stomped a finals run that would have surely been a contender for first. In 2014 he repeated the qualifying performance, yet again solidifying his position as one of the riders to watch at this event, but a knee injury during practice kept him from the finals. In 2015 he was the top qualifier for the third year in a row, and strung together a run that landed him in 3rd place in the finals. Close, but not quite. And so the chase continued.
Rampage, as you might gather, is a fickle event. Every athlete who is invited to Rampage is riding a fine line between the run of their life and waiting until next year. After a week of hard labor prepping their line, every single element of a rider’s run is calculated, and those who stand on the top of the box link together a clean top to bottom run with style and amplitude. On those last two, Aggy’s got it.
With his performance in 2015, Aggy would have been pre-qualified for this year’s event, skipping the extra competition runs that he’d been forced to do the past three years. As it turns out, Red Bull changed the structure, and the rider list was invite-only. Of course, Aggy was on that list.
Last Friday, Graham Agassiz was on the run that very well would have taken him to his first victory at Rampage when he went down hard on a huge 360 stepdown. He was taken to hospital in St. George, Utah, and diagnosed with a broken pelvis and six-to-eight weeks’ recovery. From there he transferred to Kamloops hospital, where we caught up with Aggy for a first-hand account of the crash. Here are his words:
My run was feeling really good, though I was getting blown once I got to the mid ridge section of the line and at that point was almost on autopilot just trying to hang on and get down the mountain.
As soon as I initiated the spin off of the lip it felt like it was going to come around perfect, I remember thinking to myself “I can’t believe I’m about to stomp the biggest move of my life!” But, as soon as I got to 270 degrees in my rotation I could see my landing strip and I could tell right away that I was slightly off of my mark.
By the time I completed the spin it was too late, I clipped the overhanging rock shelf only two feet to the right of the top of the landing. This then immediately ejected my bike from beneath me, where all I could see was this big boulder protruding from the right side of the landing where all my momentum was being thrown into.
The initial impact was beyond aggressive, as the right side of my torso then slammed and wrapped around this rock, and then I continued to get tossed down the rest of the landing, ragdolling to the bottom. The rush of pain that flooded my body was like nothing I have ever experienced before. I quickly checked to make sure my legs were still working which was a huge relief, but once that wave washed over me I knew it was bad.
The pressure of competition definitely played a role in this incident. Looking back I went against all of my knowledge and experience of what I know can happen in these scenarios with the wind. On any other day I wouldn’t have dropped in.
The anticipation of watching from thousands of miles away, of knowing our rider was capable of laying down a winning run and seeing him go down was gut-wrenching. We wish Aggy a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him back on the bike soon.
Antoine Bizet went into this year’s Red Bull Rampage with something to prove. You see, last year, he nailed his whole run before going down on a double backflip attempt that put him off the bike for the next eight months. Bizet returned to the Utah desert with a positive attitude and the desire to simply put down solid runs and get scores on the board. Of course, once the wheels were in motion, redemption on the double backflip was in his sights…
Photos by Ale di Lullo.
Bizet on Preparing, Both Physically and Mentally…
This year I made sure everything was perfect on my line. I trained a lot and waited for the wind to be perfect to drop. I was still pretty stressed before my first run, even if I knew my line perfectly it’s a terrifying event to be at the top!
On Aggy’s Crash…
A bunch of us riders were watching his run from the top ridge and as soon as he crashed everyone hated it, yelling big and long “nooooo”, grabbing our heads, couldn’t believe what we just saw. It showed that we’re more a bunch of friends than competitors against each other. He was on a winning run for sure! It was beautiful and terrible at the same time. We felt better when we saw the ambulance coming to get him – we knew that if it had been a really bad injury, the heli would have come. After this we got back to the contest hoping he’d be good, and kept this crash in our heads like a reminder that things can go wrong so quick. Wishing a good recovery to my teammate.
On What Could Have Been…
My goal in the first run was really to make it to the bottom in a simple, fast and massive way, and get redemption on last year’s crash. I had a few things to add for my second run, but it was hard to choose – I didn’t want to do too much and crash! I was planning to flatspin 360 the step down right after my double flip, but I landed too low on the no-hander above. Because of that I didn’t send the double flip and then knew it wasn’t a 1st place run, so just flipped the step down for the fans and made it to the bottom in one piece. That was my main goal!
On the Wind…
The second run was actually less windy than the first one. If conditions weren’t perfect I don’t think I would’ve sent it knowing I was 2nd.
On Finding Out He’d Clinched Second…
I thought there were a few riders who might able to beat me, but at the top I saw the big fishes going and I realised it would probably stay. What a sick feeling! It felt crazy of course! I didn’t come in a competitive mindset this year – I just wanted to have a full run, something I hadn’t done since my first time and first second place at Rampage in 2012.
On Dropping in Knowing He’d Already Landed on the Podium…
I knew I could add things and Brandon was only 3 points away from me, so as conditions were good I went for it and I’m glad I did – I’m one of the only riders who made it twice perfectly to the bottom! After that I just was enjoying every little part: signing shirts and taking pictures with fans for a long time and enjoying all the smiles and congratulations of friends and fans… and the after party… oh man! I missed it all!
Follow Antoine on Instagram.
GoPro footage from Rampage really shows off the exposure riders are faced with in the Utah desert. Ride along with Kona Gravity rider Antoine Bizet as he hits knife-edge ridges at speed, big gaps, and finds redemption on a double backflip that he wanted so badly.
Aggy started his run off super clean with a steep and loose big mountain line right down the guts of the Rampage site. After nailing the big line Aggy rallied a series of stepdowns and hips with his signature style, but clipped a landing and went down hard. He was taken for medical examination and did not complete his second run. We haven’t had a full report of his condition but we are hoping for the best.
Antoine Bizet completed both of his runs top to bottom, with the recurring theme of getting upside-down. In his first run he nailed a huge double backflip, impressing the judges for a score of 81.00. Antoine was super positive about his result, and amidst other riders choosing not to ride their second runs, went for it anyway. He added tricks but left the double backflip out, and his first run score held for 2nd overall – his second time on the second step at Rampage. Congrats to Antoine!
We’re all thinking of Aggy here at Kona, wishing him a speedy recovery, and hope to see him back on the bike soon.
Later this morning, the world’s top freeride mountain bikers will realize the days of hard work they’ve put into crafting carefully selected lines at the sport’s biggest spectacle, Red Bull Rampage. Kona Gravity riders Graham Agassiz and Antoine Bizet are among the 21 invited athletes, and both have been toiling on perfecting their line with their build crew and pre-riding as much as possible to prepare for today’s final.
We caught up with Aggy and Antoine on a quick pre-Rampage conversation. Read on below to see how they prepare mentally and how they’ve set up their Kona Operators for the big day with some more practice photos from Ale di Lullo. And at 9:30 am PST, tune in to RedBull.TV to watch the big event.
Kona: Did you manage to get your line dialed in and fully built top to bottom?
Aggy: Yeah, yesterday was pretty aggressive out there, but at the end of the day I managed to get in a full top to bottom run. It wasn’t pretty but we did it!
Antoine: Yes, I rode my line top to bottom yesterday, and I rode the middle section many times working on a few exciting tricks!
Kona: Can you tell us anything interesting about your bike setup for Rampage?
Aggy: Well yeah, I’m running a 2.8 Minion front tire on my rig.
Antoine: I set up the suspension super hard, much harder than you would for a bike park for example. Other than that, there’s not that much else I’ve done to it – my bike is exactly like I normally ride it, so that’s simply perfect. I rode it a lot over the past few days and feel so good on it.
Kona: And do you have any pre-Rampage rituals? What song gets you in the zone?
Aggy: I have a couple, but I’d like to keep those to myself.
Antoine: I love to eat apples and Babybels during my Rampage trips! It’s a “no reason” ritual that has happened for the last three years. My shoulder is sore from some big hits I took during training so I’ll warm it up with gym and physio.
And about the song… that’s THE question! I listen to way too many different things, I love French speaking songs, rap, rock or reggae I love them all. Then I can listen to stupid radio music or revolutionary ragga songs… these days with my diggers we listen to a lot of loud songs by french rapper Nekfeu. He’s from Paris like me and he’s killing it!
Kona: Good luck out there boys! Everyone at Kona will be cheering for you!
Photos by Ale di Lullo.
Here are another few photos of Kona Gravity riders Antoine Bizet and Graham Agassiz at Red Bull Rampage 2016 from Ale di Lullo. With a new event location and new guidelines about build crews, the energy in the Utah desert is flying high as the riders prepare for Friday’s main event. We caught up with both Kona riders in the past few days to ask them a few questions: read what Aggy had to say here and what Antoine had to say here.
The main event goes on RedBull.TV tomorrow morning, Friday October 14th, at 9:30 am PST.
Ale di Lullo‘s just sent us through some images from the first day of practice at Red Bull Rampage. Kona Gravity team riders Graham Agassiz and Antoine Bizet are in the final stages of getting their lines prepped for Friday. Aggy’s just built up a fresh 27.5 Operator which we’re getting the first look at right now, and Bizet’s taken his Operator upside down already. Scroll down for a few photos – we look forward to seeing more over the next couple of days!
It is one of the most dramatic competitions in all of sports. Over 30 athletes from around the world converging on a venue that, upon first glance, looks totally un-conducive to mountain biking. Armed with their dig crews, and a week of shoveling, watering and picking in lines that defy both gravity and reasonable thinking, riders then mentally prepare to drop in on what can only be described as insane. Kona has history at Rampage. Our best result ever came at the bravado of Antoine Bizet in 2012 when he placed 2nd. Graham Agassiz has threatened to crack the podium numerous times having won qualifications in 2013 and 2014, but hasn’t been able to put it all together when it counted in the finals. In 2013 he came within a slipped grip of winning it all.
For riders it’s an incredibly challenging mental and physical endeavor. The amount of time they actually ride is quite minimal. Most of their week in the Utah desert is spent digging and sculpting, choking back the nerves that come with creating lines you’re not sure you can actually ride. But the risk to reward ratio outweighs the jitters. If you want to be a professional big mountain rider, you have no choice but to buck up and ride Rampage. The numbers dictate as much, this year’s viewership broke all previous Rampage records with rumors that this was actually the second most viewed event in Red Bull broadcast history.
But not all is right as rain for one of mountain biking’s more seminal events. For years the riders have complained about the lack of ownership of the imagery that comes out of the event, not to mention the relative shortfall when it comes to prize money. Know that none of the athletes are paid an appearance fee, and with a total prize purse of $100,000, amongst the 30 or so athletes that participate in the event, there’s not too much love going around. While the organization, medical response teams, and broadcast production systems are world class, the value that comes to the riders is measured only exposure. Significant to be sure, however, from a bike company’s perspective, not to mention the athlete’s, it’s a nerve racking, risky endeavour. Exposure isn’t necessarily guaranteed while the potential for injury is massive.
And while there’s always been a history of injury at Rampage, this year proved to be the most consequential in its 10 event history. Miraculously there hasn’t been a life altering injury (or for that matter, death) at the event. Sure, there’s been a slew of broken femurs and deep gashes, and a myriad of close-calls, with a couple of life-flight medivacs every year, but there has yet to be an injury that had the potential to dramatically change someone’s life. Until this year. Unfortunately, long-time Kona and Red Bull athlete (he currently rides for Scott), suffered a broken back when he couldn’t regain control of his bike after a giant air. Paul Basagoitia, who rode for Kona for almost a decade and is a much respected and followed athlete in the sport, shattered his T12 vertebrae and is currently on a long road back to recovery. For those watching the Rampage both live and on their computers, shortly after his dramatic medi-vac, Red Bull reported that Paul was fine and only needed to have a leg injury checked out the hospital. This has obviously infuriated many and as a result Red Bull has some answering to do. Regardless, a good man is down. And it’s no one’s fault necessarily, just a sign of how elevated the stakes have become at this event. If you’re interested in participating in Paul’s recovery, you can do so here.
After Paul was evacuated, standing at the top of the mountain was Graham Agassiz, who qualified 1st the day previous, his third consecutive Rampage qualification win. As the wind started to pick up, Aggy had to watch as his friend and former teammate was airlifted from the venue. You can only imagine the stress. Not only had Aggy encountered terrible luck in the years previous when it came to the finals, he had to mentally let go of the fact that his friend was obviously hurt real bad. Not to mention, earlier in the day his teammate and second place qualifier, Antoine Bizet, was carted off to the hospital earlier in the finals, suffering a broken humerus after attempting a double back flip on the bottom of the course. “If he had landed that double he would have won for sure,” said Aggy after the event. “The kid is such a badass, he was inches away from one of the best runs in Rampage history.” To watch Antoine’s incredible 2nd place qualifications run, which included a backflip over the 70-foot canyon gap, go here.
When it’s all said and done, we here at Kona can’t deny the power of this event. Of course we celebrate the successes of our athletes. Qualifying 1st and 2nd was huge for Kona. Aggy hitting the podium in 3rd and Antoine coming so close to glory–despite a fairly serious injury–shows just how talented and committed our athletes are. Would they be tested, and ultimately showcased, at this level without the Red Bull Rampage? Perhaps not. Questions remain for the future of the event, however, which is under heavy scrutiny right now. By closing out the athletes when it comes to prize money and ownership of media, as well as the companies behind the athletes–their was virtually no mention of athlete sponsors during both the live broadcast and on-site–Red Bull risks alienating the people who ultimately make the event happen, that being the Antoine’s, Aggy’s and Basagoitia’s of the world. Them and the company’s that stand behind them through all the glory, failure, injury and exaltation that comes with being a professional mountain biker.
And therein we’d like to congratulate all who participated in this event. For those who conceived it and bring it to life every year. And hopefully to see this showcase of talent figure out the dirty little details so that everyone benefits from the great risks being taken far away in the Utah desert. That and we hope our friend Paul Basagoitia the speediest of full recoveries. -Mitchell Scott, Kona Communications Director and Gravity Team Manager