The formation team celebrate after an incredible week of learning and riding in the desert. Katie Lozancich Photo.
There have been numerous calls for a women’s Rampage, but to progress women’s freeride the industry needs to think beyond just a singular event. They need to build a community. So following the 2018 Red Rampage event, a group gathered to discuss the future of women’s freeriding. It was clear that lone wolves like Casey Brown existed and were fighting hard for their seat at the table, but strength exists in numbers.
For many female riders, even the elite, freeriding feels foreign and intimidating. To even dabble with it is a huge career risk since racing is how most pay their bills. Thankfully, that’s starting to change. Crankworx’s Speed and Style now has a women’s division, FMB launched its first-ever women’s slopestyle tour, and movies like Vision and Return to Earth are putting female protagonists front and center on the silver screen. The next step is to create a pool of athletes that keep the momentum moving forward. Following that roundtable discussion at Rampage, one bold thinker, Katie Holden, proposed creating a progression camp to bridge this gap.
Determined to see more women in freeriding, Katie Holden reached out to Red Bull to create Formation, a women’s freeride camp. Katie Lozancich Photo.
The former world cup racer originally hoped to compete in Rampage and dug alongside the guys for four years, learning what she could. The opportunity never lined up for Holden, but it wasn’t for nothing. Instead, Holden used her experience to create Formation, a week-long progression session in Virgin, Utah. From the Queen of Crankworx to the elite of the UCI World Cup, the event brought together six accomplished riders to broaden their skills at the former 2015 Red Bull Rampage Venue. The event was specifically designed to be a jam session, not a competition so that the athletes would support and learn from one and another. For two days they reinterpreted and rebuilt old Rampage lines with the assistance of two hand-picked diggers. After one full day of rest, they returned to the venue to complete top to bottom runs.
We sat down with the group to learn a little bit more about their background and what excites them about freeriding:
Tahnée Seagrave has already claimed a junior world championship title and numerous World Cup wins and podiums, but she’s not slowing down anytime soon.
She was first introduced to mountain biking after her family relocated from the UK to Morzine, France. Her house was a stone’s throw away from the infamous Les Gets Bike Park, which exposed Seagrave to some of the world’s finest racers. Compared to all the other sports she dabbled in as a kid—primarily gymnastics and ice skating—it was the adrenaline of racing that hooked her. In 2013, after a few years competing seriously, Seagrave won the UCI Junior World Championship title. Once on the elite women’s circuit, Seagrave’s success continued. Her first win on the World Cup circuit came in 2017 in Leogang, and since good things come in threes, Seagrave finished that season with two more wins. In 2018 she won three World Cup titles, including one at the highly prestigious Fort William track. She started the 2019 season with a win at Maribor, but a nasty shoulder injury halted her explosive start. After three months off the bike, 12 weeks of rehab, and only eight days of riding, Seagrave finished second at the final World Championships race.
Moving forward, she wants to push her limits, which is why she decided to participate in the Formation camp. Freeriding certainly put her out of her comfort zone, but she relishes the opportunities to test her fears and grow her skills.
“I’m a racer through and through. I’ll always go fast—that’s just what I enjoy doing. But I kind of got too much into racing as a junior and it made me lose a little bit of love for it. That’s around when my brother started doing more freeride stuff...so I started spending more time with him and it gave me a new love for riding bikes,” explained Seagrave.
The 2019 Queen of Crankworx didn’t grow up dreaming of being a professional mountain biker. Originally, Verbeeck had hopes of going pro with snowboarding.
She was in love with snowsports, but one year she connected with a bunch of skiers who spent their summers riding mountain bikes. Intrigued, Verbeeck tested it out and loved the thrill of flying downhill on two wheels. That same friend group just happened to be a crop of DH racers, and pushed her to race. She was a natural and moved up from local races to Canada cups, and then to the ever-prestigious UCI World Cup circuit. Eventually Verbeeck grew restless of sticking to one discipline and transitioned to the Crankworx World Tour to diversify her riding. To win the overall title, one needs to be deft on a downhill bike, trail bike, and hardtail. Verbeeck already had the DH skills, and focused on expanding her skills in pump track and dual slalom. The countless hours of hard work paid off. This August she was crowned the 2019 Queen of Crankworx, and it’s only fueled the fire more. Now she’s looking to expand into freeriding, which is exciting new territory for her. Now with Speed and Style officially part of the women’s line up for Crankworx, Verbeeck is keen to add a few tricks to her riding.
“I love learning. Who doesn’t love to progress what they’re doing,” she said. “Freeriding for me is just creativity. Instead of looking at a trail in search of the fastest line, your eye is looking to create—though I do love freeriding in a fast flowy way! I’ve learned to really enjoy riding, and even with racing I’ve loved trying to interpret trails differently. The trail in front of you is not the only trail,” said Verbeeck.
Before she was singing viral hits and traversing the globe with a camera team, Micayla Gatto was a force on the downhill racing scene for close to nine years.
She was a consistent top ten finisher and even podiumed at the Mont Sainte Anne race in 2012. But a serious crash at the 2014 World Cup race in Windham forced her to step back. Finding opportunity in adversity, she grounded herself with one of her original passions: art. This break from racing allowed her to foster this creative side. Soon she was embracing the two, and using it as a catalyst to create visually captivating and thought-provoking bike media: Intersection, Perspectives, and FerdaGirls. Her success is thanks to a self-starter attitude and it serves as an inspiration to female athletes who wish to stray from the traditional career in mountain biking.
Freeriding is in Gatto’s roots, having grown up on Vancouver’s North Shore—the home of gnar. Steep roots and rocks were always her favorite to ride, which translated well to Utah’s gnarly and raw terrain.
“The freedom for interpretation is what I like about freeriding. Having the creativity to look at a landscape and find something you’d like to ride and make it your own is exciting. It’s never been about tricks, but more so getting back to my roots and why I ride a bike. When you’re racing you don’t get to pick what you ride, and I love riding technical ridgelines. In the end, you just get to do what you love,” said Gatto.
Veronique Sandler is the rebel of the mountain bike community. She first got into mountain biking at the age of 14 and fell in love with racing. The kiwi was a natural, and worked her way to the World Cup circuit. Tired of constantly hopping back and forth from New Zealand to the UK for races, she eventually packed her things and relocated up north to pour everything into her career. But after five years confined in the race tape, she started to feel a lack of progression. Riding was more frustrating than fun, which prompted Sandler to take a step back. Her heart was no longer in it, so she took a break. The UK has a vibrant mountain biking community, with overwhelming support for riders. Drawing inspiration from this new network, Sandler began making small videos to share on social media. These little clips of her throwing no handers and crank spins went viral, and brands began to take notice. Sponsors came knocking on her door, one of them being Adidas/ Five Ten, who was keen to make a movie with her. The film, Vision, is a female-led freeride film that follows Sandler as she tries to bring her dream mountain bike line to life. Now Sandler spends her time creating two-wheeled content all over the world. Be sure to catch her in TGR’s latest film Accomplice, which is dropping this spring.
While she was new to riding in the desert, she’s not new to interpreting her surroundings. Using that same creative eye, Sandler was able to translate her riding to the Formation venue and create a line with an incredible flow.
“I’ve definitely heard in the last few years people calling me a freerider. To me, it means having the creativity to do what you want on the bike. For example, there are no time constraints, which is such a big deal in racing. If I look back on racing, it just didn’t seem like I was having fun. The amount of fun I’m having now in comparison to before is insane,” said Sandler.
Hannah Bergemann has one simple goal when she rides: to have fun. That passion has spurred her progression to become a threat on the Enduro World Series. Growing up in Hood River, Oregon, Bergemann was an avid skier. Rails were her specialty and she regularly competed. But when she moved up to Bellingham, Washington for college, mountain biking began to take precedence. The area, with its countless miles of singletrack, fostered this newfound love. Once Bergemann got a job at Kona Bikes, she was in it for the long haul. Thanks to the area’s vibrant community, her riding progressed leaps and bounds. When she first moved to Bellingham the little wooden rolls at the top of Galbraith spooked her, now she’s ticking off old Rampage lines unfazed. On top of freeriding, Bergemann races Enduro because she finds it to be the most fun discipline to compete in. After getting her bearings at the local races, she jumped up to the EWS circuit and spent the past year racing in Whistler, Tahoe, and Finale Ligure. This was her first time racing outside the continent and she came home from Italy with an extra special souvenir: a 2nd place finish in the individual race. Bergemann will also make her first film debut in TGR's latest mountain bike film, Accomplice.
Bellingham is a freerider’s paradise. The community loves to scratch in new trails and get crafty, which is similar to how things operate in Virgin. When she was approached about Formation, Bergemann was elated. The riding in Utah is some of her favorite and with all the gnarly stuff she rides back home, she doesn’t feel out of place.
“Creativity is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about freeriding. Using the terrain to ride wherever you want, and being creative to make something new and unique,” explained Bergemann.
This young Kiwi caught everyone’s attention after winning Crankworx’s Whip Off in Les Gets in 2018. The following year she kept the momentum going by winning the contest in Rotorua and Whistler, further cementing her reign as a style master. Before becoming the queen of sending it sideways, Vinny was just another girl practicing her whips at the local dirt jump park.
She’s been riding bikes since she was four. Always the adrenaline seeker, Vinny enjoyed finding sketchy looking things to ride at the bike park. As she got older, she noticed that the boys were riding at the local dirt jump park, so she gave it a try. She ended up getting a dirt jumper that she used for everything—even for riding with the local cross country mountain bike club. In high school, she briefly stepped away from the sport but got pulled back into it after landing a job at a bike park and eventually progressed into DH racing. One day practicing the dirt jumps she overheard that there was a whip off competition at Crankworx. After watching the event in Rotorua in 2015, she made it her goal to compete. Next year she made that dream a reality. The experience of hitting that massive jump in front of a roaring crowd was one of her favorite aspects of competing.
This summer Vinny spent two weeks exploring, racing, and riding in Whistler. The experience left her hungry to learn more tricks and push her riding even more. Thankfully, out of the blue, she received a call from Katie Holden about a women’s freeriding camp happening in Virgin, Utah and that there was an open spot with her name on it. Without hesitation, she said yes, and was in the United States a week later.
“It feels like you’re really pushing your limits when you’re freeriding—but in a good way. I just want to do more and more, especially since there are not that many girls out there. I’m stoked to be a part of this because it shows that there are more girls that are a part of freeriding,” explained Armstrong.
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