Mountain bike freerider Thomas Genon took a unique approach to prepare for the daunting MTB freeride event Red Bull Rampage. He travelled back to his native Belgium where he dug deep into his family history to push his freeriding skills to new levels down mining tunnels where his great-grandfather once worked.
Red Bull Rampage is an iconic event on the mountain bike calendar with Belgian Genon aiming to improve on his seventh place from last year down the spectacular and daunting freeride course on October 21.
Genon, whose best Rampage results were fifth in 2015 and 2018, will line up with four-time winner Brandon Semenuk back to defend his 2021 title for 2022 alongside five other former winners.
To prepare for Red Bull Rampage, Genon and some close friends built a breathtaking line on one of the huge slag heaps near Liège and dropped in from the pitch-black top down into the mining tunnels.
After finding the right locations, they got to work for 10 days straight and – even though one night of rain ruined three days of work – they just carried on. The 2012 Red Bull Joyride winner explained: “We wanted to put as many features as possible into that line. We were on a mission!”
He never met his ancestor but when he was a child he and his grandparents did visit the mines where he worked, which added a layer of family connection to the site as he pushed his freeriding skills to the limit.
The 29-year-old said: “The working conditions then must have been really brutal. When I told my grandparents where and what I was doing, they could hardly believe I was in the same place, but with my bike. Only when we were digging our lines out of the slag heap and quarry from early morning to late at night did I begin to grasp what my great-grandfather must have gone through underground. I was given the chance to do whatever I wanted on a freeride bike, to do something more in line with my vision of riding. Even though I’m still more known for my slopestyle runs, I was stoked to try something new, something exciting. I wanted to try my best in something I’m maybe not known for.”
He added: “That is more of my kind of riding. It’s a weird transfer that you have to find out how to spin on and I’ve never really spun something this big. It was a good feeling to land that perfectly. The first try on the straight air, I just barely squeezed the front wheel in. The gap was way bigger than I expected. In the end it all worked out.”
Looking ahead to Rampage, he revealed: “Right next to the old mine lies a huge pile of stone debris. It immediately reminded me of Utah. All those loose little stones, very sketchy to ride.”