Brett Rheeder had the weight of the world on his shoulders going into the Red Bull Joyride in 2015.
The Ontarian had won the first two competitions in Rotorua, New Zealand and Let Gets, France, and was looking for a $25,000 Triple Crown of Slopestyle bonus.
But Rheeder fell sick under the pressure on the day of the competition and crashed out on both his runs, allowing Brandon Semenuk to win the event for the third year in a row.
Flash forward to this Aug. 21, however, Rheeder blazed through his first run and scored an even 93.00, pressuring the rest of the field for their respective second runs through the course. Only Belgian and 2012 winner Thomas Genon came close, posting a 91.20 his second time through, allowing Rheeder to take a victory lap and bask in the glory of his first triumph in Whistler. He also won $25,000 as the overall slopestyle champion for 2016.
"I feel amazing. I feel a hundred-billion times better than I did last year," Rheeder said. "I had two crashes last year and to put down a solid run on that course — I think it was the longest one ever — was amazing."
The 23-year-old wowed the judges with a backflip bar spin to opposite tail whip off an early jump in his run, pulled off back-to-back cork 720s and put the cherry on top of his run with a front flip onto and a backflip off of the final feature.
Rheeder acknowledged he was still feeling a little bit nervous heading into Sunday's competition, but managed to find a way to calm his nerves enough to make it through and claim victory.
"It's such a surreal feeling. I've been struggling since 2012 and after facing so much pressure last year and having two crashes, this has been a long time coming." Rheeder said. "I was still very nervous going into today. The conditions weren't ideal but as soon as I dropped in, everything just goes away and it's just you and the bike."
Rheeder's case was helped by struggles from last year's top-two finishers. Semenuk went down early in both his runs while American Nicholi Rogatkin, who was crowned as the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour champion at the end of the day, came up short on the same early jump on both runs and finished well back of the field.
Genon's second run included a double tail whip onto the Red Bull cannon and wrapped up with a 360 tuck no-hander to wrap up.
Sweden's Max Fredriksson scored a third-place result and was thrilled with his accomplishment, which included a silky smooth double tail whip in his debut in the event.
"It was the biggest dream of mine to even get into Joyride, and now I managed to land a podium, which was completely out of my expectation," Fredriksson said.
The 21-year-old acknowledged the course was a challenge to understand, but he made it work better than some of the other experienced riders lining up that day.
"It was definitely tricky — (it's) long and there are different kinds of speed everywhere," he said.