We were stoked when Bombtrack invited us along for the 2019 edition of their Groundwork event; a few days in the forests of Kürten in Western Germany with key media, team/sponsored riders, distributor staff and even a couple of lucky connected brands (including us!). Usually around 40-50 of the "Bombtrack family" go along each year, and we sent Ollie to get the scoop on the 2020 range and suffer in the dirt...
Not the most enjoyable of journeys on the way out. A 3hr layover in Vienna quickly turned to 1hr following a pretty hefty delay in leaving Gatwick, meaning a less-than-leisurely jog upon arriving in Austria. Cue an unexplained series of delays on the second flight, and the layover wait quickly went back from 1hr to around 4. Then the flight was cancelled. I'll spare you details, but let's just say I was a funny look away from making it onto Austria's 6 O'Clock News.
Finally caught a connecting flight, and my bad mood dissipated fairly quickly upon finding a certain moustached cyclocross racer waiting for me in the Düsseldorf arrivals lounge, bag of KFC in-hand. Was about 10pm by this point, so we hopped straight in the Kangoo and hit the road for a 90-minute drive to 'Landgut Breibach', our home for the next few days. Upon arrival I was happy to find some familiar faces waiting for me, who had been keeping up with the tribulations of my day through the power of social media. Warm welcomes, plenty of hugs, time for 1 beer and bed.
Woke up on Monday ready to get straight into the Groundwork ritual. Breakfast around 8.30, AM ride out at 10 (precisely 10 if you ask Manuel @ Bombtrack, but we all knew the real time was 10-ish), back for lunch at 1.30, then a PM ride at 3 (ish). Back for dinner, and different evening activities were planned for the few nights we were there.
First day was a harsh reminder of just how insanely undulating the terrain is there. Almost everything is 10% up or down, and there's almost no flat trails or roads. Fabian Falk, of Traffic Distribution, told me there's a big amateur road race around the roads there that actually used to be a UCI 2.2 - can't think of anything worse, personally. Fabian himself was immensely strong, and it was only when telling Manuel later that day about the ride that he informed me Fabian had placed 14th on a huge amateur race around the Nurburgring. As I like to think is the case with HUNT/The Rider Firm, having staff who ride/race with such passion says a lot about a company. Oh, by the way, I've just realised how manky the food looks in the above picture. It was actually really tasty...
Gosse had mentioned previously that he planned on popping out for the day on Tuesday for a race. It transpired that it was the (unofficial) Kermesse 'World Championships' in Heusden, Belgium. I knew that a couple of the Canyon-DHB boys would be there, so I decided to go along. As Gosse's very unofficial team manager, I was promoted (or relegated) to driving the Kangoo 3.5hrs from sunny Germany, through the quite grey Netherlands, into a downright miserable & stormy Belgium. Literally within the last 10 minutes of the drive I could not believe the rainfall. I was quite quickly of the opinion I wasn't going to leave the van at all. Luckily, it cleared up remarkably quickly, allowing me to have a wander around and find the Canyon-DHB riders prior to the start.
It wasn't long before I realised the depth of talent in the field. I was standing with Gosse on the start line, ready to take his jacket, and Gianni Vermeersch & Tom Meeusen were both hovering nearby. Tim Merlier rolled past to take his saved spot at the front of the queue (as is befitting the Belgian National Champion), and I had seen at least 3 Sunweb riders warming up previously. It was then announced the race would be delayed 15 minutes.
The race rolled out, and I promptly found some frites en mayo before strolling a reverse lap of the 7km circuit. What immediately struck me was just how many people there were watching. It was certainly over a thousand, all told. People who owned homes on the course had their garage doors open, playing out music and were drinking sat on deck chairs. I found myself incredibly jealous that people can race in a country that respects riders & cycling that much.
The Canyon DHB riders present (Jacob Vaughan, Alex Richardson, Stijn de Bock, Alex Colman) got in early moves and were busy at the pointy end, with Richardson taking a fall quite early on, which unfortunately ended his race. However, once a break finally made it away, none of the lads had made it in.
The break ended up with around a minute gap. The most use I could be to the lads was to shout time gaps at them as I continued my reverse lap walk. The speed was immense - 170km at an average speed of 48kmh.... as you do. The faces on most of the riders told exactly that story - everyone was clearly going quite deep.
Eventually the break was closed down, although a new one emerged almost immediately, featuring Tim Merlier. It would turn out to be the race-winning move, and Merlier was the only rider I saw all day who didn't look in pain. On the final lap, he made it look easy, and had time to take his hands off the bars to get them in the air as the Belgian crowd went wild for the defending champion. After strong rides from the Canyon DHB lads, I have to say rider of the day was Gosse, who managed to get back on after puncturing & receiving a neutral service wheel. Takes some doing to catch a 45-50kmh peloton by yourself.
Back down to Groundwork, which beyond a 3.5hr drive was a total culture shift, back to the family of riders who care more for the stories & the journey, rather than reaching any given destination at warp speed.
It was great to see Bombtrack's 2020 range, which has no less than 3 entirely new models in the 32-bike lineup. Personal highlights for me included the Hook EXT (nice new aesthetic for 2020 thanks to Marko Sajn, newly-minted Bombtrack graphics guy and all-round awesome bloke), and the Beyond, which essentially felt like a BMX with its short wheelbase and 27.5+ wheels. It was so easy to wheelie that even I could do it. I must at this point apologise to Bombtrack, for no sooner had I declared the Beyond my "favourite Bombtrack ever", I proceeded to rip the rear mech to shreds. We came down a sharp descent and immediately onto an even sharper climb, at which point I dumped it 4-5 gears and decided against waiting for the chain to move before dumping loads of power. Oops. Luckily (unluckily?) Tom Hill refused to leave a man behind, so we waited together for a replacement bike to be brought along before heading down to the lake for a beer and then caught up with the others back at the house.
I left the event with sore legs & a warm heart. The extended family of Bombtrack embodies just why the company place such a big focus on the people they surround themselves with. A crazy collection of individuals from all over the world, united for just a few days by their shared views on what life on the bike should really be about... and that is doing limbo competitions on kids bikes, shown below by Tom doing it wrong, and another Tom doing it right.
And so, we go back to our normal lives, whatever our version of "normal" happens to be, but feeling all the more enriched for reconnecting with old friends, meeting new ones, and breaking bikes that don't belong to you.