On Sunday 20th March around 700 mountain bikers descended on this quite coastal country park for the UK’s one and only beach race. Now in its third year this race has grown in popularity year on year with 2016 being its biggest and best so far!
Battle on the Beach is run by A Cycling who also organise the UK’s only stage race Epic Cymru. The idea of a beach race came from the Dutch & Belgian races, although these are nearly all beach the Battle on the Beach packs in 6km of beach racing on a 15km course.
The 3 lap, 45km course has remained fairly similar since it started with a few tweaks here and there. The battle starts on soft sand at the top of the beach, while the DJ pumps out motivational music and gets the riders ready for what’s to come with riders jostling for positions close to the front. The soft sand start is hard work with so many people in a compact space picking your bike up is pretty impossible so when the gun goes off its about pushing as hard as you can whilst watching out for other people’s pedals and flying wheels of those who have picked their bikes up!
Once on the hard packed sand cyclocross skills come in handy as you launch yourself onto your bike and charge out to catch a group moving fast, the key to the beach is to get in a bunch and work together to make the 6km beach stretch less taxing on your legs.
Lungs bursting, once you reach the MOD turn off the beach it’s another run in the sand up the hill to the dunes. From this point on its single and double track until you reach the beach once more.
The double track through the dunes is soft sand in places and the best advice is to keep looking forward and let the bike slide beneath you. It is hard going through these dunes with lots of lumps and bumps overtaking can come with the penalty of a puncture as the scrub land to the side is littered with thorns and twigs.
The singletrack sections are brilliant! Through tress with some hard sandy climbs and great loose descents which make you push harder just to come round and have another go!
The air is full of excitement at Battle on the Beach with lots of spectators cheering you on and other riders always giving their support. It is a fantastic race for riders who are looking to test their speed and endurance and also those who just want to do something different with friends. It is organised very well with sign on the day before and a well-marked course.
This year Karen Brouwer was back to defend her 2014 open title. The Dutch rider left the rest of the field in her wake finishing in an eye watering 1 hour 49 minutes showing that the women are as fast as the men!
The men’s open was a hard fought battle between Richard Jansen the Dutch beach racing champion and fellow Dutch rider Bram Imming the race was fought right up to the line with Richard Jansan taking the win by a second, finishing in 1 hour 35 minutes and 8 seconds.
For the first time the day race was accompanied by a night race. Battle in the Dark took place on the Saturday evening and was a shorter loop of the main course taken on in time trial style.
Overall I am really happy with my result (16th) it was my first race of the season and with a new bike I just went out to see what was possible. There are things I need to improve on my overall my stamina has improved so much which makes all those winter miles worth the effort!
My top tips for beach racing are:
- On a mountain bike turn your forks off
- Practice running and jumping on your bike before you arrive at the race
- Practice carrying your bike, great upper body work out and a lot quicker than pushing it through sand
- Get into a bunch on the beach to make life easier but don’t sit in a slow group push on to the next faster riders