Once again I'm standing at the start line of a race, a number board pinned on a brand new bike, packet fresh team kit being worn and the adrenaline is pumping. This isn't any normal race though, it's a beach race!! Ahead lay 3.5 kilometers of picture perfect sunny Welsh sandy beach followed by a 10 kilometer dash through Pembrey Country Park along a mix of gravel road and singletrack. Behind me were a thousand very motivated cyclists, if you mess up the entry or exit from the beach through the deep sand you'd probably feel you're being engulfed by a swarm of lycra clad bumble bees!
The beach racer pro's from overseas were here in abundance, keen to mark their authority on the race once again. I was the newbie, never having experienced this madness before. The question everyone on the start line was asking was whether to run or ride at the start of the race through the deep sand? Copy the pro's surely? The decision making time ticked down, the tension rose, everyone concentrates on that first explosive movement from the start line. Your focus blocks out the noise of the crowd and the loud speakers pumping out music but then the start gun billows and the noise of the surroundings hit you again. The calm tranquil beach is suddenly taken over by crazed cyclists.
Off the start I elected to run with a cyclocross remount after the deep sand, once back on the bike I was already near the front of the pack but three of the beach racers had already launched themselves down the beach with a few bike lengths lead! Not much time to think how they'd managed that! They were up to speed on their 48 tooth chainring bikes, I was up to speed on my 38 tooth chainring bike and not catching, fortunately here comes the mass of speedy people riding their gravel bikes. This race is a choice of gravel bike for speed on the sand and gravel or mountain bike for speed through the deep sand and trails. We zoom down the beach averaging 39 kilometers per hour! Towards the end of the beach we hit the deep sand, I'm a bit far back in the group but manage to find a good line and ride most of the way up to the dunes. I know this is my only chance to catch the leaders so ride full gas onto the following gravel sections.
I'm all out of gas as a group forms, there's two still up the road but they already look out of reach. Time to recover, lactate is pumping through every muscle, and oxygen demand is way greater than possible oxygen uptake. After a little breather sitting on the wheels I'd realised I'm one of the only people in the group on a mountain bike, better use that to my benefit through the singletrack. The singletrack is a mix of wooded trail and sand dunes, nothing super techy but easy to get wrong at this speed, especially if you land yourself in a deep section of sand. The group spreads out and we drop a few bodies as the pace takes its toll. Through the arena for the first time and then we speed back towards the beach for round 2 of the mega madness!
I steered through Battle on the Beach with a few changes from the normal bike setup. I ran a Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyre on the front and Thunder Burt on the rear, both 2.25 with Orange Seal sealant. Normally I use Schwalbe Racing Ray front and Racing Ralph rear in 2.25. I used a 38 tooth Rotor Q Ring oval chainring, this was 2 teeth bigger than my normal setup, the 38t was dwarfed by the 48t used by the beach racer pro's. Given the experience of this year and if conditions were the same I think in the future I'd consider using a Thunder Burt in 2.1 on the front and a G One Speed on the rear, plus a 42 or 44t chainring for a little more speed on the long beach section.
Second beach crossing and I know I need to nail the entry to the beach through the deep sand or I'll be dropped. The beach racers open up a few meters gap, I fight back onto the wheel. The same happens riding through the deep sand exiting the beach. Each time I'm burning matches. On the gravel road and singletrack I'm feeling good and able to maintain position towards or at the front of the group, lifting the pace when I'm feeling comfortable. The number of people in the group drops one by one until there's just three of us going onto the last lap, we're fighting for second place having caught one of the riders who'd been ahead. Again the beach section is decisive and one rider escapes ahead as we exit the beach into the dunes. Now there's two of us, fighting for third place on the podium. The tension builds.
I am feeling strong and put in several hard efforts on the gravel road to drop my rival, he sounds on the limit but I cannot break him. I try again through the singletrack, a few times I feel a little gap open but it's not enough. Suddenly I realised that I'd not pre- ridden this part of the track which was different to laps two and three, I didn't actually know where the finish line was! Going into the final section of trail my opponent dives for an overtake, I close the gap and remain ahead. I can control the pace and steady myself for the sprint to the line. Out of the woods into the open space of the arena, the final dash to the line unfolds. Around a sweeping left turn I keep tight left taking the fastest line, the speed goes up and up, I max out at nearly 1200 watts and lunge for the line. It's just enough to take third place.
That was Battle on the Beach 2022, I negotiated sand castles and waves to finish on the podium. It was pure madness for 75 minutes! I’m still buzzing from the experience 3 days later. It was so much fun having a number board on the front of the bike again and seeing so many smiling coaching clients out on race track! This is an event I’d recommend to all, get yourself there next year Thanks to the sponsors for inviting me and A Cycling for putting on such a fantastic event! Congrats to the winners Bram Imming and Harriet Harnden.