Sun, sea and bike racing, what a recipe and year upon year Battle on the Beach delivers, this year was no expectation. This was the first big race of the year, race organiser A Cycling claim this is now the biggest offroad event in the UK. The arena was packed with trade stands, the start line on the beach was bouncing as the samba band filled the airwaves and spectators spread out cheering along the beach. One thousand eager cyclists jigged with nervous energy as they faced down from the dunes onto the beach. Ahead were three laps of mayhem, each lap with six kilometres of golden sand, then nine kilometres of fast gravel tracks and twisting singletrack!
This would be my first race of the year, it is a later start to the year than normal but I’ve been squirreling away, training hard. This seventy-five-minute beach sprint was a far different challenge than my normal four to seven hour gravel or mountain bike marathon race, after finishing on the podium last year though the goal were clear.
This event is one for the family, there’s kids races, the arena has lots going on and is always buzzing with energy, there’s tasty catering options aplenty, the country park location has the beach, kids play parks, ride on train, and more. Plus, there is the entertainment of seeing daddy or mummy racing their bikes!
At midday sharp the horn blew, the seagulls rose from their nests and the rush of cyclists began! I lined up immediately behind the beach pros! Yes, that’s a thing, these guys and girls race beach events through the winter and this is one of their final events of the season. It’s a good wheel to be on but I get too close as we roll from the line and have to take avoiding action, then have to unclip and run which puts me way back in the pack. I chase from probably one hundredth place along the six-kilometer beach, no time to take in the view, 440 watts for the opening ten minutes! Just as we are about to turn off the beach I slot back in with the leaders! But then we hit a small puddle and my bars rotate downwards by 45 degrees, the stem bolts clearly not done up tight enough. My bad mechanic skills showing once again! The bars and stem combo have been used since the beginning of the year and I had ridden the bike three times this week including a practice lap with no issues! I pull to a halt and force the bars back into position. I get on my way and begin chasing. I have to stop twice more as the bars keep slipping. The third or fourth time I stop and get the allen keys out of the saddle bag. When the average speed on lap one is 35 kilometres per hour you are losing a lot of time stood still for two minutes. Finally with bars tightened we are off again. I finish the lap chasing but a long way back. Lap one despite the stoppages and traffic overtaking everyone I still managed a power of 386 watts normalized.
Despite all the issues I’m having an absolute whale of a time! The Lauf Seigla is an absolute rocket ship, I have no doubt this is the best bike for this race. The 30mm travel on the fork takes up the bumps on the singletrack and combined with the Schwalbe G One Bite tires in 2.0 I was absolutely railing it around the corners on the gravel roads when everyone else was braking. With a 46 tooth Q ring on my Rotor carbon cranks I have the optimal setup. If you’ve not heard of Lauf get on the website and organize a test ride at Gritfest, Dirty Reiver or any of the other events they’ll be at this year, this is the ultimate gravel machine.
The bike allows me to duck and dive my way back into the top 15 by the end of lap two, that lap completed at 360 watts normalized, numbers coming from my Rotor INSpider and Wahoo Elemnt Bolt! Just as we enter the beach for the last time I pass a 5 person group but they cannot hold my wheel as I set off for a solo ten minute effort into the wind. I am just having so much fun, the pressure for a top result is off after the issues on lap one but it’s still interesting to see how many more people I catch. As I exit the beach I have my head down, pushing full gas, I miss the turn for lap three and continue the same route we did the previous two laps. It’s just one of them days but what can you do but laugh! Best get my eyes checked soon! I am travelling fast and ride for 5 minutes before being told I had missed the turn. I loop back and slowly retraced my steps, I have to be careful as I’m riding into oncoming traffic with the lap two riders. I see quite a few others lap three riders coming towards me who’ve also gone the wrong way but most ignore and continue. Eventually I find the turn I should have taken, no one’s fault, just one of those things. I guess riding an extra 5 kilometres mid race is just getting value for money? Having ridden five minutes in the wrong direction and six minutes back I was well out of the race so then just cruised to the finish and enjoyed the fun trails. If I’d been leading I would have been frustrated but there’s far bigger races to focus on, here today the aim is just to have fun on our bikes.
Back up at the front of the race the beach pro’s were showing who’s boss, Richard Jansen of Team De Online Drogist – AGU took the win ahead of Tom Couzens and Michael Mottram, great to see two people from the UK on the podium. In the women’s race Amira Mellor from the Ribble Collective won, with Terry Fremineur in second and Maddy Nutt third.
I enjoy the final bits of singletrack, roll to the line, hug my wife and son, have a laugh with lots of coaching clients and friends, catch up with sponsors in the arena and enjoy the sunshine. This is what Battle on the Beach is all about, if you missed it this year you missed out. There is a reason why this event sells out every year, get yourself to Pembrey Country Park next year. It’s so great attending events like this and seeing the sport is still so alive. I could have left the race disappointed but I had a fantastic weekend.