Events, MTB

Battle on the Beach 2018

You know an event is good when it is impossible to wipe the smile from your face before, during and afterwards.  Battle on the Beach was one of the most enjoyable race weekends I’ve had the pleasure to take part in and although it is not in my interest to create more competition for the limited entries next year, it is only right that I spread the word about this fantastic event.

Simply Unique…

The concept is simple; a bike race which is centred around the fairly unique experience of racing along a section of Cefn Sidan beach.  This pan flat, mostly hard-packed sand race-strip forms 6km of each 15km lap, with the rest of the lap made up of double and single track through the dunes and forest of Pembrey Country Park.  This already makes the event pretty special but the other marvellous attraction is that there are no rules regarding what bike you ride – if it can complete the course you can race on it.  So you find yourself on the start line with riders on anything from a fat bikes to a gravel bikes, MTBs or CX bikes, all of which have strengths and weaknesses regarding their suitability for the course.

This diversity of bikes seems to encourage a great sense of camaraderie between people drawn together through a common love for riding and, although it is clearly sharp elbows and hard competition for prizes at the front of the race, for the majority the attitude is one of ‘friendly competition’ rather than ‘win at all costs’.   I entered for what I hoped would be a fun competitive experience and in the middle of the pack that is exactly what I found; ultimately we were all fighting for places but it was more about pushing yourself than pushing past the rider in front.

there was a great sense of camaraderie between people drawn together through a common love for riding…

The whole weekend was exceptionally well organised.  I opted for a ‘weekend pass’ which included camping on Friday and Saturday night as well as entry to both the Lezyne Battle in the Dark and the main race, the Battle on the Beach.  I arrived on Saturday afternoon to find a spacious, well drained camping field (which held up really well to heavy rain on race day) in which to park The Dub, adequate toilet facilities, and a welcoming event hub with a good selection of caterers, sponsor’s marques and a large main event marque.  The sun was shining and it was a pleasant place to spend a few hours listening to the junior events unfold and eating an early supper whilst waiting for the night event to start.

Out into the Night…

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Riding out past the band for the Lezyne Battle in the Night…

The Lezyne Battle in the Dark is a 10km Time Trial on a single lap of a course made up of sections of the main Battle on the Beach route.  As the name suggests, the start is delayed until just after sunset whereupon a rock band starts up, bike lights are set to bright and one by one competitors are released onto the course through a start section that directs them out via the front of the stage!  The sensation of speeding along the beach in the pitch black chasing down other riders is fantastic and I certainly achieved my HR max pushing myself through the lumpy, technical dunes.

Time to Battle…

So to the main event; over 650 riders funnelled into a mass race start on soft sand – what could possibly go wrong!  As it turned out very little and with a marvellous steel band banging out a rhythm the Battle on the Beach got underway with minimal carnage and quickly it was heads down and fighting for places.  Except it wasn’t quite like that, as there was a strong tailwind down the beach so once I had reached terminal velocity for my gearing (see lessons learnt below) I was able to look up with a big grin on my face and just take in the whole spectacle.  Hundreds of riders of all shapes and sizes zipping along an otherwise deserted beach is quite a sight…

It turns out that when there is a tailwind the beach is the easiest section of each lap, but the rest of the route is a lot of fun with several sandy climbs to catch people out and some twisty dunes singletrack to negotiate.  This did lead to a few bottlenecks for those of us racing further back in the field but these were accepted in good spirit and later, when the field spread out a little more, became great places to overtake less technically gifted riders.  Generally though the course allowed faster riders to move through and for me and my friend John it meant we could easily ride together for the whole course without losing one another in traffic.  Despite the heavens opening a number of times throughout the race my smile could still be seen through the wet grit face mask I was wearing and all too quickly the three laps were over and I was being handed a medal.

my smile could still be seen through the wet grit face mask I was wearing…

I am already excited about next year, and if this article has inspired you then here are a few tips to get the best out of your first Battle on the Beach

Top Tips for Battle on the Beach

1)  Start as you mean to go on…  If you are going to care about your finishing position then you need to ensure a good start position.  We started near the back of the field, lazily not bothering to get to the start early.  So we spent the whole event overtaking people (very motivating) but never recovered all the places we gave up at the start.

2)  The Right Gear…  The 1×11 drivetrain is wonderful for trail riding but can find its limits racing.  I didn’t even think about it until I realised I was being overtaken on the beach despite spinning my highest gear, unable to ride faster…

3)  Relax into the Competition…   The above two tips are probably only relevant if you decide you care where you finish.  The alternative is to decide that doesn’t matter and relax.  We rode quite hard, and jostled for position with those around us, but ultimately had entered to enjoy the experience rather than compete and the weekend was better for it. 

4)  Wash your bike…  If you do not clean and lube your salt water, sand and grit covered bike after the event well, I hope you like stiff, orange drivetrains…

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