Ever pedaled your bike across energy-sapping sand? Want to find out exactly why you should do? Hannah Attenburrow packed her gnarly face and headed to Battle On The Beach in Pembrey to see what all the grunts and smiles were about.
On Saturday Michelle, and I travelled to Wales for Battle On The Beach, the UK’s only beach race which takes place in Pembrey country park, South Wales.
On our way we stopped at Afan forest to test out our legs on one of their trails. I haven’t been to Afan in ages and this is the first time my new Specialized Era has seen rock!
We decided on White Levels and started up the climb, it was very rocky with some big step ups in places but the 29er wheels ate up the ground. This is the first time I have been on something technical with this bike and I felt really confident on it with my 700mm handle bar and full suspension. I felt invincible! We soon were descending through the forest on tight singletrack, it felt like I was flying as my bike made easy work of the rocky and rooty terrain.
One of my favourite sections is a board walk through the trees with some little steps and thinner sections and off camber turns. It’s really good fun and tests your nerve and ability to focus on what’s in front of you and not look down!
The 15km White Levels loop is a great red trail with an even amount of ascent and descent. The climbs are technical in places and hard work, but the descents make up for it in excitement. This red trail has something for everyone, whether you like carving through the trees or feeling exposed racing down the mountain side. It packs a lot of features into a 15 km circuit.
It is well worth investigating Afan’s other trails when you are in South Wales.
A short hour and a half down the road we reached Pembrey Country Park on the coast ready for our beach race the next day.
On Sunday 20th March around 700 mountain bikers descended on this quiet 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 and with so many people in a compact space picking your bike up is pretty impossible, so when the gun goes off it’s about pushing as hard as you can whilst watching out for other people’s pedals and the 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 it’s 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 and 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 trees 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 signage out 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.
Matt from A Cycling said:
“Battle in the Dark was a big success, so I really hope we can do that again. We have already talked about new ideas for next year to make things even better”
Overall I am really happy with my result (16th). As 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 and 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, it’s a great upper body workout 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 bunch of faster riders
Hannah Attenburrow is an endurance mountain biker, blogger and coach. You can follow her on:
Photography by: http://www.anthonypease.com
Twitter and Instagram: @pease971