Battle on the Beach was up there with all my favourite things of 2014. Last year’s race was brilliant – in fact it was probably the only ‘short’ bike race that I thought was worthy of a 500 mile round trip in the car. This year Matt achieved something really special and the race was even better.
My weekend started with a five hour drive with Dave – we cursed the various nocturnal diversions in place that can really add chunks of time to a late-night drive (and they did). We’d set off at about 9pm (racing cyclists with children will understand) and were expecting to arrive at 2 in the morning. No big deal. We both had pop-up tents and would be tucked up within 5 minutes of arrival.
In spite of being fully-clothed inside a sleeping bag, inside a bivvy bag, inside a tent – I was absolutely freezing. Perhaps veterans of Arctic expeditions and other really cold things would scoff at my claim that I was ‘absolutely bloody freezing’ but at the time I was so cold that I even contemplated sleeping in the van. No amount of toe-wriggling was going to help, I tossed and turned and shivered and generally stayed awake. Brilliant!
Morning arrived and I snoozed for all of five minutes as the morning sun thawed my pop up coolbox.
With a half-hour kip in the van, a couple of caffeine gels and a stern letter written to oneself, I lined up at the front of the 600-strong race. Apparently there was sixty fat bikes! A long, fast sprint along the beach would thin out the field before the incredibly enjoyable and dry singletrack sections. It was vital to stay in a fast group and not get spat out of the back.
I lasted all of 30 seconds in a fast group before being spat out of the back. My efforts to get back on a wheel made things worse and I was starting to curse my two-and-a-half months of non-training (for all the right reasons, as explained here) as I was losing places fast. Almost going backwards but I knew there wouldn’t be too many fat bikes ahead of me so I dropped my head and moved my hands closer to the stem, gradually gathered momentum and arrived in reasonably good shape at the end of the beach.
The next two laps were spent taking back places where I could, trying to stop my lungs from popping out of the top of my head and peering as far into the distance as I could for other distinctively-fat tyres.
Meanwhile, the new, faster tyres on the Scott Big Ed were transforming the fatbike experience from ‘low-pitched rumbling over anything’ to ‘pretty nimble and pacy trail bike’ – as well as reducing rolling resistance I’d shaved a big chunk of rotating weight from the wheels in the process. As long as I didn’t do anything really stupid on the beach section I was able to keep up with most of the other riders around me, regardless of which bike they were on and the singletrack sections were as fun as it probably gets – the Rockshox Bluto suspension fork, wide bars and quick handling helping with that. And the fact that while I was riding fun singletrack, I wasn’t blowing out of my backside on the beach.
I honestly had no idea in what position I was in when I crossed the finish line. I knew there were fat bikes in front of me (I’d put a lot of effort in but I’m far from fast at the moment) but how many?
4th fatbike (annoying), 33rd vet (not too bad I suppose), God-knows-what overall (let’s just leave it there).
Thanks to Matt Page and the rest of the A Cycling team for organising what seems to have become a must-do event at undoubtedly one of the most beautiful settings in the country, cheers to Scott UK for the loan of the bike and a big thanks to Dave Haygarth and Emma Osenton for keep me company in the van.