I initially pencilled Battle On The Beach into my diary as something to aim for through January and February to furnish myself with some motivation to keep riding. Also, I'm a sucker for anything a little, well, left of the field.
The rules stated you could ride any off road bike, but with no one having done one before, no one could say for sure whether cx, MTB or fat bike would be best. The ViCiOUS posse went fully cx.
The race itself incorporated the inaugural UK Fat Bike Champs as well as playing host to the Koga MTB team from Belgium along with the Wacky racers beach race specialists. The Belgian beach race bikes were pretty cool; the prefect scenario seeming to be a rigid or short travel hard tail 700c/29er - one guy even had a full tri bar set up.
This Belgian weapon was rolling on what appear to be Campag Bora's, shod with 50mm Dugast file treads.
We were neutralised behind organiser Matt Page on a quad bike for about 1.5km from the start to the beach where the one thing we did know, was that all hell would break loose. In the first 4 or 5 minutes experience of Paris Roubaix VTT, 3 Peaks starts, Cape Epic and plenty of crit racing experience all took over and by the time we hit the sand, I was about 12th wheel.
Somehow I managed to ride the soft sand transition on my skinny tyres but made it to the hard stuff fully in the red. After about 1km of stem-chewing and out of the saddle efforts, I managed to bridge across and straight into the middle of the lead group of about 20riders.
I was amazed by the speed and strength of the 2 leading fat bikers, who seemed to be rumbling quite happily along with the bunch. As the exit from the beach loomed into view, attacks came thick and fast as riders vied for the holeshot. Again, I got up there in a decent position but it was agonisingly tough to get up the ramp as we scrambled up the steep, deep sand.
From here, it was really a question of damage limitation on a cross bike. The course had a mixture of flowing, fun singletrack, military roads, 4x4 tracks and puddles. Serious puddles.
Sometime into the 2nd lap, I caught my pedal on a stump and my foot came out of my pedal. I managed to damage a cleat bolt in the process and the cleat came loose, causing me to have to stop to exact a repair. Time and places were lost here, and again when I hit a section of flowing tail to hot and got bucked from my bike -miraculously landing on my feet, but having to straighten bars and saddle.
As the laps wore on, the conditions and racing really started to take their toll on the bikes. Cross bikes especially as they were put through their paces a bit more on the singletrack. By the end, everything was sounding pretty unhealthy -one 'puddle' created a bow wave that was definitely headset height.
ViCiOUS Paul suffered a puncture while closing down 5th place, and ultimately slipped to 15th overall. Boom was 3rd lady -the lead lady passed me at the end of the first lap, while Melanie Alexander, riding for Scott UK was able to maintain a strong 2nd place.
Images from Anthony Pease Photography