Dutch beach-racing duo steal the show at the unique Battle on the Beach mixed-terrain cycling event in Pembrey
Battle on the Beach 2016 provided another spectacular challenge as everyone from elites on custom beach racers to fatbike tandem riders took on the unique event held in Pembrey Country Park in South Wales.
Saddleback was supporting Battle on the Beach with Sidi, showing the Italian brand's shoes at our stand and providing prizes. Meanwhile our senior brand manager and NFTO pro, Richard Mardle, and sponsored rider Scott Chalmers were also taking part in the race, giving us an extra reason to cheer on the sandy, muddy action.
With the 12-noon start being dictated by the tide, there was plenty of time before the off to for the buzzing atmosphere to build into a nervous frenzy. The 850 starters slowly made their way to the holding pen on the soft sand between dunes and hard-packed beach, the mass start already a hallmark of this race in only its third year.
As riders chatted excitedly, positioning themselves for the start, the sight of hardtails, fatbikes, cyclocrossers, singlespeeds and the odd full-sus and tandem signalled the inclusive nature of the event across all riding disciplines, even if Lycra was the wardrobe of choice.
Rich and Scott made their way into the front group that also contained Beach Racing World Champion Richard Jansen and teammate Bram Imming, the Dutch pair the ones to watch at their specialist discipline.
At midday, the tape was lifted and carnage started, some running, some riding onto the harder sand as the elite riders spearheaded the charge along the beach, the rest of the field flooding out to begin behind them. Following a sprint onto the beach that saw them gain a few bike lengths on the competition, the Dutchmen were relentless in attacking the group over this crucial section. Every time the chasers caught back on, off went another injection of pace in spite of the exposure to the coastal winds.
"There was a headwind all up the beach, but no-one was prepared to risk it," says Rich, who was riding his full-susser. "I thought, 'Do I go hard now and potentially pay for it later, or hold back and hope it comes together?' I covered one attack, but just as I brought it back together another rider went off. It was just like road racing. Then the other Dutch guy went and we didn't see them again!"
NFTO's Rich Mardle enjoyed the tough racing at his first Battle on the Beach event
A crash near the front sent a few riders hard to the sand but Jansen and Imming pushed on to build a decisive lead. Meanwhile, the 800-or-so riders behind tackled the tough 5km straight, skinny tyres giving an advantage at this stage, though a short-lived one. The conclusion of the beach section meant a right-hand turn up and over the soft dunes into the forest, the loose sand causing all but the fattest of tyres to sink, meaning an uphill push or carry onto the start of the trails.
The forest terrain was varied enough to favour each bike type at different points, with tight turns, steep loose downhills and enormous muddy puddles to negotiate. All the while, riders had to cope with the to-and-fro of passing and being passed by others, not to mention frequent manoeuvring around fellow competitors who'd taken a tumble or put a foot down. Each lap finished on a short stretch of tarmac, before riders took on another wooded section that led back to the beach on laps two and three.
At the pointy end, the Dutchmen were well away while Rich worked hard in a group behind the leading duo, Scott Chalmers finding it tough going in the post 'cross season and dropping down the field.
After riding together for over 90 minutes, the Dutch teammates closed on the finish with an 80-second lead. There was no contest for the win though; the pair zipped up their jerseys and Jansen cruised over the line in front of Imming to take victory in 1:35:08. Benjamin Wadey, who had managed to push ahead of the rest of the group, took the final podium spot in 1:36:29. Rich was in the next group, taking a solid eighth place in 1:37:57 while Scott, battling heavy legs, finished in 1:50:46 putting him in 31st.
"For me, it brought the fun back into mountain biking events with a mix of bikes and a mix of people all there to enjoy something that's just a bit different from other races," says Richard.
The rest of the field filtered in over the next couple of hours, as the grey skies gave way to sun and riders of all shapes and abilities completed the gruelling, yet extremely satisfying course to earn their finisher's medals. The sell-out event will take place again next year, with entries going on sale on 1 January.
Check out the gallery for more images from Battle on the Beach and view the full results at the Battle on the Beach website.