Man’s gotta know his limitations’ the quote made famous by Harry Callahan AKA Dirty Harry resonated round my head as I desperately fought to stick onto a group of riders as I charged down the shoreline of the Welsh coast of Pembrey on the first lap of The 2015 Battle on The Beach race. I know that if I failed I would be cut off and cast astray fighting a lonely war with myself, a headwind and some hard packed sand all the way to the turning point that took the race off the beach and into the sanctuary of the forest. The other side of this conundrum of pain was the cost of pushing too hard and burning too many matches that would ultimately cost me in the long run and this race involves three trips down the beech section.
Luck can cast its shadow right across you when you need it most and it was at one of those moments I was saved by a small number of riders that had bridged over to the group I was hanging onto. I knew my physical limitations and this gift of chance help me avoid having to make a choice of stick twist or even cast a sneaky look over my shoulder and surrender to the wave of bikes coming down on me. The new riders that linked up gave me respite. I could now ride the bike surf I was in and get carried along, for a fleeting moment enjoying the stunning location gorgeous welsh sunshine and picturesque scenery.
This was the second year I had done The Battle on The Beach race, it’s a fun filled yet painful rocket blast along the beach and through undulating single-track track of Pembrey Park. Its 40K long which equates to three laps that can be tackled on any bike a CX, MTB or Fat (the race incorporates the UK fat bike champs) plus it has the novelty of a leg sapping clamber up a sand dune on the second and third lap. It has rapidly become the ‘must do’ race of the year and has stepped in to fill a gap that was vacated by the awesome and sadly now defunct Hit the North event in my opinion.
In some ways Battle on the Beach has the same idiosyncrasies of Hit The North and The quality of the field runs deep and this year the pool just seemed to be overflowing in every area from the sharp end to middle fillers and all the way down. It was packed with a hefty selection of riders who had one thing on their mind, race fast , race hard and get off the beach in one piece.
The event is excellently organised by A Cycling the new venture of races and challenges headed up by UK 24 hour endurance legend Matt Page and their isn’t a single fault that I can find in how the event is structured and handled. All the relevant information is clear as day for you to follow from the minute your entry is accepted to the race briefing and course markings.
The first time I heard the name Matt Page was on my inaugural trip to the trails of Afan, I can’t remember who but somebody in our party said ‘Matt Page has ridden all these trails in a day on a single speed’ and to be honest at that particular time I was in that ‘why would you ride single speed phase’ of my bike riding career. It was only a few years later when I became converted to the beauty and intensity of one gear riding that I appreciated the task in full, since then I quickly became acquainted with Matt's far more impressive riding and racing achievements including numerous 24 hour solo victories, so I thought now was the right time for us to catch the rising tide and hook up with Matt and throw some questions his way.
In your word tell us who you are and where you are going
I'm just an average guy who got a few lucky opportunities.
Firstly getting a job as a cycle courier, which got me really fit (100 miles a day. 4-5 days a week!) and started racing and doing well in endurance events.
Another lucky break was getting a sponsorship deal with Wiggle in 2008. Eventually it turned into a professional contract and I spent 3 fantastic years traveling and racing.
In 2013 I started A Cycling and in 2014 I moved into organising events, something I've always wanted to do.
Battle on the Beach was the first race, a crazy idea I've had for a while and judging by the response, I guess other people liked the idea.
With my racing I have been lucky enough to travel the World and enter many stage races. Some good, some not so good.
With the final Trans Wales in 2011 (one of the good ones!) I knew there was a market for a British stage race, so in late 2013 I started planning Epic Cymru. It took 10 months to even make the details public and when the event kicks off in August this year, it will have been almost 2 years in the planning!
- Best race. Such a tough question and I can't narrow it to a single race. The ones that stand out the most are: Swiss Epic, Crocodile Trophy & Iron Bike.
- Favourite trail, either something around Les Arc, an area I've visited several times with Bike Village who are an amazing guiding company in the area, or Switzerland. The trails in the Swiss Epic were so memorable, I'd love to go back.
- Favourite trail in Wales. There are so many! Probably Cwm Rhaeadr, but after so many visits to Pembrey, I really love riding there.
- What race would you like to do that you haven't yet. Breck Epic is on the to-do list, but there are so many races these days and they keep popping up, so I think the bucket list will always be full.
- Did you really ride all the trails in afan in a day on a SS or is it an urban myth. Yes, back when it was Penhydd, Wall, Whites & Skyline. I think it was around 6hrs.
Rugby or football- Neither, cycling :)
Do you speak welsh - No, but I wish I did. I can understand it.
If so what is 'on your right mate' in welsh - Oi Boyo! Mas Y fordd!!
Tell us what you think 'just isn't cricket' - Cheaters. Riders who throw gel wrappers and those who use bad language and are aggressive on course.
I know you like a bit of fresh equipment on your bike what was the best innovation in your time of riding - I started riding just after disc brakes came in, so while I've actually been riding I'd say 1x drivetrains with thick/thin chain rings is probably the biggest change for me personally. It just makes everything much simpler without affecting the range too much.
Present bike sponsor excluded what is the best bike you have ridden - Norco Search. There is something very fun about taking a "road bike" off the beaten track.
If you could change one thing in the UK riding scene what would it be - Riders in general seem to have an issue with racing. While I understand that not everyone is interested in racing, there is no need to ridicule those who enjoy exerting themselves.
How do you currently view the UK MTB scene - Very healthy from a riding point of view, but XC racing is still suffering somewhat. Enduro is the new kid on the block and cyclocross is huge, so I am sure XC will have resurgence soon.
Do you 'get' enduro - Yes, but enduro is only racing. You can't ride "enduro" because that’s just mountain biking.
What made you enter the highland trail - Seemed like a good idea at the time. I am starting to wonder if it was a bad idea, especially given how little training I am able to fit in at the moment. Currently I am concentrating on running/walking as I know that will be a big factor.
How was life in London (courier) - It was in Cardiff, (Dooh) which compared to London probably means more mileage, more hills, less time in buildings and less traffic in general. I loved it!
Who is the fastest person you have raced - Are we talking genuinely racing against, or just in the same race as? Genuinely racing against, probably Jason English, an absolute machine.
Would you ride a 36er ? -WTF!
Did you envisage BOTB to be such a success so quickly- No way! I mean, who in the UK had heard about beach racing?! I thought I'd struggle to get people interested and make them understand that the sands at Pembrey are so fast and fun and it won't damage your bike.
Have you got a fat bike - Not yet. I don't think it’s for me, maybe B+.
Who would be you ideal partner for 24 hour pairs - Team mate, George Budd. We have raced 12hr pairs together and won, so maybe we will have a go at a 24hr pairs. I have only tried it twice, back in 2005 when I won Sleepless in the Saddle with partner Domonic Eggbeer and a few years ago winning Strathpuffer with Rickie Cotter. To this day they remain some of the hardest races I've ever done. You just get absolutely no rest!!
What has been your longest ever training ride - I guess that will depend on what you call training. A few years ago a 6 hour ride was a weekly thing, above that was fairly rare. Cycling the Welsh coast to coast on the road took 11hrs and covered 220 miles. That was a big ride!
For more info on A Cycling and Matts other events check out www.acycling.com
For Battle On The Beach go to www.battleonthebeach.co.uk
All links for Facebook and Twitter can be found on both sites.