“Breakfast is now being served” blasted into my ear and it took me a few seconds to work out where I was but the gentle swaying of the room coupled with the banging of my head on the ceiling reminded me that I was on the top bunk heading towards the Hook of Holland for my first taste of Dutch beach racing. Northern Travers Bikes ambassador John, announced he was awake too with a rather thunderous trump, proclaiming it gets worse after he has ridden. Oh what joys for the return trip!
The race was about an hour’s drive from the port. We had a bit of time to kill so stopped for breakfast at a small cafe (www.springer.nl), who opened especially for us! Arriving at the race, we went and signed on, then put the bikes together and headed out for a spin on the beach to get a feel for the conditions. The start area was marked out with 2 flags stretching across the beach. It was the biggest start line I have seen, possibly 200m wide. Conditions under wheel were tough and the sand was sodden, the kind that when you stand on it it creates a vacuum.
Race time and riders were already lining up with about 20 minutes to go. As we approached the line the middle of the grid was free, which is where I made my first rookie beach racing mistake. When the cannon fired for the start, everybody to the right of me went hard right and headed for the hardpack sand closer to the sea, I followed them but it meant I had a much larger section of sticky sand to get across leaving me towards the back by the first corner. I was eager to make up the places I lost, taking advantage of the tail wind I got back up to speed quickly and started to pass riders, click, click up the gears then nothing. I looked down and I was in top gear and spinning out. I was doing 43kph and riders started to pass left and right, “No!” Luckily this section wasn’t too long and I could see the exit of the beach up a steep sandy seawall that lead to a short tarmac section, suddenly riders ahead fanned out across the beach, some were laying on the ground, some had got off and were walking, I didn’t have time to react and hit the stream that crossed the beach. All I could do was lift the front wheel, it was my own fault for not checking the course but under the surface of the water were holes about 1m deep that were caused when the fresh water met the sea water. It was mayhem and then a quick scramble up the seawall.
Once on the seawall it was a quick blast along the tarmac before dropping down onto the beach again. There were 2 options, straight on over a rocky groin or up and over in the deep sand. Being on the Travers Fat Race, the deep sand was the obvious route and I took great joy passing riders who were running. This would be short lived and I was soon passed and left by those riders on the faster hard sand close to the water’s edge. The course followed a dogleg shape from this point to the return along the coast with riders forming into mini groups just to shield from the wind. It was soon obvious that trying to ride on your own was just a waste of energy. I was constantly scanning the riders around me trying to work out if it was worth the effort to try and catch the group ahead or relax and wait for the next one, you didn’t need to say anything people just started working together.
Just before the turn, there was a 200m stretch where the race crossed a stream flowing out to sea which got many riders walking again, but not me! I was on a Fat Bike and was going to take the advantages were I could get them. It was like riding through treacle and by the time I crossed to the other side my legs were on fire, but with a quick look under my arm I could see I had gapped the riders I was with. To my surprise the leaders were headed back down the beach after completing a loop into the dunes and you had to cross their track (like the top half of a figure of 8).
After the turn, the second half of the lap retraced the first half back down the beach. There was no set path so you needed to watch out for riders coming in the other direction. The 2nd and final lap followed and were equally as gruelling as the first with the wind gusting maybe a tad harder.
The Fat Race did a good job considering the extra rolling resistance. I was a quite a bit lower down the results than I would expect from a normal MTB race but this wasn’t a normal MTB race. Next time I will run either higher pressures in my Maxxis Chronicles or my new Rusty 27.5+ with semi slicks. I would also swap to a 34 tooth at the front (11-36 at the back same as this time).
The return journey wasn’t as bad as expected, as the sever wind that was forecast didn’t materialise, as John managed to keep himself under control!