Two of These Things Were Not Like the Others
The 1st European Championship Bicycle Beachrace
Was recently held in my new home country of The Netherlands. I’ve done my share of sand riding on fat bikes with a group of amigos on both the Washington coast and the dunes East of the Cascades and had been logging some North Sea beach miles for six months or so since settling on this side of the Atlantic. In that time, I’ve struggled to find a core group of fat-bike enthusiasts to get out and ride with. While I am by no means close to a competitive cyclist, the event offered a recreational category and I thought it might be a great way to meet other fat bike riders and participate in a local event. I had also just received some demo Vee Tires Apache Fattyslicks in time for global fatbike day and to put to the test in this event, hoping they would give me an advantage.
The event was well organized by Stichting Endurance Sports and produced by Exventure Sports & Events with the support of great partners and sponsors including the UEC, Buitengewoon Scheveningen, Den Haag Topsport, WD-40 Bike, Buff, Boretti Cycles, Schwalbe, Fruit to Go, Jeep, Red Bull, and Invicta.
The terrain was described as 90% beach and 10% bike path, starting at Scheveningen in a southern direction towards the harbor followed by a 180 degree turning point leading competitors northward to the city of Katwijk where the course leaves the beach and heads back south along a bike path through the dunes for about 1,5 km. The course then returns to the beach heading south back to Scheveningen. After passing the pier riders head to the boulevard for a few hundred meters. Participants of the 27,45 km race finish here and the rest do another lap for a total of 54 km.
Conditions were dry, cool, overcast, with moderate SW winds. I left my house at 0800 in the cold and dark and rode the course 13 km south to the start. It was slow and the sand was very unpredictable due to our lack of rain and a receding tide. I also ran the tires at 18 psi to get to the beach then dropped them to 12 psi. I quickly decided they would have to go lower for the race. I arrived at the start just before 0900; everything was well organized and I quickly got into the queue and collected my bag of goodies and number plate. I packed everything into my BikeBagDude frame pack and pedaled around the start area to keep warm, since the elites started at 0930 and my group didn’t start until 1000.
Immediately, I felt like a stranger. Was it because I was an American in a European Championship event? Nope. It was
because I wasn’t seeing a single fat bike! I finally spotted one at a distance, who may have been part of the organizing team or perhaps just spectating. There were lots of interested stares at my rig and a number of people stopped to take pictures. After chatting with some other riders, it turns out there is an entirely new category of bikes which I was unaware of – enter the “beachracer” that a handful of manufacturers have began producing in response to this popular and growing riding style.
Jo Burt wrote about Koga’s Beachracer on road.cc that it was “the bastard love-child of a road bike, a cyclo-cross bike and a 29er mountainbike” and with its flared drop bars, aggressive geometry and clearance for a 60mm tire, it is a pretty accurate description.
I rolled up to where the elites would first enter the beach and waited for the start. The pace at which the group entered the loose sand and just hammered through to the tide edge was amazing.
I proceeded to make my way to the starting chute and made a last minute adjustment to my tire pressure, settling on 10psi in
the front and 8psi in the rear. As I was moving into the queue, I came across another fat bike. The rider, Maarten Smit was a local from Den Haag and was surprised and pleased to see another fat bike competitor. We joked a little about how at least one of us would take home the title of race winner in the fat bike category, and that since he was European and this was a UCI event, the title would go to him regardless. His friend got a photo of us at the start and also one of me at some point on the course, which he sent me a few days after the race.
As our starting gun went off, we were toward the back of the pack and as soon as riders hit the sand, people were bogging, bailing, and walking. I managed to pedal through, albeit much slower than the elites I had watched, but also through the ruts of 250 riders that came before us. Once I hit the wet-packed sand at the waterline, I was able to accelerate, but was careful not to push too hard, knowing that there was a lot of pedaling to come. The first turning point came up quickly and again, many riders were walking through the dry loose sand to make the turn. I was able to overtake some and start heading north, with the wind finally at my back. The group was fairly spread out and for the majority of the time I was riding alone. About a third of the way to Katwijk, I began to see elite riders who had already made the turn and were on their way back south. The staggered start seemed to really have worked well to keep riders from piling up; however, at Katwijk as I was leaving the beach and pushing my bike up the dunes, I did have elite riders overtake me. I also saw Maarten not far behind me. Once out of the dunes and on the bike path, I thought I would be able to gain some speed, but the headwind had picked up a bit and running the tires at 10psi or less, really made for slow going.
Fortunately, the paved section was a short distance and then it was back to pushing up and over the dunes again to get back to the beach. The ride back to the finish was brutal; I just kept trying to keep my cadence and maintain speed despite the headwind and fatigue. I made the finish at 1:43:19, averaging just less than 16 km/h, and Maarten came in just 3 minutes behind me. To put that in perspective, Jasper Ockeloen, the top finisher in the event, completed twice my distance in 1:38:12 with an average speed of 33.5 km/h! He was interviewed after the race, calling it “flat all the way but hard as hell.”
I didn’t hang around after the race for the awards ceremony, opting instead to scarf a bacon cheeseburger and start my 13 km ride back to the house, where a cold beer and hot shower were waiting. That’s just how I roll.
If you’d like to view a video that covers an overview of the event visit – https://www.facebook.com/bicyclebeachrace/videos/1755033961486893/