Copyright

All photo's are Copyright of Scott Swalling or the tagged Photographer. (Background photo Scott Swalling Photography).

About Me:

24Hr MTBike racer and general bike rider, climber and mountaineer. Good coffee drinker and cake eater (any cake, seriously, don't leave your cake laying around). Also, I like to try new things that challenge me.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Battle on the Beach 2015

A Cycling's Battle on the Beach is fast becoming the must do race of the year, and that was only after one year. ;)  So there was no doubt that I would race it again this year and with an expanded entry, I was joined by 599 other riders/racers.

Held at Pembrey Country Park the site lends itself to a great family atmosphere, easy access and other activities to do over the weekend, even it is just have a walk along the ample beach.  There are kids events, roller racing on the Saturday eve, and a fun event mixed in with the race itself.

Out of the 600 riders, many choose just to enjoy a fun event and ride a course that is a little different than the normal mountain bike or CX course.  It is even a little different to what the professional beach racers from the Netherlands and Belgium are used to, it is really quite unique and Matt Page and the team at A Cycling know how to run a slick event that is befitting of a great location and super fun course.

So the course is fact, technical in bits, has some short nasty climbs (some sandy), soft sand and 4km (6km on the start lap this year) drag up the beach where in the right group you can fly.  There is a mix of fat bikes, CX, MTB, MonsterX even a couple of tandems this year, with Open, Age, Fatbike and Single Speed categories.

As usual this year Matt and the A Cycling crew had ordered the weather.  I had arrived and was in relatively fine fettle as wise the Fatboy. (see below)

(Photo: Anna Cipullo (BikeSoup))

After a week of study and a training course I was fired up to race and keen to give it a proper crack.  Getting to the start line early with Sam Pantling, had myself and many friends and familiar faces right on the start tape.  Being in the first bunch down the beach is pretty key to a good result I learnt last year.

 Crowded start line
(Photo: Anthony Pease Photography)

After the required start line encouragement and waffle (you have to have some waffle), we were under starters orders and away in a flash.  The for me went something like this, out the blocks well, avoid a 29er struggling in the sand, rider over a fallen bike, get into the front bunch after a bit of slalom and pin it.

The front group formed with some very very fast boys (KOGA Race Team) and other and 4 fatbikes, Roki Read, Paul Wynn, Sam Pantling and myself.  The pace was insane30+ kph down the beach, ebbing and flowing a bit, but I was lamenting the lack of a 34t upfront.  It settled for a bit then exploded (Old Man Crispin Doyle) attacked the bunch, this was too much for me and the elastic final broke. I couldn't spin that fast my knees were already steaming.

A few other groups edged pass before I found my legs again, wheeled on to the back of a small group and wheeled suck like a leech until the soft beach exit.  I took a tighter line an floated across the soft sand on the fat tyres, passing 20+ riders, I must have dropped from about 40th to somewhere in the 220s. A short stretch of road and a sharp corner and I stole a few more back and we charged onto a bumpy dirty road that narrowed and I went to work, weaving and pushing my way past other riders, at one point riding along an embankment using the extra traction to overtake a group nearly falling over itself.

So it was into the single track and the reason why I tried to stay with the front group, the queues, you have to suck it up and smile in a couple of spots as there is no way past. Soon I was on the charge again, using the advantage of the fatty on the soft sandy sections and the extra grip, not slowing much if at all for corners. The first charge through the Rollers was great, I could choose any line, so I did.  

We wiggled through the single track and double track at speed and before long charged through start finish and headed to the beach again, with a minor detour thanks to a meddling fool. But the A Cycling crew fixed this quickly and it didn't affect anyone much.

Back on the beach over the soft sand I gaped the group I was with passed a couple of other riders and then joined forces with another guy on a 29er and rolled 30 sec turns perfectly along the beach. The two of us hold 32ish kph along the beach and passing other riders at speed on their blind side.  As we approached the exit he slowed due to the wet and soft sand. We thanked each other as I speed off shouldered the fatty and climbed the sandy ramp off the beach and charged on. Towards the single track again.

My cohort and I on the beach, 2nd lap.
(Photo: Anthony Pease Photography)

After the first bit of single track, something didn't feel right on the bike.  I stopped and found my left crank arm loose, I tightened and got going again.

Back in to the single track picking lines to squeeze past or waiting patiently for the next fire road section a stole a few more places. Through the Rollers again, I spotted Anna C, we cheered each other on, the fatty made short work of the sandy climbs here and I managed to pass a couple more people, splitting 4 riders at one point as they struggled in the soft sand.

Realising my crank was loose again.
(Photo: Anthony Pease Photography)

Once again I soon passed through the Start/Finish, pushing hard, but it felt like my crank was loose again. Stopping again, this time I wanged the bolt up as tight as I could, losing a few places as I did.

Off again and on to the beach for the last time, once again I joined forces with another rider and buried myself taking the lion share of the work and belted along the beach passing others.  Leaving the beach I was determined to catch those I had already passed once.

In and out of single track I worked hard and soon climbed the last hard climb of the course and spotted Anna again who was on her last lap charged to the end.  Catching her again, we rode together for a bit until we hit the Rollers again and the fatty gave me the advantage in the soft sand.  I now charged towards the finish, in the Welsh sunshine, through the last few bits of single track and on to the road section to the finish, the big tyres rumbled to the line and 6th placed Fatbike.

6th and not far behind 5th and even 4th (maybe a loose crank arm behind them) with the sun shining at such a great event, I can say I was pretty happy.

Once again a great event, with a great course and atmosphere, with loads of like minded riders having fun, racing or not. I will certainly be back and Matt and his team at A Cycling have a winner on their hands with Battle on the Beach.

Still smile when I think of this event. :)

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Rovaniemi 150 - Race Time

Long before I finished my last 24hr race (for the present) I had decided that I needed to do something new and I had penciled in the Rovaniemi 150. After waiting on a few other things to be resolved and Boom, I entered!

A few months of smashing around on the fatty in Surrey and a weekend of pushing my bike through the Cairngorms, and catching a chest and head cold two weeks before the race (as I write this I am still full of cold) and we were on a plane bound for Rovaniemi.

Rovaniemi is marginally below the Arctic Circle itself, so it is cold, utilitarian, due to its location and being leveled by the retreating Germans at the end of WWII. But it and the Finns are welcoming and warm and there is a great array of restaurants, little bars and of course tours to go on.  There is also Santas Village, which we visited on the Friday before the race with many of the other racers and organisers Alex and Maria.

After arriving I had a few days t sort the bike, meet some of the other racers (a great bunch of people). Below are a couple of photos from the pre-race rides.







On the Friday after visiting Santa we had mandatory equipment check-in and then race briefing.  Which covered the rules, safety and rescue for the North 66, Rovaniemi 150 and Roavve 300 ( only two guys had entered this).  Now the only thing left to do was final bike check and pack and head out for some carbs with Nik, Paul E, Grace, Dan P, Paul H and Ian B.

The next morning was game time, a big breakfast, final bike check and it was off to the start line on the frozen Kemijoki and Ounasjoki rivers. After signing in, there was time to wish friends many of the them new good luck. A few photos and then we lined up.

 Alpkiteers ready to roll, Paul and I.
(Photo: Nicola Jordan)

As we lined up with only a minute or so to go I noticed that my front tyre had lost pressure from checking it back in the hotel to the start line.  I made a decision to start, get clear of the other racers and then sort it out.  Shortly we were off and as soon as we passed under the main bridge I stopped and calmly inflated the tyre to a better pressure.

The start and racers going for the shot hole at the end of the 14km of frozen river. :)
(Photo: Nicola Jordan)

I had a plan before I started to finish in under 13hrs and I knew this meant I needed to be mid bunch at least, so I now made a decision to make up some time on the river as it was frozen and fast.  So I set about doing so and by the time I reached the 1st Check Point I had made up some time on the bunch, but not the 4 leaders that had got together and clearly worked well until the end of the race together (Congrats and hats off to you guys).

I pushed on, at my own pace, a little higher than planned.  I knew I would pay a little for this later as my race prep had not been the best and I was still full of cold.  But until then, I pushed on.  I was also on a learning curve as sections of the trails needed a calm and well paced approach and not a trail riding approach or you found yourself wrestling with your bike to wade out of ball deep snow.  (This I did a few times, until I learnt the skills).

At CP 2 I had caught a few more places and Ian B, I had passed Paul E earlier on the soft snow section. Ian and I joined another guy with a suspiciously light looking amount of mandatory gear and sped across the 11kms of Sinettajarvi lake. After this the course undulated all the way to CP 3 and I slipped away from the others and as I neared CP 3, passed another two racers (but they would join me at the Check Point as we learnt I was 6th the other two 7th and 8th.  I was quite surprised by this, but was feeling my cold a little as the climbs made me breathe heavier than normal. A few km's of technical trail to a road allowed me to slip away again without much effort.

Once on the road however, I started to suffer and for a while I could either eat and breathe whilst I stopped or ride and breathe, so the next 10kms was going to be very slow and the two guys just behind me soon caught me, they road with me for a bit, but I had to ease up a little more and they moved away. I wouldn't see them again.

I pushed on through the next few CPs without seeing another racer until I arrived at CP 6, Kuusilapi, a little wooden hut and the furthest point north and the point at a which a 35km stretch to the next CP 7.  I needed a rest here to clear my lungs and nose and take water, in all I was probably stopped for 10 minutes as I did what I needed to and chatted to the marshal (a member of the local walking club).  The rider behind me, came through as I made ready to head off.  So I followed his tyre marks until a couple of sharp climbs where he faltered and I managed to ride away.  This though would last about 15 minutes as we trudged up on to a plateau in soft snow and across its expanse, the rider behind also pushing seemly floated on the snow as he walked pass at speed.  I said "Hi" but he looked broken and focused and moved away quickly.

Soon there was a little down hill, we both remounted, and as I wandered into the soft snow and flew over the bars, right in front of Vice one of the marshals on his snowmobile. The Dutch guy went out of sight.  I quick feed and chat with Vice and I was on my way again. As I got onto the double track and soon the road, I started to feel really good and ate and drunk lots as I pushed on.  The light was finally starting to go. But I had only about 60km to go from here.  At the next major road crossing Maria yelled "Go Scott, Go!" as she had done at CP 1.  A little further along the next road section, she and another marshal drove past and gave me a wave and a grin and I would see them again quite soon as they made sure riders made the turn off the road to head to CP 7.

By now I had turned my lights on and even put my beanie back on.  The double track meandered on and on.  It undulated and at times was steep and cut up by the riders ahead foot prints.  I had found my mojo and rode all these sections and even found loads of speed on the descents and soon I saw a flashing light in front of me.  Slowly and calmly I closed in until at CP 7 we were together and 50km, lay in front of us.  I sorted some food and warm drink as he headed off, but by the time we reached a long section of road that started with a sharp climb, I was on his wheel.

I wheel sucked, to short of the crest and found the speed to attack and gap him.  With the aid of the dark, I could see I was pulling away steadily as his light grew dim and then disappeared.  I pushed on and came to the some great single track that led me on to the final lake, Norvajarvi. As I turned down the lake, I was hit by the worse block headwind I have every experienced and I have met some nasty ones in my time. I buried my head the best I could, found a gear that stopped the searing thigh pain and got down to business at a massive 6.9kph.  After much pain, I turned right and had some relief, I soon left the lake, found some road, only long enough to refuel before turning off it again, for the last section of trail.  Then more fast moving road and finally back onto the river, after 2kms, I was at the last CP and through it, but I had 11kms of headwind to deal with on the river return to the finish.

I pushed on and tried to raise the pace, but I was drained by now. I had to stop a couple of times to feed and drink as I couldn't breathe, ride and refuel once again (stupid head cold).  I pushed on and soon was in Rovaniemi again and soon wheeled my bike into the lobby of the Pohjanhovi hotel and to finish line in 8th and in 12hrs-16mins-58sec.  I was so happy with this result considering I could have had better prep.  However, I was soon promoted to 7th as one rider was DQed.



But what a race, it was amazing out there racing in this environment.  Alex and all his helpers had laid out a great course, through amazing wilderness and I will certainly be back again and couldn't recommend this race enough.  Even if you take it as just a fun and exciting adventure. Don't question, just do it!  Ask me nicely and I might even loan you some kit. :)

Firstly, a big thanks to Alex, Maria, the walking club marshals and all the helpers and the locals of Rovaniemi making us all so welcome.  The staff at the Cumulus for not just putting up with us all, but being amazing in doing so with a not wuckers can do attitude.

Next, a massive thanks to:
  • Alpkit - for the wicked bike packing kit and winter woolies. Filo, Filoment, buff and beanie.
  • Wolf Tooth Components - for the brilliant drive train upgrade.
  • Cycleworks - for the service, the pedal, sourcing my boots and just being legends.
  • Weldtite - for the TF2 All weather that works great in the snow.
Additional thanks to:
  • Endura - for providing some great support at short notice and the stealth pants and windtex pro (Cycleworks) jersey were great.
  • FortyBelow - for shipping my over boots so quick.
  • Shaggy - for information about the race from a racers view.
And as usual thanks to Nik for supporting a hair brained idea.

I am still stoked and smile when I think of this race.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Rovaniemi 150 - Arctic Circle Race

A bit later this month, I head off to Finnish Lapland to Rovaniemi for the Rovaniemi 150 winter race, I am competing on bike of course on my trusty Specialized Fatboy Expert.  The race is close to the Arctic Circle has the potential to be brutally cold (despite current temps), the dangers and challenges of frostbite and ice overflow (frigid water overflowing onto the stable ice below it on the rivers and lakes we will cross) not very pleasant.

However, that is the doom and gloom, the race course passes through some remarkable Lapland country and if the sky plays ball, as the race enters the night, the northern lights may come out to put on a show.  Racing under them will be pretty special.

I use the term race loosely, for me this will be first and foremost a challenge against myself and the elements.  There is little navigation concerns as it is a marked course and does have check points to pass through, so one painful component of winter travel/racing is reduce.

The race is organized by Alex from Polarguide and Logistics who is already out working hard and battling the element to mark and bash the course.  Unlike a recent trip to Scotland, the course should be mainly bashed for the event, but heavy unrelenting snow could alter this in a few hours.  Fingers crossed we don't experience that like the did in the first year of the event.

A few thanks in advance go to:

Cycleworks.co.uk for supplying and helping fettle the Fatboy Expert and ongoing support.
Alpkit for providing lots of great kit to keep me warm and bike luggage to to carry the essentials.
Wolf Tooth Components for great chain rings and sprockets that are reliable, no faff and should help me make light work of the snow and ice.
Weldtite for keeping everything clean and running smoothly
Endura for some great products to help keep me warm, dry and comfy.

and of course to Nik for supporting the current bout of stupidity.  :)

Cheers and wish me luck.

S