ENDUROPALE - THE LE TOUQUET MOTORCYCLE BEACH RACE - RIDERS ON THE STORM
JOHN NEWMAN BRAVED THE STORMS AND WENT TO LE TOUQUET - HERE'S HOW HE GOT ON...
These are not normal times: at least that is what the climatologists and meteorologists keep reminding us; and if you are among those whose home, dwelling or farm has been inundated with dirty water, you would not disagree with their theories. Yes I'm afraid this another story where wet stuff features heavily.
Wet Wet Wet...
Early February and the weather folk are forecasting another bout of high wind, rain and disruption across parts of the country. It's midday on Saturday and the wind funnelling up the English Channel to Dover is lively but no worse than expected in mid-winter, but the ferry is delayed by an hour and half, which means a late arrival at Berck Sur Mer a town just west of Le Touquet on the north coast of France, where I'll be staying.
I'm there because this is the weekend on which the Enduropale takes place. Known to Brits who have been there, competed, or know about it; as the Le Touquet beach race. A thousand solo bikes racing for three hours across the huge expanse of sand from which a course has been shoved, bulldozed, and 'duned' to test the strength and will of human and machine. The weekend's race programme also includes a Quad race and two events for young riders.
This my third or fourth visit to this biking event, as a spectator and a writer for bike magazines. The racing is a spectacle, and the town gets completely taken over by thousands of motorcyclists who clog the streets and perform noisy two wheel street antics and trickery that would provoke much tutting and shaking of heads on our island. But this year it's much more downbeat: high winds, heavy rain showers, and a low temperatures have kept the usual tens of thousands at home. I've travelled by car; the town is rightly off limits, and a heavy Gendarme presence ensures that four wheelers park a couple of kilometres away and walk to the action.
The main race is due to be started at 12.30pm and is covered live on French TV. I'm in town early so that I can look at the course and the surroundings, and find out where the 'parade' begins: I'll explain. The bikes for the main Enduropale are kept caged in a Parc Ferme overnight, and at the appointed time are led through the town to the start by a phalanx of police outriders and assorted organiser vehicles.
The Parc Ferme is outside the looming chateau like Westminster Hotel; a classy joint with English antecedents. The full name for the town is Le Touquet Paris Plage (Paris Beach), because of it's use as a leisure destination for the well heeled inhabitants of the capital. The English upper middle classes and aristocracy also colonised this place. They built grand houses and revelled in a casino and party lifestyle away from English shores and any exposure to scandal that may have resulted.
The large houses are still here of course, back in the woods and around the golf courses. Joined now by equally splendid modern dwellings with large sweeping driveways and surrounding land. So different from downtown Le Touquet, a strange mix of up market restaurants, regular bars and cafes and a seafront garlanded by boxlike apartment blocks and miscellaneous seaside paraphernalia.
Happiness is a warm bar
It wasn't long before the first of the day's showers visited. They were driven by a strong wind that flapped and shook the awnings of the food and drink stalls, and caused many of the early spectators to abandon the junior race and head for a warm bar. I joined them.
Resuscitated by strong sweet coffee and almost dry, I wandered up to the Parc Ferme where small groups of riders were gathering opposite their bikes. The sky kept tempting us with a few minutes of dry and lighter grey, but it was never long before the next wet onslaught. So this year it wasn't a problem finding a place on the street barriers lining the parade route to capture photographs. Previously I'd jostled with the crowds or applied for press credentials.
The multi-coloured wet off road hordes came towards us. The top riders were in a group at the front, with the rest elbowing for space in the narrow street, fuelled by adrenaline and frustrated at the slow pace. By now the assortment of humanity; riders, cops, spectators, photographers on the open trucks, marshalls (commissaires), were all equal under the thunder, heavy rain and hail.
Having clicked off a few parade pictures I made a decision to flee back to the bar rather than head for the start line. Excellent, the start and the race was being shown on all the TV screens. Excitable commentary cranked up the atmosphere as more and more wet spectators crammed into the place and a thousand bikes careered across the open sand; released to take on three hours of tortuous riding.
Mayhem on the beach
Readers who may have visited Le Touquet's equivalent race in the UK at Weston Super Mare in October will know that the opening laps are mayhem as competitors navigate the bends, narrow sections and deep sand. Trying to steer through stalled, struggling, and fallen bikes and watching with admiration the experts, who seem to live a charmed life dancing on two wheels through the sand blasted havoc.
In the opening laps the TV cameras concentrated on two riders who were carving their way through the field, anticipating the myriad bike and rider obstacles, and leaving many trailing and lumbering in their wake. I had no idea who they were. The commentary was too excitable to connect with hardly any words, and as more and more wet (and taller) people shoved through the bar space, viewing became restricted too. Time to hit the beach.
Some order had restored itself on the course as the large field stretched out. There's lots of spectator access, and a large section of the course runs parallel to the promenade, where, because the unfriendly weather had kept the masses away, it was relatively easy to slot into viewing spaces.
I watched the field go through a section with a series of turns. On a tight right hander a berm had been created on the inside close to the course marker tapes, and the faster and more confident riders anticipated this as the best route. Power sliding through while other riders struggled and legged through the ruts on the outside; enduring the arcing flumes of sand kicked up by spinning rear wheels.
In the know
Experienced Le Touquet spectators had clearly thought about the effects of a combination of high wind, rain, hail and flying sand, and had come equipped with wrap around headgear, motorcycle goggles and heavy weather wear. While others, either more optimistic or foolish, trusted trainers and more lightweight rain protection. Some looked thoroughly miserable as they sought shelter in the food and drink establishments.
Mid afternoon, the race draws near to the allotted three hours and there's some respite from the rain. At the finish the winner is a French rider, Adrien Van Beveren, he heads the list of 690 finishers. The first woman rider to cross the welcome line is Livia Lancelot in thirteenth place. A good performance from her was anticipated by the commentary team.
The first English rider to feature in the results at sixty first is Nick Life. He's domiciled in France and rides in the veteran class under the club banner of Tonic Motos Des Combes Grondees. With the first UK based rider, Derry Milling, at one hundred and thirteen. There was first place success for the young British rider Ben Watson in the youth race; he steered his KTM to the win one lap and two minutes ahead of the second place rider.
I'm always surprised that more UK riders and spectators don't make it across the Channel to the Le Touquet race. It's a fun spectacular, but check the weather forecast before you make plans for 2015.
Check out some of the film of the event here Enduropale Le Touquet
If you were at Le Touquet this year or have been before let us know what you thought of it email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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