Posted 9th February, 2017

Cafe Racer Stories - Le Touquet Beach Race 2017

It started as a quick throwaway conversation over a coffee whilst we were opening up the shop for our Saturday shift. The sort of conversation that starts with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”. You know the one. On this occasion, it was a case of working out whether it would be worth booking a last minute Eurotunnel trip and making the short hop over to France to see a thousand motocross and enduro bikes ride flat out down the beach and meander their way back again along dunes, jumps and whoops. I’ll be honest, it didn’t take much time for ‘what if’ to become ’what time shall we book the train for’. Fast forward twenty hours and we’re setting out onto the motorway to meet our 8:20am departure from Folkestone.

Marius with bags on his feetOnce we finally hit the French coast we’re hit with a grim, grey wall of moisture which lasts as long as the stretch of the A16 carriageway until we hit our destination, Le Touquet. The Le Touquet Enduropale is one of the biggest motorsport events in France so I’m not entirely sure why I’m surprised that the traffic queue starts around 4 miles from the centre ville. From the direction in which we travelled it’s one road in and one road out. This is going to be a long wait. A reported four hundred and five thousand visitors hit the small coastal resort town at this year's event, it’s no surprise that the beach race now sees many Dakar and World Motocross GP heroes giving it their all for a chance to be crowned champion.

When we finally disembark from the free shuttle bus we’ve already missed the start. And the first hour of racing. However, this doesn’t dampen our spirits and we take a swift walk down to the seafront to see the carnage unfurl. Once we hit the promenade, it’s people stood shoulder to shoulder with no room left at trackside. The enthusiastic fans are even three or four people deep in places. The Le Touquet Enduro is one of a dying breed of motorsport where tens of thousands of spectators are separated from their heroes speeding by at up to 100mph with nothing but a wobbly wooden fence or strip of tape keeping the two apart. It’s glorious.

richard mckeown at le touquetBy halfway through approximately half of the one thousand competitors are at a much more conservative pace and some riders are now stopping at the peaks of the taller jumps and wondering just how much longer the torture is going to go on for. Sand is a horrible thing to ride through, just rolling the bike down one of the 20 foot tall embankments is a difficult task as the front keeps trying to wash away and throw you to the ground. The top riders are skilled enough to be able to avoid this fate by keeping their front wheel off of the ground for huge sections at a time between corners, the other mere mortals find themselves eating a sandcastle or ten just to get round and complete a lap.

When the rain comes on strong for the last half hour of the race, we finally find a spot on the beach wall to crack open a cold, wet Stella Artois and soak in the atmosphere. The faster riders still look blisteringly quick, it’s clear which riders are running near the front as they fly overhead looking at the fast approaching track beneath them. The overall winner, Belgian rider Drayton Martens, crosses the line and takes the chequered flag two minutes and forty three seconds past the three hour mark. He is closely followed by French Dakar rider Adrien Van Beveren and his compatriot Richard Fura.

After the race we spoke to Richard McKeown again about how he got on.

“I had a great weekend at the Le Touquet, what an amazing event and the toughest beach race in the world! I was over the moon with my 26th position, I made a good start coming round in 50th position at the end of the first lap. The first hour i struggled with arm pump, i was riding a little tight and it wasn't until the first pit stop i started to feel good. I continued to put the laps in making as many positions as i could. I started the last lap in 27th, I just put the head down for one last push - finishing 26th, top British rider and 3rd KTM over the line!”

le touquet beach race startWhilst Richard and the other finishers stayed and celebrated with a deserved bottle of champagne, beer or vin rouge, we head off back to the Eurotunnel terminal in what can only be described as biblical amounts of rain. We are all wet, hungry and tired but beaming from ear to ear - and we can’t wait to do it again next year.

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