Sandy Knee Stars

Words & Images: Matt Ben Stone

Matt Ben Stone talks about one of his recent projects, photographing a mass-start bike race on the sand flats of South Wales.Battle on the Beach attracts riders of all disciplines and experience. Located on the Gower Peninsula, a spectacular spot even when the rain is rolling in and visibility is low – as it was on the morning of the last edition of the race. 

It was odd to see bikes and beach mix – a rare cycling juxtaposition. Needless to say, it is quite something to watch 1,000 riders stream across the horizon from a mass start to begin three laps fought out on a six-mile expanse of sand.

The area is steeped in history, with previous land speed records taking place on the beach and the adjacent Pendine Sands. When the sea water is at low tide it runs a mile offshore and leaves a hard, flat sand surface stretching as long as the eye can see – exposing the barren beauty of the location.

I quickly realised the race has a huge following – due in part to the fact that it’s open to anyone, no license needed. From give-it-a-go locals to international pros like the race winner, Terry Fremineur. It’s this diversity that makes the event so unique, with participants of all ages and abilities riding bikes ranging from fat bikes to cyclocross machines, via every conceivable type of mountain bike.

As I went from one racer to the next shooting portraits, the main preoccupations were with how best to prep for the race. To compromise speed on the single track in favour of better performance on the sand, or vice versa?

The race itself was buffeted by enormous tailwinds and some nasty rain showers, but despite that I made a promise to myself; next year I will be competing, not shooting.