Le Touquet – Events – Beach Enduropale
Once a year, usually the first weekend of February (or last weekend of January), in the Northern beach resort of Le Touquet, a massive beach enduro is organised. This very heavily attended event consist of qauds and motorcycles racing alongside the very wide and long sandy beach of Le Touquet. This event, that on top of providing spectacular entertainment, is totally free to the public. he race is also very international, not only because of an international audience, but for the 20 or so countries that are represented in the race itself.
This race was the precursor of the famous, even notorious, Dakar rally because it is the same person, Thierry Sabine, who created both races. Sabine was working in the tourist office of Le Touquet and one fine winter day he started racing motorcycles with some friends on the beach. And when he looked up, he saw hundreds of people watching the motorcycles playing in the sand. And this gave him the idea to create a race for everybody, and to do it during the low season.
The white sandy beaches of Le Touquet is not only very long but also very wide, giving ample room for the 1100 motorcycles to race around on an artificial and temporary circuit. The beach gets transformed more or less overnight into an off-road race circuit with the help of a dozen bulldozers.
Over a total length of about 13 kilometres, a circuit rises on the beach. Jumps, bridges, chicanes, hills and long straight lines make up this lengthy race circuit.
But the sand remains exactly what it is; sand. And the sand is very deep and loose, which is what will make this a spectacle to remember. Racing on asphalt is one thing, but racing in deep sand is totally different from any other race sport.
The circuit stretches from the beginning of Le Touquet to the Stella Beach village, 6 kilometres further up. Walking around the picturesque village of Le Touquet you will notice that this is going to be a serious international event:
Several TV stations, including international ones, will be transmitting the race live. Kilometres of cables will be placed alongside the circuit for all the cameras.
Along Le Touquet and neighbouring villages you will find trucks and tents belonging to the race teams. Some are there for the racers and their equipment, some are VIP hospitality tents. But these are for the professional racers; amateur and Sunday racers will sleep if they are lucky in their camping car, but some end up sleeping in sleeping bags alongside the road. This is pure dedication, since at night it freezes!
The majority of spectators come from all over France, UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and even Spain. Many will have come on Friday and will spend the night partying and sleeping on the ice cold ground (remember, this takes place in the first weekend of February). It’s not uncommon to see snow and ice on the ground.
Or some will just fall asleep where they were partying and drinking. Big bonfires are lit everywhere to keep the spectators warm.
A lot of police, some 600, are mobilised for the event, patrolling the area day and night. From the National police to the Gendarmes passing by the Municipal police, hundred of cops are there to ensure safety and the respect of driving laws.
On Sunday, the motorcycle race day, some 50,000 motorcycles will be coming to the event from all over Europe, so road safety is paramount. The motorways leading to Le Touquet are all free for motorcycles.
The technical scrutineering of the motorcycles is held in a local gym and is open to the public. This allows the spectators to come up close to their racing heroes and see the whole technical process from A to Z.
All motorcycles that have been approved by the technical committees during scrutineering are placed in the “parc fermee” – the holding area where no one is allowed to enter before race day. But the public has a good chance to see the motorcycles from outside the road. At the end of scrutineering, there will be 1100 motorcycles here.
Saturday – Quad Race Day
Saturday is, apart from practise runs, time for the celebrity races and the quad race.
The quad race uses half the race circuit that the motorcycles use, and although there are far less quads (“only” 600), it’s still an impressive sight, especially the start.
The Saturday events last a few hours, usually until mid afternoon. After that, it’s party time at the many stands, hospitality tents, restaurants and clubs, or just on the beach or sidewalks.
Sunday – Race Day
Sunday is motorcycle race day – the main event, and the TV towers are fully manned.
The majority of the spectators will have started arriving early in the morning. The biggest portion will arrive by motorcycle, but trains to Le Touquet are jam-packed as well. A free shuttle service is available to bring you from the station to the beach.
In total expect between 200,000 and 500,000 spectators (the number depends on the weather conditions) amassed alongside the 8 kilometres beach. The majority will be at the start/finish line in Le Touquet, but a fair number will be at the end at Stella Beach (you will see why later on).
Starting the race is approximate since it will depend on not only the weather but more importantly, on the tide. The race lasts 3 hours and this means the tide will come in towards the end. So the organisers have to ensure that the tide is away when starting, and will not come in before the end.
But when you see the TV and organiser’s helicopter arrive, you know the start is about to be given. The motorcycles leave the “parc fermee” in a parade through the city and line up at the start.
The 1100 motorcycles start at the same time, jockeying for position during the long stretch before the holeshot. 1100 motorcycles that are racing at top speed (the fastest has been clocked at 200 kph) make the air and ground vibrate, and the sound is that of rolling thunder and combined with the smell of 2 and 4-stroke engines makes the start unbelievable. This is the epic moment, epic enough for most spectators to brave freezing, often snowing, conditions.
The professionals will be the quickest of the mark, followed by the serious amateurs and bikers who have experience racing in deep sand. But for a good 5 minutes, the sound and vibrations in the air make it difficult to speak, let alone be heard.
The reason many spectators head further up the beach is because of this:
The 1100 motorcycles, minus some 100 professional racers, will need to go through the first bottleneck, consisting on an artificial hill made out of deep sand. The professional races will have passed the hill very rapidly, but the Sunday racers will be hindering each other while they attempt to climb the hill. It’s quite a spectacle, and some will not have cleared the hill when the professionals are already back for their next lap (a lap takes about 15 minutes).
In the old days, this bottleneck used to be in the sand dunes, but in recent years the dunes are avoided for ecology reasons. But it’s still an amazing sight to see 1000 motorcycles trying to climb the first sand hill.
Most motorcycles get stuck in the deep sand, and that is because most have no experience riding in deep sand. And while Sunday racers are falling over themselves, the professional racers are riding through them at speeds often in the 150 to 170 kph. This is where you see true professionals; they don’t need to worry about the chicanes, the jumps or the hills – it’s the Sunday riders who are the true obstacles and need to be avoided while they are dropping left, right and centre.
The race is very physical, especially for amateurs since they need to fight their own motorcycle, and regularly lift 200 kgs up from the sand when they will have crashed. And they all will have crashed several times per lap.
And there are a lot of accidents, although the vast majority are harmless, a few are more serious.
The 175 fire-brigade’s paramedics are stationed every few meters, and four wheel ambulances are there to bring the seriously wounded to the MASH hospital. There, a medical evacuation helicopter can take them for further treatment in a nearby hospital.
Luckily not many bikers have been seriously wounded over the 40-odd years that this race has been held.
All this under the watchful eyes of the TV and safety helicopters.
Like with most marathons, many of the Sunday bikers are dressed up in funny costumes. Or at least, funny items on their crash helmets. But no matter how funny their costumes….
…. they will eventually crash (this one got up and continued the race).
So this is an interesting weekend, and although your travel and hotel will not be free (there are plenty of hotels, B&B and camping grounds), the race itself is free.
But if you plan to attend this spectacular and unique event (which happens to be world’s biggest motorcycle race), remember to book accommodation early, and arrive early. And most important, arm yourself with a lot of patience.
Web: Enduropale Le Touquet
- Ferry from the UK (to Calais or Dieppe)
- The A16/E402 motorway (tolls for cars, not for motorcycles)
- Trains: direct from Paris, Calais and Arras