Event Review

REVIEW: Wiggle Hayward's Heath Howler 2017

by Caven O'Hara

REVIEW: Wiggle Hayward's Heath Howler

We are something of creatures of habit. We get used to things being done in a certain way or at a set time. It isn't that we can't adjust but it can be uncomfortable. I have done the Haywards Heath Howler a few times over the years but never in March. The route is still as challenging as it ever was but the weather can come into play. Not that it doesn't rain in August but we can normally bank on more of the unexpected in Spring. As it turned out, it was dry but it was windy which took the temperature down several degrees. At least it stayed dry which really does help on a testing course. 

Ready for the off

Any route that picks out the Beacon and Cob Lane deserves respect. The organisation as we have come to expect from UKCyclingEvents is top notch. They have used the Showground facilities at Ardingly for a few years and it provides ample parking with plenty of space for registration, toilet facilities and the must have coffee truck. For those of you that may have ridden the Resolutions ride in January, it was the same couple in the coffee truck providing plenty of pre and post ride caffeine. 

Ready for the off

Registration processes have been refined to the point of almost seamless if you enter in advance. Turn up, find your line, all done alphabetically, find your name, sign in the box, get your timing chip on the helmet, bike number, gels and map and you're off. A few additional minutes for faffing with the bike number and you are ready to roll. 

Plenty of options

Knowing the local terrain can be an advantage or a hindrance as you know where every bump and divot are and we're not just talking pot holes. Rolling out of the Showground it is a gradual uphill grind to Turner's Hill before heading west. A feature of the ride that was to become evident as the route unwound, was as the crow flies, we were probably never more than 15 miles from home. Amazing what you can pack in to a relatively tight parcours. With the Amstel Gold Race around the corner, Paul, Lee, Ray and myself saw this as a perfect training opportunity. The distance and elevation looked pretty much the same and there was every chance the weather could be the same! 

The beacon is conquered!

The beauty of riding a sportive is the ability to enjoy some riding with your mates, sharing the work and letting the miles take care of themselves as you follow the signs. A little bit of mental refreshing. 

Familiarity allowed the mind to roam, the roads being well known to us but they still needed to be ridden, that would not take care of itself. What you do get with a sportive on well-known roads is a different tapestry. You might do them one way, in a certain order but this may not be what the organisers know or have in mind. That's the beauty of letting someone else take over the planning. 

Time to go back down

You might not chose to do it in the order served but you have no choice but to follow. Having headed west and south we came back round to Ardingly reservoir. Wouldn't have been my preference but it better to get the climbing in early on fresh legs. The climb round the reservoir is challenging as you crest the first half for some momentary respite before plummeting down to the water's level before another lung bursting charge back up to the village. Thankfully it was dry. From here it was almost back home and we criss-crossed the old and existing London to Brighton charity ride route to meet our appointment with Ditchling Beacon. An old friend possibly, more of an old foe but always in need of respect. For those who have never ridden its undulating lines, it is as rewarding as it is spikey. There is respite but there is effort required. The views are spectacular at the top, with uninterrupted views across the South Downs. A quick breather and it was back down the way we came to head east. With the first feed stop already visited by this point it was chance to eat up the ground. A lesson learnt when riding on a well-trodden path is not to get sucked in, don't ride with your head down or because you like a certain section, get carried away. Hand up, guilty of both.

Spring is here

The road across the foot of the Downs from Westmeston to Cooksbridge is not flat but it does flow and you can find a good rhythm. I did but to the exclusion of the route markers. When I got to the end and discovered there were no signs, the sense of exhilaration soon dispersed. As I back-tracked it probably took the best part of 15Km to chase down the others. With the catch achieved near Piltdown, it was well timed as it wasn't far to the second feedstop in Danehill. As with the first, it was well-stocked with the usual goodies and friendly volunteers. Despite the cooler temperature you need to keep on top of your hydration. It is easier to forget as your body might not crave the liquid as it more concerned with keeping warm. Certainly with the climbing involved you are still working hard it might not be as obvious. With plenty of miles in the tank you may have been forgiven for thinking it would all be plain sailing back to the finish. Don't be fooled, this ride isn't called the Howler for fun.

Time to stock up

The sting in the tail is the infamous Cob Lane. A small road off the B2028 that lures in the unprepared. It is a long downhill trudge to the foot of it. It seems innocuous but as you fly downhill on the narrow road you are funnelled across a small bridge and then you are upon it. It lies in wait, almost looking neglected, hidden amongst the trees waiting for the unwary. It isn't long but it packs a punch. With stretches at over 20% it has caught riders out before and will continue to do so. As you negotiate the first stretch you round the 90 degree right hander and can see clear daylight at the top but you have to crest the ride first before you can settle your lungs back in your chest. From this position of relative calm it really isn't far back to the Showground and a well-deserved finisher's medal. Time for the legs to stop howling.