Second sportive of the year and it was off to West Sussex for the Wiggle Super Series Haywards Heath Howler, organised by UK Cycling Events. I’d signed up for the Epic route, taking in 80 miles, although not as much climbing as the Kentish Killer last month.
A traffic-free 45 minutes cross country drive over from Kent to the South of England Centre in Ardingly and I was in the queue for registration by 07:45. At 07:46 I was on the way back to car, having forgotten to bring my helmet to registration, a mandatory requirement and one that was clearly stated in both the pre-event information emailed out the week before and also on numerous signs at the venue on the day. Evidently, I was still waking up. Second time round, registration was super quick and included a free Powerbar drinks bottle for some reason (just the Epic route entrants maybe?) The facilities weren’t quite up to coping with the numbers, though, which was a little disappointing.
Once registered, I went back to car to get the bike ready and eat some of the home made banana bread my wife had donated to me for added energy. I set off in a group of 15 or 20 riders at about 08:15. It was a real mix of people on the ride, which was quite nice. The Kentish Killer tends to attract the more hardcore types, probably due to the hills and time of year, but the Howler has arguably a more mainstream and varied audience.
The first half of the ride was generally themed by rolling hills and quiet country lanes, with no big challenges. I sat with a few different groups of riders, all very friendly and well mannered, before I made a quick pit stop at the first drinks stop after 27 miles or so. This was well stocked and had the use of the local village club’s facilities too.
Back on the road, I rode for a little while with a guy who had come down from Milton Keynes for the ride before we caught up with a bigger group. It was getting towards the halfway mark at this point, which meant only one thing: Ditchling Beacon, the biggest hill and the main feature of the Epic route. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’d only ever done this hill on the London to Brighton, years ago, and it was almost impossible to ride up with the crowds of people walking, so I was keen to try it again in less busy circumstances. It’s quite a long slog, but with only a couple of really steep parts around the corners, so offers a good opportunity to get into a rhythm and spin up in a lowish gear (ok, the lowest). I quite enjoyed it in the end. What wasn’t so great was getting stuck behind a very slow car on the descent, which was a little bit of a shame, but it gave me the chance to get used to prolonged braking on carbon rims…
The next 20 miles were flat-ish but windy, and it was good to get the miles ticking over quickly. I’d lost everyone at this point so was on my own, but the orange Wiggle signs were plentiful and easy to spot, plus I had the route to follow on my Wahoo Elemnt. As the hills picked up again, a friendly guy caught up with me so we rode together for a while, again until we picked up a larger group of riders. Turns out he’s also doing the Dragon Ride later on in the year…
Through some beautiful countryside (there’s something about country lanes running down the sides of fields that I just love…), the route got a bit more hilly again around mile 65 but was never terribly steep.
Just as I thought it was a good cruise back into the South of England Centre to finish, at mile 79 (yes, the last mile of the whole route!) Cobb Lane hit us hard. I’d not even clocked this hill when looking at the elevation profile on the website beforehand, but it’s definitely there on my Strava! With my gearing (36/52 semi-compact on the front and 11-28 cassette), it was a proper out of the saddle gradient (16% average) and there were plenty of people walking, but luckily it was fairly short in length. In hindsight, it was a good twist to the route, but I certainly didn’t think that at the time..!
Through the finish in 5 hours 2 minutes, which was roughly what I was aiming for so I was pretty pleased. Plus, they gave me some free socks with my finisher’s medal!
There were a couple of burger vans and a bike wash area at the end, but I decided to just roll straight back to the car and get home.
Overall, I had a great time and it was a fun, if not too challenging route. Ditchling Beacon was a highlight and well worth doing, and Cobb Lane at the end was good too, but there were a lot of flat or rolling periods as well. It depends on what you want out of a sportive, but if you’re looking for a really hilly challenge, this probably isn’t the one. If you want a good length ride through some beautiful scenery on generally well surfaced roads quiet of traffic, then the Howler is perfect. Organisation and friendliness cannot be faulted, too, so well done Wiggle and UK Cycling Events!
If you want to look at the route in more detail, then you can check out my Strava ride here.
It’d be great to hear how you all found it, so please do comment if you’d like!
In the meantime, roll on the next one!