As the days grow a little longer and the beginning of the season draws nearer, minds start to turn to those early events that will give you a sense of how your winter riding has gone. Good early season form can often provide you with some increased confidence and motivation for the summer ahead, so approaching such events with due care and attention is worthwhile.
Of all the early season tests, the hilly time trial stands out to me as one of those peculiarities of the sport. I'm sure someone can tell me why putting these really hard physical events so early in the season developed, but they are a feature of many a spring race programme. So how should you approach hillies?
First, I would encourage you to get into a routine of preparation that you want to use throughout the season. Consider a small taper in training prior to the event, think about kit selection and your nutritional state carefully, and approach these events diligently.
Secondly, have some sense of the challenge ahead. Often hillies follow well established routes but if you're on unfamiliar territory, take some time to scope out the course either by riding/ driving it prior to the event or by using clubmates as good sources of info.
Thirdly, take the opportunity to think through your climbing technique and mental approach.
Greeting the incline with an "Oh no" does not help to get the legs into a good clean rhythm. When in the climb, make deliberate choices about your mental strategy. Some riders associate while climbing, focusing their attention on their cadence, breathing or technique. Others will disassociate, preferring to block out bodily feelings and focusing on other cues such as the road ahead, scenery, or a tune in their head. While research suggests association can produce better results, my experience tells me that most riders have a preferred approach, and recognising and practising that is the best strategy.
If a hilly time trail awaits you early season, grab the chance to practise routines and approaches that will need to be polished by the summer.