Yes, it's still cold outside and there's still frost on the car windscreens as we're leaving for our early morning commutes. However, those watching out the window during the day or lucky enough to spare the odd hour at lunch time might notice that there are also days when the sun is beginning to show its face.
With March in full swing, and the first of the classics already attacked by the pros, it's fair to say we're seeing the first signs of spring. This can be both hugely exciting, and also slightly nerve racking for cyclists who have spent the winter months working towards spring or summer goals. It's even more nerve racking for those who haven't quite managed the intended training that was prescribed on New Year's day.
The good news is that the summer season lasts until the end of September - that's rather a long stretch of sportiving, eventing, long riding or racing ahead. Here are a few tips for a successful progression into spring...
Don't panic train
There's a name for knee pain that starts in the early months of the year - it's called "spring knee" - and it gains its title from the countless number of riders who decide to suddenly up their milage in March, April and May out of fear that they've not done enough to reach their desired level of fitness.
Ramping up training volume or intensity too quickly can result in injury - and that injury can set you back much longer than just being a little bit behind on the schedule. If you feel you've not been doing enough, take a look at your goals and work out what you need to do to reach them - it's more than likely a slow and steady build is still an option.
Move goals if you have to
This one is for those who actually can't reach the goals they had planned with a slow and steady build. Examples include a 100 mile ride in two week's time, if so far you've only ever ridden 10 miles in one go, or a 500 mile expedition over 5 days if you've barely ridden 50 miles a week since last summer. Examples that do not qualify are those fretting over a 100 mile ride next weekend, who have ridden a total of 70 miles in training - if you've ridden 70 per cent of the total distance or more in training you'll be absolutely fine.
In the case that you haven't got the miles in, it might be worth just moving the goal post a little - set yourself a new goal of a similar distance later in the year, but be sure to replace the initial one with something challenging to ensure you don't lose motivation and find yourself in the same position three months down the line.
Start working on short efforts if you've got the mileage sorted
If you're smugly reading the comments above, comfortably assured that you've got all the mileage you need down to the last kilometre, then now is the time to start building on it and injecting some speed into your training.
What sort of efforts you do will vary dramatically depending on your goals, but if getting faster is important to you, start riding shorter intervals at a much higher intensity. A rough guide might be focusing on one to three minute hill intervals if you're planning on fast paced crit races, eight to ten minute efforts if you're all about time trials, and a mixture of the two if you're going for sportives and want to build some leg strength over a variety of terrains.
Sign up to events before they sell out!
This is just a matter of housekeeping - but it's amazing how easy it is to get so carried away with preparation and training that you leave signing up to the actual event to the last minute - and things do sell out.
We're rounded up some of the best women's only sportive events here, take a look and get your name on the start list before it's too late!
Look at your own progression, and no one else's
If you regularly ride (or compete) with a group of other cyclists, remember that gaps in ability are caused by a relationship between two riders. Just because your friend is suddenly getting up the hills twice as fast, or sprinting to every line ahead of you, it doesn't mean that you've got worse, it might just be that they've had a sudden injection of fitness thanks to whatever they've been doing over winter.
First up: applaud them. Everyone likes to be told they're doing well. Secondly: compare your efforts with your own past performances - Strava segments are a great way of showing up if you've improved or not, but do remember that factors such as the weather play a very big role, so don't beat yourself up if you were slower when riding in a snow storm. Thirdly: let your friend inspire you - find out what they've changed, and chase after them!
Don't forget what you learnt over winter
Every off-season cyclists troop into the gym and start working on core strength, jump onto the rollers or turbo to develop better cadence, and spend time in the kitchen perfecting their nutrition. Then come spring, we get all excited about just riding the bike and forget the basics of a strong, healthy body.
Yes, for most of us the greatest gains are to be had on the bike, but that doesn't mean the other stuff isn't important - so try to keep up the good habits you developed over the colder months when it was too chilly to really want to spend all day outdoors.
Prepare the bike
Guess what? It's not all about you. You and the bike are going to be working towards your spring and summer goals together, so give her a good bath and replace any parts that need replacing before you start lining up at any events or rolling out of the door ready for your longest ride ever.
Key areas to check are the brake pads - are they worn? The tyres - do they need replacing? And the cables - if you're finding shifting and braking isn't quite what it used to be, these could need refreshing.
Don't get caught out without layers
It's worth remembering that spring weather is notoriously changeable - you can find bright sunshine one moment, only to be doused with rain the next. Thankfully, cycling manufacturers are well and truly used to catering for this, and you'll find a range of useful accessories available.
The most crucial items to own are arm warmers, leg warmers, and a packable waterproof - all of which can be rolled onto the body or into the pocket as mother nature requires. A good base layer that guards against chill and wicks sweat when you heat up is also a life saver, as are oversocks which guard against the worst of the windchill on cold mornings.
Remember it's about fun
Is riding a bike your career? If not - then it's probably worth remembering that at the end of the day performing well is something that you'd like to do, but not something that you have to do. Riding a bike is a joy, and putting too much pressure on yourself can take away from that - so don your helmet, pop on those glasses, get on the road and have fun!
We'll be brining you plenty of hints and tips to help get you summer ready over the coming months. In the mean time, you might enjoy: