I competed in a race last Sunday that was very hilly over the 66 mile course. Most of the big climbs were only around 250 to 300 feet total elevation gain but were fairly steep requiring the smallest gearing. There is not much flat land in Southern Ohio (Vinton County) meaning there are rollers between the "hills and hollows". The race organizer combined the Masters 40+, 50+, 60+ and all women at the start, and within 5 miles of the start we rode thru the Cat 4's and 5's and picked them up making a fairly large group. It was interesting to watch the other racers and their climbing techniques while grinding out the hills. Due to it being a race, riding the hills at one's comfort level was not an option, I had to match the groups pace to an extent. On a couple of the hills I kept the gearing a little higher while matching the guys in front of me. On a few other hills, where I could see what we were heading to, I used my next to smallest gear (34 x 21) and spun up the hill. Using the small gears kept my cadence higher and allowed me to handle any quick slope changes or surges of the guys ahead of me, but it also got my HR higher. Riding with the higher cadence allowed me feel better going up the hill but it cost me plenty once over the top. I needed more recovery on the down hiill, and if there was a quick roller or another climb I went into "super hurt". One mistake that I made was trying to be at the front of the group on the climbs. I was worried that the leaders would get away and wanted to keep on their wheels. My brother-in-law was also in the race and stayed with the back of the pack on the climbs. After the climbs the back of the group would catch back up on the decent or when the leaders "sat up".
My lesson learned is to ride every hill as "unique" based on where I'm at in the race and my energy reserves. Using the smallest gearing is a bailout to get up the hill, but has it's cost afterwards due to the high HR. Using the larger gearing on the hill, at a lower cadence, makes me feel as if I'm not as fast but allows me to use other muscle groups to ride the hill by "pushing over the top of the pedals" and standing thus saving some energy to match the groups efforts after the climb. If I was riding a bigger hill and the group was splintered I would probably revert to the low gear with higher cadence for portions and mix in some higher gearing and standing to balance the effort.