TOOLBOX: With the 106th le Tour de France starting on July 6, much of the focus will be on climbers and general classification riders, but with half a dozen flat stages, the Tour is an excellent opportunity for the sprinters to shine too. This unique discipline requires a certain type of rider – with only a few possessing the physiology and mentality to bang shoulders and wheels at 50+ mph. Do you have what it takes to turn out almost 20 watts/kg for 20 seconds?
Partnering with the team at TrainingPeaks, I put together a sprinters’ checklist of what you need to be a TdF sprinter and some tips on how to improve your sprinting. This simple presentation gives some surprising background on the physiology of sprinters while guiding you through the process of winning a sprint finish.
“It’s not like playing chess.” Mark Cavendish on sprinting
A typical day in the saddle for the TdF sprinter looks like:
Comparing Sprint Power. Power Duration Due to fatigue. Cyclists can only hold a certain amount of watts for select amounts of time. Comparing Power Duration abilities give us some insight into the different demands of cycling. Remember that the sprint numbers are produced after 120 to 200 km of racing so they do not represent a true peak power output. What does it take to win? Avg Power Watts / Kilogram Typical Effort Length Win a Tour de France Climb 5.9 – 6.2 W/kg 30 to 40 minutes Win a Tour de France Late Break 7.8 – 8.1 W/kg 1:30 to 2:30 minutes Win a Tour de France Sprint 17.0 – 19.0 W/kg 1 to 20 seconds.
Wattage Explained What is a watt?
A watt is the torque x angular velocity, or in simple terms: How hard you pedal x How fast you pedal Watt terminology.
● W – Power outputs are often communicated in pure watts and use the abbreviation W.
● W/kg – Watts are divided by rider’s weight in kilograms and expressed as W/kg. This helps to compare outputs of riders of different sizes.
Components of the Sprint:
Power Improving Power Since a watt is how hard you pedal times how fast you pedal, it is logical to assume there are only three ways you can increase your max watts:
● Improve your ability to increase torque (pedal harder) while maintaining same cadence.
● Increase your ability to pedal faster while maintaining the same torque.
● Increase your ability to pedal harder and faster, which is optimum.
Definition of pedaling harder:
Applying more force at all key points of the pedal stroke builds torque. Force makes things move while torque makes things turn. You need to turn the cranks with more torque. Definition of pedaling faster The average TdF sprinter has maximal power outputs at a cadence roughly between 115-125 rpm. This is a skill to be developed if you want to master the art of sprinting.
Components of the Sprint:
Grip the bars. Grip the bars in the drops, with hands around the lower center of the bar curve and elbows slightly out and ready to engage the upper body. Accelerate Explode out of the saddle with strong legs, driving down from the one o’clock position with your dominant leg. Engage the upper body To get maximum power, you need to pull up with the same hand as the leg pushing down. This often gets confused, and riders often believe they pull up with the opposite arm instead. Activate your glutes This can’t be stressed enough. Activate the glutes while making a maximal sprint effort.
Components of the Sprint:
Drive your cadence. Drive your cadence to the highest number you can sustain without losing torque. Target at least 110 rpm. Move the bike If you’re using your upper body to pull up while pushing down on same pedal, you will get a natural “swing” of the bike. If you’re pushing the bike to one side, you’re not pulling up correctly. Learn to get low Today’s generation of sprinters have shown the value of aerodynamics. A 10% reduction in Frontal Area (CdA) can result in more than a 10 foot advantage in a 15 second sprint.
Positioning. Positioning for the sprint is every bit as important as having the ability to sprint. Obviously, if you’re out of position, you won’t be able to use your sprint, no matter how good or bad it is.
● Know the final turns and terrain to the finish.
● In the last mile or two, focus on staying near the front so you have a clear shot at the line, but not so far forward that you find yourself on the front too far from the line.
● Plan your way around any obstacle, like a corner, in advance. Know which line you want to take.
● Set a landmark to start your sprint from in an optimum position. Usually, this is within the last 300 yards.
● Look through the finish line and take a straight shot. Do not deviate from your line, as this may cause a crash.
The Acceleration. Acceleration, rapid acceleration is a skill that can make the difference in any sprint. A sprinter with a great first step can put one to two bike lengths on an opponent in a heartbeat, robbing others of the ability to use their slipstream and forcing them to chase to the line.
● Know your mark and time it well.
● Be in the right gear. It is a common mistake for sprinters to be in too big of a gear, which slows the impact of their acceleration.
● Know your power leg and start your acceleration phase with it. Most of riders are right leg dominate.
● Pull yourself forward (don’t stand) with your bars as you accelerate and ride out of saddle. Doing so adds power to your initial trust.
● Use others and explode out of the draft to maximise acceleration and top speed.
● Commit every time. Train your mind to know this is it and avoid hesitation.
The Sprint. Top end speed. Developing a fast sprint is more about learning to continue your acceleration, not just top end speed. Most riders can produce enough power to sprint creditably and simply need to train themselves to apply that power correctly. This problem is usually driven by cadence rather than torque.
● Develop strength/force in the off- and early-base seasons both in the gym and on the bike. Focus on torque and power.
● On the road, train for sprinting in an easier or lighter gear in which you can accelerate with relative ease. This is the key for learning to extend your acceleration throughout the sprint.
● On the road, focus on increasing leg speed while maintaining, or gaining, torque for improved performance results.
Sprinting is a chaotic, explosive experience that challenges you to go to physical extremes while navigating a potential minefield of safety issues. Sprinters need to have the courage to win. Learn to commit Full mental commitment to a sprint is harder than you first think, but the cyclist who fully commits to the move often enjoys the win! Situational awareness In the end, sprinting is won more often by tactics, not power. This means that all sprinters need to have high situational awareness and be ready to react.
Closing Reference List Science in Sport:
The profile of a sprint: What does it take to win a sprint stage? Performance Analysis of a World-Class Sprinter During Cycling Grand Tours Paolo Menaspà, Chris R. Abbiss, and David T. Martin.
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is also Head Coach at Velocious Cycling Adventures. You can reach Tim for comments at [email protected] . To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.