Cycling Tips: How to Win a Sprint

Neil Bezdek Mountain Khakis

By Neil Bezdek

There are three elements to a sprint—positioning, timing, speed.

Positioning
Increasingly important if the race has a fast finish—as with team lead-outs, for example—a large group, or a constricted final few kilometers:

  • Move up early with a few kilometers to go. Stay as close to the front as possible but out of the wind.
  • If that isn’t possible, it’s better to be caught out front than caught in the back. You can always jump on a train as it moves by, but often there’s nowhere to go if you’re caught in the back or middle of the pack.
  • Try to anticipate surges that come from behind. Sometimes you can see shadows before you see riders. As a group starts to come by, accelerate and move in that direction so that you can hop on the train.
  • Don’t hesitate to move up. As the race comes to the finish, you’ll get only a few open lanes to move forward. Take them, then worry about drafting off someone else once you’ve moved forward.
  • Most moves that go off the front with less than 3k to go are doomed. Never chase, unless you’re working for a teammate.
  • Don’t sit behind a rider if you know he or she isn’t likely to sprint.

Timing
Increasingly important for slow finishes, with few team lead-outs, small groups, or a wide-open approach to the finish—think Floyd Bennett Field:

  • If the group is going slow, the first man to jump is more likely to open a gap that others can’t close.  
  • Jump as early as you can without totally dying before the finish line.
  • Try to surprise your opponents. Getting an early jump works best if you’re farther back in the group so that you fly right by the leaders and they can’t respond. If you’re second wheel, then the riders behind you are more likely to anticipate your jump and sit on your wheel. This works well out of a small break or a place like Floyd Bennett Field, where the finishing straight is open and you can maneuver around other riders as you draft off them.
  • Go early if the finish is downhill or if you have a tailwind. Go late if it’s uphill or a headwind.

Speed
Practice your sprint technique. Everyone knows they need to be fit enough to make it to the end of the race and strong enough to have a good kick at the end. But you need good form to translate strength into speed. Things to bear in mind:

  • Keep your head up and shoulders steady while pedaling with everything you’ve got.
  • Focus on using your upper body and core to counter your pedal strokes. This means pulling up with your right arm as you push down with your right foot. Use your entire body to create motion in just your legs.
  • Practice shifting while you’re sprinting. This means positioning your right hand on the drops so you can hit the trigger.

Finally: Pay attention—and strategize for your finish
Either inspect the finish beforehand or pay attention early if there are multiple laps:

  • Pay attention to wind conditions. If there’s a crosswind, plan to sprint on the leeward side of the road. Usually the promoter will put up a flag so you can check wind direction.
  • Look for tight corners. Sometimes the race is won by the sprint into the final corner, instead of the sprint to the line. The first few riders through the turn can carry a lot of speed, so it’s okay to burn some energy to get there.
  • Make note of good places to move up in the final kilometers.
  • Choose a tree, signpost, or another landmark that will be a good spot for you to start your sprint.
  • Think about how undulating terrain can affect your finishing speed. Suppose there is a small hump 300 meters from the line—think Tour de Parc. That’s a long way to sprint, but if you can get a jump as you go over the hill, no one is going to be able to catch you on the downhill.

Follow Bezdek on Twitter at @neilbezdek.

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3 comments
codyman
codyman

Thanks for the tips! I used a few of those coincidentally at yesterday's crit and won. Good luck this season!

Ian L
Ian L

Great tips! Thanks, Neil. And best of look in 2010 in the pro ranks.

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