Coaching: How to approach the last 5km (and finish) of any bike race

Posted on: April 25th, 2019
When it’s you against the riders you’re with coming near the finish, you need to do all you can to gain an advantage over them (Photo: Toby Watson)

By Matteo Cigala

If you’re in contention to win, or even take a placing, the final 5km of a road race is arguably the most important section; whether the terrain is flat or hilly.

The kilometres leading into the finish can be used to gain an edge over your rivals or waste precious energy that could get you across the line first.

Playing your cards right here, in those nervous kilometres before the finish line, is of absolute importance.

Coming into 5km to go you should already know what the course has on offer; whether it features undulating terrain, corners, a downhill sprint or a headwind or tailwind.

Something like rain can be a big factor in how you approach the finish. But regardless of the type of finish you’re facing, there a few things you should always be sure to focus on.

Position in the bunch

Always stay as far towards the front as you can without wasting energy in the wind. Making up 100m to the front of the bunch at 55kmph, or more, in a sprint requires exponentially more power than it does to move up at 40kph during the stage. Move up before it becomes impossible to move up.

Use team mates, keep it smooth

If you have teammates around you, use them to shelter you and position you correctly in the bunch. Whenever they move you up through the bunch in preparation from the finish, they should do it as smoothly as possible to preserve your sprint. If a team mate puts in a surge that you have to dig deep to hang on to, you’ll empty the resources from your body that you need for the sprint.

Know your own abilities in a finish

Can you sprint long and hard or is a short and sharp kick your best asset? No matter the course details, you should always play your strongest card. I0f you don’t have a deadly kick in your legs, try to force the sprint to go from further out and play into your hands. If sprinting long isn’t your thing, you want the sprint to be delayed as close as possible to the finish line

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Choosing your line

The side of the bunch you take corners on is highly dependent on the width of the road and which direction the corner is. A right turn onto a narrow road is almost always better taken from the left hand side of the peloton as the inside of the group is likely to stall and be congested. However if this same right hand corner was in the final 1km of the race, it would be crucial to be towards the front of the bunch and take the inside of the peloton through the corner and maintain as much speed as possible.

Different sprint scenarios

The main scenarios common in cycling are: Uphill sprint, headwind sprint, tailwind sprint and downhill Sprint. For each of the situations the following techniques should be applied:

Headwind/uphill sprint

These, more often than not, take a lot longer than you perceive in your head. In an uphill or headwind sprint there’s a lot of time to lead the sprint and then fall behind if you go too early. For these situations you are better to leave your sprint 50-100m later than you normally would and power towards the finish rather than blowing early and creeping in. The longer you can stay in the wheels and still have time to kick around the leader, the better it will be for you.

Tailwind or downhill sprint

This type of finish is difficult to play in some circumstances. However, you are likely to be able to hold on for longer if you go earlier. As specified before, the faster you go the exponentially harder it is to make up ground on your rivals. Therefore, if you are two metres ahead of your rivals in a downhill sprint, the harder it will be for them to come around you.

The biggest advantage you can have in a sprint is knowing the roads, holding your position in the peloton and making informed decisions based on your course knowledge, to beat the opposition to the finish.

Get to know a finish and plan your finish strategy based on that knowledge.