Coaching: How to nail a winning sprint in early season races

Posted on: February 27th, 2019

coaching cycling sprinter

Matteo Cigala sprints in to win a stage of Kerry Group Rás Mumhan. He has some great tips for is on how to become a better sprinter (Photo: George Doyle)


How to become a better cycling sprinter


By Matteo Cigala

In cycling being able to sprint well at the end of a race is crucial. It can be your biggest area of improvement.

Whether you’re sprinting for a race win or for a more minor result; having a good sprint is often what makes the difference between getting into the prizes or not.

In saying this, it is important that you get to the finish of a race in order for your sprint to be of any value.

At A4-A3 level in Ireland, where races are short with no major climbs, bunch finishes are most common.

So it’s important that in your training you spend some time on improving your sprinting.

Sprinters are born with more Fast Twitch Muscle Fibres (Type II). Those fibres use anaerobic metabolism (no oxygen) to create energy.

They get tired more easily than Type I fibres, which use aerobic metabolism (oxygen) to create energy.

If you are not naturally fast, you’re not going to turn yourself into the best sprinter in the bunch.

But by focusing more on your sprint – your positioning, timing and sprinting style – big improvements can be made.

Here are a few tips to improve your sprinting:


1 Improve your strength

To be a good sprinter you need to be strong. Low cadence efforts, heavy gear and gym sessions can help.


2 Turn strength into power

Introduce explosive efforts into your training such as standing sprints sessions, box jumps in the gym and rolling efforts.


3 Turn strength into speed (high cadence)

Being strong and explosive is not enough to be a good sprinter; you need to be able to turn the pedals faster with a heavy gear. To do that, you need to be able to develop the ability to ride at high cadence and to make your muscle fibres more polyvalent and able to switch between low RPM and high RPM (revolution per minute). It is therefore important to enhance training sessions and training adaptations that ‘transfer’ strength into high cadence.


4 Improve your sprinting technique

The style of your sprint is essential. It is important to coordinate your upper body with pedalling motion and to have a strong core that keeps your hips stable. For a cycling sprinter your upper body also needs to be strong so you can use that strength to help push down into the pedals to reach your maximum power output. It is also important to always look forward to avoid making mistakes and crashing.


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5 Be more aerodynamic

You can gain aerodynamic by buying expensive equipment, but that won’t be as efficient as improving your sprinting style. The most effective way to sprint is out of the saddle and holding the handlebar on the drops. This allows your body to go lower and be more aerodynamic. It is also important to move your body forward, lowering your head, thinking to put the centre of your mass on your front wheel. By holding the handlebar on the drops it also allows you to securely hold the bike while producing more grip and force with your upper body; you main control when cycling at high speed.


6 Start in proper gear & change it while sprinting

Start with a lighter gear that allows you to accelerate fast and be more explosive. There is no point in starting in the 53×11 and grinding the gear while losing metres on your competitors. As you pick up the speed, cadence will rise. And that’s the time to change one gear down at a time. That way, you keep your suitable cadence and produce more power output. As we are all different, it is important to keep a cadence that works best for you.


7 Timing your sprint

Deciding when to open up your sprint is very important. To do that, you need to have confidence and the experience to know what you are capable of. There are factors that influence the timing that need to be assessed. Your legs and how you feel on the day is one factor. Wind is also essential to consider. With head wind you might want to leave a little bit later to start your sprint. With a tail wind you might want to start a bit earlier. Road gradient is also another factor to consider in timing your sprint and selecting the gear.


8 Positioning in the group

You can have the best power output in the bunch, but if you don’t sprint from the right position you will never win a race. It is important to stick to the front and hold your position tight. Fighting for position uses lots of energy. Remember, the winner does not start their sprint with fresh legs. The sprint is the finalisation of the work that you put in earlier in the race, especially in the few kilometres before the sprint. You might need to do a few small sprints in order to get into the right position for the final sprint.


9 Be properly bike fitted

By having a professional bike fitting, your ability to sprint can improve by gaining more confidence, grip, force into the pedals and aerodynamics.


10 Include sprint sessions in training

You need to train and spend time sprinting if you want to improve. Specific sprinting sessions are important as well as deciding when to do those sessions; before certain or after certain types of sessions, for example.


11 Sprints in last hour of long ride

Being able to do 1300W after 30 minutes is not the same as being able to do 1300W after 3½ hours. Start to include some sprints in the last hour of your long training ride by working on adaptations that simulate the race. This will help stress your muscle fibres with low glycogen storage.


12 Improve your lunge (bike throw)

Races can be won by a few centimetres as well as a few hundred meters. In the first case, having a good bike throw can be the difference between winning or losing a race. As many Irish races come down to a sprint, from a bunch or breakaway, it is vital to work on the lunge. Push your arms forward and stretch the back out, moving the bike as far forward as possible.