Winning a sprint doesn’t come down to any one thing but rather a culmination of things including teamwork, speed, calculation, and power. Win a sprint of the Tour de France and you’ll be remembered for a long time. This video gets into how teams approach a sprint finish and why they are lined up they way they are. When you’re watching the next sprint finish, look and see what team members are riding where and see how far back their sprinter starts their sprint from. There’s a lot going on at 40+ mph and a lot of comes down to instinct and split second decisions. If you hesitate, it’s already too late. This video from Eurosport does a good job of describing the details of sprint.
The Perfect Sprinting Technique
To be a great sprinter not only do you need great tactics but you need the perfect sprinting technique.
Choosing the Proper Gear
Before you can even begin to sprint it is crucial to select the proper gear, it has to be one that you can accelerate very quickly, but not one that you are going to spin out of too soon. Gear selection will come with practice. Challenge yourself to mini sprints while on training rides to get a better feel for gear selection.
A more advanced technique to keep in mind is that suddenly changing gears can signal to people that you are about to get up and sprint, so try to soft pedal for a moment and then feather the gear change if you are trying to catch them off guard.
Once you have selected the proper gear it is time to start the sprint. Wait until your “power foot” (likely your right foot if you are right handed) reaches the 2 o’clock position then get out of the saddle, push down on the pedal and go like a bat out of hell. To generate the maximum amount of explosive power you should be pulling down on your drops while pushing down on your pedals. Use your weight to your advantage and rock the bike side to side so that your weight is over the pedal on each down stroke. The first 5 pedal strokes should be extremely explosive.
Now that you have started to sprint it is important to keep technique top of mind. Keep your body low and elbows in as much as possible as you continue to accelerate. You are able to go faster with the same amount of power if you are more aerodynamic as the air resistance increases exponentially as speed increases. Keep your upper body quiet, low and focused on where you want to go.
If you are not racing for the line, look back once or twice to make sure you have created enough of a gap to continue to breakaway but do not keep looking back. Find a steady hard effort and continue to push.
Ideally in a sprint finish you have selected the proper gear to use the entire sprint; however, in a breakaway sprint you may need to change gears once you have created the gap. Changing gears effectively while standing takes a lot of practice, so it is a good skill to hone in while you are out training.
Tactics is a whole other art that is equally as important as the perfect sprinting technique. Stay tuned.