Are you tired of too many second places? Or perhaps you’re a climber without a snap who can never make an attack stick? Sprinting isn’t all about quads and calves; it’s about fitness, technique, and tactics as much as anything. And if you want to up your sprint game on the smart trainer, then here are seven tips to help you improve your kick to the line.
We all have strengths and weaknesses as cyclists, but our success is often determined by how much we embrace our weaknesses. Some of us are light and agile on the climbs, while others are strong and powerful on the flat. Either way, when it comes to crunch time in a mass sprint, we can’t rely on a high threshold or a well-trained V02 max. We need to put in the hard work and develop that quick turn of speed to convert our hard work into victories. Here’s how.
1) DON’T SPIN LIGHT- FEEL THE BITE!
Under gearing and over gearing are two sure ways to lose a sprint, and both are particularly common among beginners. When we over-gear, we put too much effort into turning the pedals, develop a choppy stroke, and ultimately lose the ability to ruthlessly unleash our snap. When we start our sprint close to the line over-geared, it often means the end of our sprint, as most drivetrains don’t like shifting up under the pressure of 1000+ watts!
Undergearing is less of a problem given our ability to shift down at ease with speed, but this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Problems with under and over gearing are much more common in tactical sprinting where the pace slows dramatically as riders approach the line. In such cases, gear selection is often what decides the race.
Winning a tactical sprint means cranking out your max speed as quickly as possible. This means that gearing is essential and you’ll want to have just enough resistance in the drivetrain to allow you to unleash. Remember, don’t spin light, ensure you feel the bite!
2) KNOW YOUR SPRINT POWER PROFILE
Some sprinters unleash the full power of their sprint a mere 30 metres from the line, while others go from a lot further out. We all have different underlying genetic makeups that dictate how long we can hold a given power. If you’d like to know where your strengths lie as a sprinter, then you can learn all you need to know from analysing your power curve.
A power curve graphs your power (y-axis) across time (x-axis). Sprinters are concerned with power output across short periods of time from 1 – 30 seconds, where 5-second power is the most common reference point. A simple glance at your power curve will tell you how you compare across this range. Check how quickly your power curve tapers off as time increases. Are you the short bursty type, or can you hold a gradual taper over 20 seconds?
3) THE POWER OF SEATED SPRINTS
The power of your sprint is equal to the force applied on the pedals by your cadence. Seated sprints help us to address the former by promoting leg strength.
When doing seated sprints, you should aim to keep your upper body as still and rigid as possible by engaging your core and driving down forcefully on the pedals. Start from a slow roll in a large gear that enables you to ride at 40-50 rpm. Try doing 5-10 reps per session and remember that you’re focusing on building muscular strength as opposed to focusing on the absolute power you generate.
In many ways, they are the ideal workout to practice on a smart trainer. With fewer environmental factors, they provide the optimal environment for you to focus solely on building leg strength.
4) TWO-UP MATCH SPRINTS
Sprint training is as hard on the mind as it is on the legs. But when we have to exert ourselves to the limits of our physical capabilities, it always helps to have a willing accomplice. If you’re lucky enough to have a training partner who is just as much of a glutton for punishment as you, then two-up match sprints are one sure way to help get those muscle fibres firing in alignment.
To make it even more effective outdoors, commit to an all-out drag race in an identical low gear without changing. Pick out a road sign in the distance and focus on getting the raw power out. It’ll test your snap, your rate of recruitment, and control of your cadence, all of which are essential factors in honing your sprint.
5) FOCUS ON TIME OVER DISTANCE
One thing that distinguishes the top pros from mere amateurs is that they know precisely for how long they can hold an effort as they unleash their kick. Whether it’s their 3-second power at the end of a tight tussle, or their 30-second effort coming into the home stretch, they believe 100% in their ability to put down enough power over a specific period to blow the competition out of the water.
If you’ve done the training and know your numbers, then learn to trust them, as playing to your strengths is often the difference between winning and losing.
6) LIGHT YOUR MATCH AT THE RIGHT TIME
Sprinters often have a reputation for being lazy. But what if they were just smarter than the rest? While top sprinters often have an astounding kick close to the finish line, they often struggle to hold their own on climbs or in prolonged hard efforts at threshold in the run in to the finish.
The sprinting game is all about preserving your kick for when it really matters, and if we burn our one and only match too soon, then very often we struggle to reach our potential in the final sprint.
If you want to improve your sprint, then very often that starts by not needlessly wasting energy throughout the race. This involves staying out of the wind, relying on others to chase, and generally keeping a low profile until it really matters.
If you lack the experience, then try following a seasoned sprinter in your next race. You may find it to be pretty uneventful until crunch time, but you can be sure that you’ll arrive at the finish line with a lot more left in the tank.
7) DON’T GIVE UP
Sprinting is about psychology as much as it is about the legs. If you lose the wheel of a rider in front then you must keep pushing. Milliseconds matter in a sprint, and if you allow yourself to become the victim of a subconscious bias, then you’ve already lost.
If someone opens a gap on you, recognise the psychological component. There are various factors at play, and your ability as a sprinter doesn’t have to be defined by being mentally weaker.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
There are countless ways to train your sprint, and whatever you choose to do, the most important thing is not to make the classic mistakes! That means no sprinting on the hoods, no leading out the fastest guy in the bunch for the last 500 metres, no raising your arms until you’ve crossed the line, and if you want a memorable photo, then always zip up your jersey in good time!
© images by Cor Vos