Bikedan Tips: How To be Truly a Great Sprinter

2012 Poyang Lake Tour

2012 Poyang Lake Tour – Photo by

Rule #92 from Velominati!
No Sprinting From the Hoods

The only exception is riders whose name starts with Guiseppe and ends with Saronni. See the Goodwood Worlds in 82.

To be a truly good sprinter, you’ll need some fast twitch muscles, impeccable positioning and some panache to hit it out with the best of the riders and consistently surge ahead for the win.  But most of us find it uncomfortable to sprint in close quarters – I have provided some tips to help you improve. Most of you who are familiar with me on the Asia racing circuit know me to thrive to those bunch sprints, provided I’m not already dropped from the climbing to get to the finish!  If you would like to read what others are saying about sprinting, take a look at Cycling Tip’s Sprinting Mistakes or Bike Radar’s How to improve your Sprinting. If you want to figure out how to win a Bunch Sprint, Jesper Bondo Medhus presents some good ideas in a similar format to mine. The Inner Ring also gives the lowdown on sprinting. Finally, Wikipedia, presents a complete definition of what the cycling sprinter is all about including some of the history.  Sometimes you don’t have to be a sprinter to win the coveted Green jersey like Lee Rodgers aka Crankpunk did at the 2012 Tour de Taiwan.

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1. Positioning 

You will need to learn to position yourself in that sweet spot in the final moments of the race. You don’t want to be to close to the front nor do you want to be too far back. If you realize that you are too close to the front, ease up slightly to allow some more riders in. This will give you more chances for an impromptu lead-out from other riders going too early.

If you happen to have a good strong team backing you, then you could try a ‘pro-lead out’ where all of your team-mates take control of the race and keep the pace very high with you safely tucked in out of the wind. Ideally the last man to lead you out should take you past the 200m mark where you can open your own sprint!

Positioning in races don’t come overnight, it takes lots of practice, a keen eye, and controlled aggression to keep your position.

2. Patience

Patience is everything. Too often riders try to open the sprint far too early and end up blowing up before the finish line. The best sprinter will wait and wait before pouncing like a tiger on its prey.

Once you go, you have to give it your best shot and if the sprint is going to be closely fought, make sure you do the bike throw (thrusting your front wheel over the line). If you plan ahead, you can mark out the spot where you will start your sprint. This will give you the confidence that you can go the whole way without running out of gas.

3. Panache

You will need to be confident in your own abilities. You cannot approach a sprint feeling scared or intimidated, you’ll need to learn to assert yourself and hold your position at the business end of the race. A mass sprint is not for the weak hearted. Your adrenalin will be pumping and you should harness this to fuel your surge towards the line.

4. Practice

Some riders are born with the ability to sprint but others have to acquire some skills. Real sprinters do suffer a lot to get to the end of a race.

  • Ride with a friend and try to outwit each other in the sprint for a road sign.
  • Regular group rides can also help hone your newfound abilities. Always try something different so that you find a method that works for you.
  • Pick a gear that you can accelerate quickly from – this way you can get a jump on your opposition. It is a mistake to start a sprint in a big gear. An ideal ratio is 53-16 and during the sprint you can shift once or twice as you gain momentum.
  • Be familiar with the finish route. Always ride the last 3 or 4 km before the race of possible, taking a mental note of corners, etc.
  • Always allow yourself room – don’t get trapped in the middle of the pack
  • Look for the last swarm of riders that typically occur from as early as 1km out and use them for momentum.
  • Keep a straight line once you have committed to the sprint. This is something I’ve been caught out doing. Most good sprinters, when they know they are being overtaken while leading the way, its almost innate when you deviate ever so slowly from your line (but, of course, not suddenly as that would be instant cause for protest – I got unlucky at the Deaflympics when I won the 100km road race).


Some of my favorite drills include:

  • Small ring sprints. Do 3 sets of 3 reps where you sprint for 10 seconds. You should be seated for these ones and focus on high cadence of up to 120-140rpm. Try not to rock side to side. Recover for two minutes between each rep and take five minutes between sets.
  • Do 3x200m big gear standing start sprints. Your gear should be in the 53-12 or 14. Recovery for five minutes easy spinning before repeating.
  • Do three 1km sprints – five-minute recoveries in-between. This is a killer session and you need to give it everything. This will train you to hold higher end speed for longer.
  • If you wish to try to get away just before the real sprint happens, you’ll need to build your high end speed and by doing three sets of three 2min intervals with five minute recoveries in between will really kick in your high-end speed motor over 1.5-2kms. You’ll need to do a jump quickly before turning over a big gear at 110-120rpm to sustain high speed.
  •  During your regular training session, you can throw in 10-second sprints every 10 minutes or if you are with a training partner, both of you can do random sprints.

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Sprinting in for fun..  Photo by Jennifer Carruthers

Sprinting in for fun.. Photo by Jennifer Carruthers

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