When it comes to bike racing, there are almost an infinite number of ways to win. Â One of the most common is winning a field sprint. Â This is when a majority of the peloton arrives at the finish together. Â This is also the most challenging way of winning, given you have to beat over a hundred other racers, rather than just a few if you were in a breakaway. Â The are a few key factors and considerations that make the difference between winning field sprints consistently and the minor placings. I will use some of the top well known professionals to help illustrate my examples.Â These athletes are naturally talented-I think that is a given. Â We willÂ largelyÂ ignore this because all their competition is naturally talented also, and instead focus on how they use their talents to take the win.
The great field sprint winners of the past decade that I will use as examples are Mark Cavendish, Robbie McEwen, Erik Zabel, Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi, and Oscar Friere. Â There are two main styles of winning present in these champions:
1. Sprint from the front after a strong lead out (Cipo, Petacchi, Cav).
2. Rely on a chaotic sprint and have perfect timing (Zabel, Friere, McEwen, Cav)
Here are the basic variables a sprinter must know to be well prepared for the sprint:
Get into position early-Â If you are feeling good and want to sprint, think about getting into position 5-10K before you have to. Â This way you will only need to use the energy needed to stay in position, and not move up from the back. Â This includes finding the wheel you want to follow as the sprint starts be it your teammate, orÂ chiefÂ rival.Â Â Know the wind direction-In spring races all over the world, wind can be a constraining factor. Wind can change when to start the sprint, and which side of the road the riders will be riding on.Â Know the last kilometer profile-Elevation, turns, road surface, obstacles, etc.Â Know who you are racing against-everyone is riding the same course, so know who you have to beat (Zabel may have been the best at this. Â Even when he started getting older, he was able to consistently finish on the podium because he knew exactly who to follow and where to be).Â Know your sprinting style-Â If you have rapid acceleration, are small, and have quick reflexes (like McEwen and Cav), you have the advantage of waiting until the perfect moment. Â If you are a big power sprinter like Cipo or Ale-Jet, then you probably are going to want to start earlier, at higher speeds, and with a clear shot to the finish.Â Have eyes in the back of your head-This means paying attention to the sounds around you, using your peripheral vision, and looking under you arm to judge the location of others. Use your team wisely-This can mean having up to eight other teammates wind up the speed from many kilometers out, depositing you at the front with only 200 meters left and a speed of 80 KPH (a la the big sprint trains of Cipo, Petacchi, and Cavendish). Â Alternatively, having one good teammate (likely a talented sprinter himself like Mark Renshaw) to put you in the perfect position in the final 2K will allow you to take advantage of other teams’ lead outs. Be fearless-Take you hands off the brake levers and pretend you don’t have brakes-this will force you to use your positioning instincts to be in the right spot. Know that you will have contact with other riders-the more you practice sprinting next to riders in your training, the less this will distract you in the sprint. Know what your victory salute will be-If you don’t want to look confused about winning a field sprint, you must visualize the whole thing, down to how you will post while winning. Time your bike throw-Pushing the bike forward at the line can give you an extra foot for free, which can be the difference between people remembering you forever, or having to look you up (don’t end up like Zabel at 2004 Milano San Remo).
Notice how Mark Cavendish appeared in both categories? Â Cav has the talent to succeed in either scenario, and does-he was left more or less to his own devices in the 2012 Tour. Â You can be that he has lots of experience in both types of finishes to draw from. Â This is why IÂ recommendÂ doing as many races and as many sprints as possible for most riders. Â Why do track riders so often make good road Â sprinters? Â Because they race 200 times/year instead of just 50-60 and it becomes second nature. Take advantage of mental imaging to go through the whole field sprint. Â This is especially useful if you get a chance to see that start finish area ahead of time, or in a criterium where you can practice going for primes. Â Finally, when it comes time to launch the sprint, you must trust your preparation and instincts. Â Hesitation will kill your chances. Â It is better to get nipped at the line then to never factor because you waited too long.