You need to sprint faster. Everyone does, except maybe Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish. Though sprinting ability is largely a function of genetics, there are still tons of ways to get more out of your finishing kick, from positioning to neuromuscular training to simply showing up at the finish line fresher. We discuss the ins and outs of sprint technique and training, and are joined by two-time national criterium champion Eric Young for some pro tips.
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Trevor Connor 00:11
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this collector thing sounds like it has you run out over a driver. Oh, hell yeah, it’s like peak. Peak nerdy dude. I say that in the most loving possible way.
Trevor Connor 00:47
This is Trevor geekiness on the fly real time?
Um, no, I think I think the position that you are in which obviously, it’s different, you know, the best position to be in it is different in every single race is part of what makes printing so difficult to master. But I would say that, honestly above everything else, because especially in certain certain races, if you put yourself in the right spot, no matter how fast somebody is there to wheels off you, they just won’t have time to ask you. And then I would say second to that is how fast you actually are.
Welcome back, dear listeners to another episode of Fast Talk. I am Kaylee fretts. sitting across the table as always from Coach Trevor Connor. Today we’re talking about sprinting, we’re gonna touch on a whole bunch of different topics. Here we have a we have Eric Young, a top sprinter on the domestic circuit. And as a guest, actually, he’s on the phone as a guest. We will be discussing genetics and sprinting. Whether sprinting itself is is is mostly based on the way you were born. Or if you can train it, we’re going to take a look at power versus positioning, what you need to be able to do in the final five minutes or so of an event and how important it is to be in the right place for those last five minutes.
Let’s start with genetics. I think that is an interesting place with sprinting in particular, because purely anecdotally, it does seem like an athlete, when they try to sprint. They come at it with sort of a base level. And it’s not whether they’ve trained sprinting or not. Some people are just better sprinters than other people, more fast twitch fibers, fewer slow twitch fibers, I’m assuming I think that sitting at this table here Trevor and I is a n equals two study. You know, we’re both similar in in a lot and a lot of ways similar in strength and a lot of ways you know we can we can contend in the same races. And yet, Trevor, I think it’s safe to say that you’re a terrible sprinter. I apologize if you think that’s mean,
Trevor Connor 03:23
I like to say that in a straight up sprint against a kid on a tricycle, I call it a pretty even bet.
And I on the other hand, have never really trained sprinting much in my life. And yet the races that I won, were almost always in a sprint. I was never sort of a big, big bunch sprinter. But, you know, last sprinter standing is the way that that i think i think Trevor actually you described me is that one time. And again, this is not something that either of us have really trained. And yet we start with these very, very different base levels of competency, so to speak. Trevor, you’ve done some research into this. Why is that the case? Why do people show up at a bike race and some are just straight up better sprinters than others.
Trevor Connor 04:11
So first, let’s differentiate there. There’s probably three aspects of the sprint finish. And we’re going to address all of them. Right now when we’re talking about the genetic side, we’re talking about what sort of power can you put out? So I’ll get to that question in a second. But even if you can put out that big power doesn’t mean you’re going to win a sprint because we also have to deal with all the field dynamics. And there’s also a bit of a attitude, call it a fearlessness side of sprinting. You have to be willing at high speeds to be bumping shoulders with a lot of big people who want to eat you for lunch and somehow get past them for the finish line. And you have to have all these different aspects and we’re going to talk about all these different aspects. So if you are like me More than anything in cycling, sprinting is genetic. You either have it or you don’t. And you don’t have it. That sucks. But there are still things you can do to finish well in a sprint finish, but let’s start there. Let’s start with the let’s start with wise your logical size. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the sort of power you can put out in a sprint. And really just the biggest one is your fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fiber ratio. And your sprinters are going to have more of those big fast twitch muscles that can put out a lot of power. versus somebody like me, if there was a fast twitch muscle fiber in my leg, it would be feeling really lonely and looking for companionship. That being said, we’re still talking about cycling. So your sprinters aren’t going to be pure fast twitch muscle, they’re not going to have pure fast twitch muscle fiber there, they wouldn’t get to finish of a race, they’re still going to be predominantly slow twitch, they just have more fast twitch then then other riders, more of a time trial style style rider like me, one of my favorite quotes was from catch alera had a chance to talk with him about this. And he said, Yeah, I think I think that sprinters have big muscle. People like me, later muscle.
This is coming from a guy whose quads actually haven’t developed his knee. So I’m not sure. Not sure how accurate that is.
Trevor Connor 06:35
I think there was something lost in the translation
there in the bit of fatty and ease there. Yeah.
Trevor Connor 06:41
So you have to have those fast twitch muscle fibers, you have to have that that power in your legs, your extreme, you look at your pure track sprinters, they are all fast twitch, and they have those huge legs. Or if you put even a tour sprinter next to one of those guys, those guys dwarf the tour sprinter. And you can see the track riders put now 26 2700 watts, I knew one of those guys and love to look at his bike because he couldn’t ride a normal chain, he had something that looked like a cross between a motorcycle chain and a road bike chain because he would snap a normal road bike chain. So there
are other there are other factors and maxpower that are trainable Trevor.
Trevor Connor 07:28
Ultimately, to put out big power, you need to have the right muscle fiber composition. But there are other factors that contribute to max power that are trainable so you can improve your wattage, but if right now you’re putting out 1000 watts, you’re not gonna be able to put out 2000 watts, you might be able to get it up to 1112, maybe even 1300 there, there’s going to be a range. Some of the other factors are cadence, your fatigue at the end of the race, and position on the bike. So let’s one of the really interesting ones is let’s look at cadence.
And and well, Trevor, we previously discussed power and how power is is largely well not largely it is a function of cadence cadence is included in the calculation of power. So that would suggest to me that to produce more power, you can also just up cadence without actually increasing force, I’m gonna guess that that’s the direction you’re going with this.
Trevor Connor 08:26
Right, so there’s two ways of increasing your wattage. One is to with strength, so you maintain your cadence and you just push harder on the pedals. The other way is to increase your cadence. Both are going to raise your power. And one very interesting study looked at, they were using track cyclists and looked at what cadences they put out the highest wattage. And what they were seeing was the the optimal range for peak wattage was around 120 to 130 rpm. And that it can actually so peak wattage can vary up to 20%. So if you’re down at 60 rpm and you’re really high RPM, your power is going to drop significantly. Interestingly, what they found with track riders is they still sprinted upwards around 150 560 RPM, even though they couldn’t put out as high a watch in there. I think the the reasoning for that is they were sacrificing a little bit of peak power for a little better acceleration because they would use a smaller gear that they could turn up to speed much quicker.
I can’t imagine spinning my legs at 160 rpm and actually putting any power power into the pedals. I mean, that’s the other side of this discussion is we can say it’s easy enough to say, okay, just increase your cadence and you’ll increase your power. But the reality is you have to maintain force, while increasing cadence to actually increase power. That’s the way that the calculation works and that it’s easier said than done. But like you said, totally trainable. That is one thing that we can definitely train you can was it would that come back to sort of neuromuscular training, I would suppose,
Trevor Connor 10:11
right. And actually, you just went right where I was hoping to go with those because there was another very interesting study. This was done in 2012 by a doctor Durrell, at a France, where they looked at muscle activation patterns in a sprint. And they looked at how your activation patterns change, as you put out bigger and bigger wattage, and it wasn’t always what you expect. Like, for example, one of the things I discovered is, you don’t really increase the amount of force you’re putting out with your quads. And you actually also don’t maximally use your quads. This gets really complicated. So I’m going to try to simplify this. And I apologize ahead of time, if I get it slightly wrong. But I want to get the key message across here is what they saw, when the these high level cyclists were sprinting was there was a lot more activation in the hip flexors, and the hip extensors. And the knee extensors are knee flexors. So basically, you were using more of your hamstring, you were using more of your glutes, you were using more of what we just call your hip flexors, they actually saw very little use of plantar accentus of basically your ankle wasn’t that important in the sprint. what all this means is as you were getting up towards max power, you weren’t necessarily putting out more force with the same muscles, you were recruiting more muscles. And what they saw was, you were generating power through more of the pedal stroke.
So this goes back to those track spinners like stretch track, summers, often sprint seated, right and still put out all that power, which I find kind of insane. They don’t, you know, they’ll stand up at the beginning of the sprint and then sit down almost immediately. But they can do that because they are recruiting these additional muscle groups very effectively.
Trevor Connor 12:11
Right. And amazingly, so in I think it was this study, or maybe one of the ones I’m about to talk about, they were seeing track sprinter still able to put out 17 1800 watts seed.
I can’t even this is sort of beyond the realm of comprehension, obviously,
Trevor Connor 12:30
but you touched on the really important thing as soon as you are talking about talking about you need to do higher cadence, you need to pedal through more the pedal stroke, you need to recruit more muscles. All this goes back to our conversation about neuromuscular recruitment. So you want to be a better sprinter, spend a lot of time doing that neuromuscular work, which we had that great conversation with grant Hala key about neuromuscular training. And so we’ve made fun of me for not being a good sprinter, I’m going to make a little more fun of myself. A couple years ago, velonews asked me to test a the what’s called the wot bike, which actually shows your pedal stroke. And you can work on the smoothness of your pedal stroke with this little graphical display compu trainer, spin scan thing, basically computrainer spin scan thing, I remember getting this thing out of the box, and I was like, I’ve been I’ve been I think I told this story before, but I’ll tell it again. Yeah, I just felt I’ve been racing for years, I’m gonna crush this I’m gonna have the the best spin scan you’ve ever seen. And I got on this bike and started pedaling really hard and did a couple threshold intervals. And I was carving this nice figure eight. And then I looked at the instruction manual to see what it meant. And it said, figure eight shape, beginner cyclist. And so even though I will say I’m genetically not designed to be a sprinter I also that indicated I don’t have the best pedal stroke, the best neuromuscular recruitment patterns that might also be contributing to my poor sprint. Two years ago, I did a phone interview with Eric Young, who’s a two time national criterium champion, and now rides with rally Pro Cycling. Eric gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever heard about sprinting in this interview. What’s your feeling about sprinting? Is it something that you can really train or is it something that’s genetic? either have it or you don’t? How do you feel?
I would say the physical aspect of it is is is a lot very genetic. But it’s determining like how you’re actually doing a race like there are a lot more factors than just how good sprinter you are drawing a straight line. So I just how many raw watts you can put out. So I think that aspect of it is is there a genetic and of course like it is very malleable, I mean, I’ve improved a lot during training and stuff. But again, you know, there are guys that no matter if I train it or not, I’m going to be way faster than them. So, but the aspect that I think he can work out a lot is how you ride the, you know, the last three or four k of a race. And you know how you just manage yourself and spread your mentality, your strategy, like how to square what wheels, you’re following how you’re doing it. So I think that’s where, you know, the biggest improvement can be made. And, and that’s also not really dependent on your genetics. Anyone can improve on that, even if they’re not really that fast, they can still, if you’re in the right position at the right time, you can still do pretty well, even if you’re not all that fast, though. Yeah, I would say kind of, honestly. But
Trevor Connor 15:49
what would be your recommendations to writers, especially to people who don’t have the natural huge wattage to rely on? What what sort of preparation can they do to help them perform better when they finally get to the race?
Well, one thing that I do in the offseason is a fair bit of gym work, and that that’s just not like super serious stuff. But I find that, you know, especially non sprinters, you know, they can go and 10 years without ever getting a gym, and all they do is drive. And so you’re extremely adapted to riding at your loss. But sprinting at 1500 or 1000, plots, whatever, you know, your max lot is just printing of that is a very different demand on your body. And in my mind, I mean, I think it makes sense to adapt to that ahead of time, and get your body ready to step away of your load. So for me, I do I mean, I do a variety of exercises, and there’s a, you know, a million training plans out there. But really, you can just stick to like the basic squat lunges, and you know, work up a little bit of weight, and then you know, do a lot of different stops and plyometrics. Like there’s a million ways to do it. But I think any of that will help in the long run. And since you’re doing in the offseason, it doesn’t really take away from from your specific training, like in the season. So I really don’t think there’s, there’s too much of a negative to that jannik sprinting is a part of cycling that demands, kind of an overall fitness of your body. Like, sprinters look a little bit more like normal people than cyclists, motorcyclists do like the farmer guys, because because you do have to use your whole body. And so I think that makes sense to train your whole body, and not just not just on the bike. So that’s, that’s always my first piece of advice. I mean, I guess for most people, most non sprinters that would be, you know, obviously, they want to get like faster and stronger or whatever, but maybe, maybe on average, their weakness would be their like speed and cadence when they’re sprinting. I know, my teammates I’ve done like a training camp, that stuff we’ve done, you know, kind of sprints, or everybody does the same thing. And just looking at like, obviously, you know, maybe like power is higher than everyone else’s. But my cadence was also like 20 to 30 RPMs faster, just across the board printing. And that’s, you know, that a lot of them didn’t realize that they’re spending it, you know, 100 or 110, RPMs, whereas I was printing like 130, you know, and that’s a big difference allows you to accelerate a lot faster. And that’s something to the most people could try out relatively easy, just jeanna leisure different gear at the end of the race. And you know, if that helps you.
Trevor Connor 18:40
So you think for people doing a lot of cadence work is going to help them?
Is there any good cadence work? For me, I do. I do a little bit of fixed rewriting, just like on the road, and we kept on the track as well. It’s awesome. That’s, that’s really good, because it just forces you to force your body to learn how to fail fast. So it’s a really good tool. But you know, not everybody has access to that really simple, you know, little ring sprint, you know, even when you’re just in a normal sprint situation on a group ride, just put it in the low ring, and then you’ll be in the 11 or 12. And just, I mean, you’re going to be under muted and just try to do the best you can like even if you just sitting spinning as fast as you can, and you’re sitting on the wheel of the guy that’s sprinting, you’re still learning quite a lot. And your body’s adapting to that. Even if you’re, you know, under gear to come around someone. That’s still a good exercise. So your stuff like that downhill strands are good as well, just because it simulates the higher speed of the race versus sprinting from 80 miles an hour and your training.
We can really split sprinting into two pretty definitive parts, maybe even three actually, you know, there’s a lead up to the sprint, there’s the acceleration, period, you know, where I guess we’re generally a sprinter would first get out of the saddle or when you’re when you’re getting Sort of north of 60 kilometers an hour, that really acceleration period, and then you have holding on to it, because the sprint is generally somewhere in the order of 150 to even 300 yards long meters long. Let’s talk about the difference between the jump and holding it.
Trevor Connor 20:19
That’s a really important distinction. And that leads to one of the last studies that I’m going to mention. And again, we’ll put all the references up on the website, for anybody who wants to see these. They took track sprinters, again, very high level track sprinters and looked at a variety of factors over a 62nd effort. And what you saw is that max power, that big power that these track sprinters can put out, was really in the first 12 seconds, that’s where they were hitting 12 or 2000 watts. After that, for the rest of the effort. So we’re talking 45 ish seconds, their power dropped right down to the 500 watt range, which even I can generate. What they concluded from this study was that there’s two distinct parts to the the effort, there’s the initial acceleration, because they were doing a standing start, where you need that max power. After that, they were saying 74 74% of what you were fighting or trying to overcome, was aerodynamic drag. So really, at that point, it became a lot more about getting low, and and reducing that frontal profile so that you had less drag, and it was far less about power. This gets really important. Because you know, on the track, you have to get yourself up to speed, you need that big power in a road racer in a crit, you’re already accelerated. So that huge max power isn’t that important. And to really make this point, that same study looked at, I believe it was the sprint finish in a race to Cavendish one. And they showed that he maxed out this, this is a big pro tour race, his max wattage to win this race in the sprint was 1097 watts.
Just not very many watts,
Trevor Connor 22:22
not that I can do that.
Even Trevor can do that.
Trevor Connor 22:26
Even I can do that. However, where it gets more impressive is they showed that in the three minutes leading up to the sprint, he averaged 490 watts.
Right. And that we’re gonna we’re going to talk a little bit more about that lead up and positioning in a minute. But the major point here is Yeah, the way that you translate that track study into road racing, is by looking at you basically consider that acceleration is mostly going to happen behind teammates or or within the field. And then once a sprinter hits the wind, then yes, they’re gonna they’re gonna put out their their full blast of power. But that may not actually be that much. And because there’s a lead out, and the speed is already really, really high. In The World Tour, these guys were sprinting at 70 plus kilometers an hour, sometimes, depending on the finish. You know, in an average amateur race, you’re definitely gonna be sprinting over 30 miles an hour, so well over 50 kilometers an hour. aerodynamics at that point is the number one priority, basically. And this is why when we look at top sprinters like Mark Cavendish, Caleb, Ewan, there is an increasing trend toward a very, very low, very, very aerodynamic sprinting solutions, because there’s essentially two ways to skin this cat, right? There’s the Marshall kiddle way, the Andre Greipel way, where you just put out big, big, big power and overcome the air resistance of being a big guy, high up on a bike, or you do the Cavendish, Caleb, Ewan way, where you basically put your face on the handlebars, and probably produce three 400 watts less those big guys, but you can still beat them sometimes.
Trevor Connor 24:04
Right? And this is why when an athlete that I’m coaching as me about sprinting, or sprinting for me, one of the things I tell them is eat your handlebars. If and you watch it on film, it looks like Cavendish is every time he’s going back and forth. Almost looks like he’s putting his mouth on his handlebars. He’s so far down.
Yeah. And that’s definitely you know, what helps those guys with that position is the fact that they’re like five foot five. If you’re not five foot five, you’re going to kind of struggle to do that. But there are definitely things that you can do in terms of positioning to make you much more dynamic, you know, keep the head tucked in, keep the shoulders tucked in, concentrate on not bouncing up and down so much. You know, when you watch amateur sprints, they often do this sort of like like chicken head clock, a bounce up and down thing that is not an efficient way to be sprinting. So there’s definitely that stuff just takes practice. You just need to go out and practice keeping your head down while putting out as much time as possible.
Trevor Connor 25:01
So I think we’ve really covered everything about ways you can improve your power and prove the just the, the brute force of your sprint. And I think the message here is, work on the neuromuscular side, really, really work on that side of your training.
Which leads us into this question of power versus positioning. And, Trevor, I know that you, you dug up a study, which I’ve actually seen referenced before, I think we I think we at some point, we did a story on it. But anyway, you, you, you dug up this study that looked at where a sprinter had to be in the final couple kilometers in order to win a race. And it was pretty consistent, it was actually more so than peak power. Positioning was a better indicator of final result, that peak power was
Trevor Connor 25:54
right. Start by saying I love these types of studies, because they have to let their subject remain anonymous. But then they say things like, well, this writer had their took the green jersey at the Tour de France twice between 2008 and 2011. One X number of races, they mentioned some of the races. And at the end of all this ago, why not just use the name.
Sounds like Mark Cavendish, to me,
Trevor Connor 26:23
are Cavendish. So yes, this was a study where they quite literally took footage of every single sprint finish that Mark Cavendish was in from 2008 to 2011. And first of all, you look at his his stats, they’re unbelievable. of the Grand Tour stages that finished with a sprint, he won 58% last 29% and was simply dropped in 12%. So from 2008 to 2011, if you were coming to a sprint and Cavendish was there, you were generally racing for second place. What was fascinating about this study, they quite literally sat there and watched the last couple minutes. And they marked where was Mark Cavendish at a minute from the finish, where was he five minutes from the finish. And they looked at all these different trends, to see if there’s any correlations with how frequently he won or lost. And some of the things they found were at a minute from the finish. In order for Cavendish to win the race. He had to be positioned either second, through eighth. And he needed to have at least one teammate with him. So that a minute from the finish if he was ninth or worst, worst place, he didn’t win. If he was on his own, he didn’t win. Another big trend they saw is generally to win. He needed to still have a teammate left with him at 15 seconds from the finish.
lead out guy.
Yeah, lead. Okay.
Trevor Connor 28:00
What the study really concluded was that positioning coming into the finish was as important if not more important than that, that final sprint in the last 15 seconds.
Which brings us back to the fact that you do not necessarily need to be the most gifted in terms of peak power to have a pretty good sprint. I mean, it sounds to me like if you put yourself in the right place, then you’ve set yourself up for success, so to speak, right? I mean, you don’t have to be Cavendish to be fourth wheel at 30 seconds to go in the race. You’re just not going to, you’re not going to gain or lose family places at that point.
Trevor Connor 28:42
Exactly. And as a matter of fact, we had a chance to talk with a sprinter who could kill both Kaylee and myself.
I almost beat him at the oval crit one time.
Trevor Connor 28:52
Was he in the race?
He was in the race? Okay. I was like, I shouldn’t say almost beat him. I was about half of likely. And I did beat him. That’s right.
Trevor Connor 29:06
Well, I’m impressed. I can’t think of a good joke. I’m gonna just cut my cotton. Eric had a lot to say about this, especially about how important the positioning is relative to the sprint itself. So let’s hear from him.
Um, no, I think I think that the position that you are in which obviously it’s different, you know, the best position to be in it is different in every single race as part of what makes printing so difficult to master but I would say that honestly above everything else, because in especially in certain certain races, if you put yourself in the right spot, no matter how fast somebody is, if they’re two wheels off you they just won’t have time to ask you. If you can put yourself in the best position possible that is going to be the best thing for you to do for special. And then I would say second to that is how fast you actually are So I guess that begs the question, how did you learn positioning? What would what would be your suggestions to them to
Trevor Connor 30:06
work on their
positioning practice, and it takes willingness, a willingness to try things that you’re not initially comfortable with. So, you know, the only way you’re going to know, if you can win it spring by leading it out at 300 meters, just by trying that, and then it works, and you jump super hard, and you gap everybody and all this other line, then, you know, then you’ve kind of acquired this new skill or Okay, now I know like what that feels like, what that looks like, you know, with, where I need to be one farmer to go, and Sue farmers to go to father meters to go, if I want to do this 200 years ago, you know, whatever, whatever it is you want to do, it takes a willingness to constantly change your strategies, initially, because if you just keep trying the same thing, you’re not going to learn much. But also, it takes that willingness to srst things, and then to kind of learn from them and kind of analyze after the race. But this is how this course event follows from this and being in this position at one kilometer to go led to meeting here at 300 meters ago. And then that’s why I was able to win the race, wherever there any general rules that you find you always follow in the sprint finish? Or is it really a field thing where every race is completely different? one rule of thumb for me is that I’ve lost a lot more races by being too conservative, and not being willing to, you know, go too early and lose rather than, you know, trying to say that until the very perfect moment. And then if that moment never appears, then you’re screwed. So I’ve lost a lot of races that way. And so my, my rule of thumb that I try to adopt, and it’s difficult to do, but as to, when in doubt, leave it out. I mean, just like Don’t, don’t wait too long, make sure you do something, make sure you try your plan. The most frustrating way to lose is sitting there, as you cross the finish line with Catholic banks, and you didn’t actually do anything. Whereas you go through early and slowly passing it, you get second, so that I get a lot better than then. Not ever putting yourself out there and trying. So that’s my, that’s my rule of thumb, especially for new viewers, you know, less experienced writers that if you don’t know really what your limits are, so don’t be afraid to fail. And it’s rarely, you don’t know if it’s too early, really. And the only way you’re gonna figure that out is by messing it up and leaving and figuring that out. So a lot of people when they think about the sprint, they think about the last 200 meters.
Trevor Connor 32:47
how critical is that four or five minutes before the final 200 meters?
Yeah, I mean, honestly, that it’s almost 99% out in the whole sprint. For me. I mean, I’ve always been naturally I act as a sprinter. So it’s kind of the last 200 meters, like that box has always been checked for me personally, and it’s, it’s the getting to that point in the right position with enough freshness in my legs to be able to sprint. That is like 100% of the challenge for me. So I think a lot of people focus on the actual sprint and but you know, you’re only gonna change Are you going to go into a sprint third we’ll die that is peace, we’ll probably is never going to pass you. Even if you don’t, so you’re only going to change one or two or three meals, you’re only going to pass the two guys in the final sprint. So you have to be able to put yourself in a place where you know, you’re able to pass everybody in front of you. Did you have any other thoughts or wisdoms for sprinting or the sprint finish? I think it just depends on the type of rider you are. So I mean I’ve I’ve won races where I can I can go pretty far out and continue accelerating all over the line and so I’m able to go off but of course for California next week like that’s probably not the best strategy for candidates and killer they’re like they’re going to be able to come around us you know, so it depends solely on the race or the the other racers that are in the field. think critically about you know, every race before before you are actually in the race come up with a loose plan and then be flexible with it don’t give up generally who I heard this from but Jeff your climber and you’re trying to wait a mountain dog finish. You can make a few mistakes in there. You know, if you’re accelerates and Zapier is second, or you know you’re one wheel off the right guy or whatever, like there’s a little bit more room for error. Because the effort and the crew that critical moment is drawn out so far as the long whereas taking a sprint like that A lot of times, if you make one mistake in the last five minutes of the race, you’re done. So you know, that’s equally the most frustrating aspect. But it’s also kind of cool. Like, you have to be perfect. And it’s incredibly rewarding when it does work. Because you can look back on the end of that race, it just be like, I did everything exactly right, that I could have done, and doesn’t happen all the time. And which gets to be extremely frustrating. But what it does just totally awesome. One of the more unique aspects of a great thing, I think,
Trevor Connor 35:37
the fact of the matter is, and again, Eric said this, even somebody like me, who’s an awful sprinter, if I can hit that last 200 meters, top 10, I can finish top 10 I might not win the race, a better sprinter is gonna beat me. But even with my horrible sprint, I’m only going to lose two, maybe three spots. So it’s about getting there, it’s about being there at that finish, that’s very relevant for our listeners out there seeking things like upgrade points, which go quite a bit deeper than you might think.
Yeah, put yourself put yourself on the very front of the bike race at 400 meters to go. And the worst you’re going to do is eight, that that’s enough to, that’s enough to score yourself a couple points.
Trevor Connor 36:19
Right. Which also means because I see this a lot in races, don’t quit. I see so many riders get to that sprint finish in seventh or eighth wheel and they just sit up, keep going, keep your head down, you might not win, but you can still get a top five or even potentially a podium.
So obviously positioning is really important. It’s, it’s also easier said than done. And having a really good team definitely helps. But I think a lot of listeners out there are going to be either racing on attached or with small teams or with teams that aren’t particularly well organized. The end result being that you’re often going to have to kind of fend for yourself at the end of a bike race. How do you train to put in that effort that is required at the end of a race to keep you in position? I mean, because you were talking about the cab study earlier that looked at those last couple of minutes and him putting out was it something 490 watts for five minutes somebody that for the for the end of these races? I mean, that’s for cab definitely. But really for almost anybody. That’s a vo two effort that’s well over threshold for five minutes before before you’re going to try to lay down a race winning sprint. So how do people train to do that sort of effort that is required to keep you in position.
Trevor Connor 37:35
I think Eric said it really well that I can’t remember his exact wording. But basically he said that that final sprint is the icing on the cake, that really most of the sprint happens before you you put down that big wattage. So if you think I want to be a sprinter, so all I’m gonna do is go out and do sprint intervals, you might have that big power, but you’re right, you’re never going to be at that finish to be able to use it. So sprinters need to put a lot of work into that vo to max range so that they can be putting out above threshold power for five even 10 minutes and stay at the front and get and be there for the sprint finish. Doesn’t matter how big a power you can put out if you’re not there at the end because you got dropped in the in the running to the finish. And that sort of work is more. We’ve talked about this before the the Tabata style intervals to doing 30 seconds on 30 seconds off, or whole series of 20 seconds on 10 seconds off, were you putting out a big above threshold effort, but then give yourself a very short recovery and you keep repeating that so you’re training your body in an oxygen starved unrecovered state to keep generating big wattage
sounds really unpleasant. People always say that being a sprinter is like the easiest job in cycling, you just show up and sprint at the end right like you don’t, you’re not a climber you don’t have to like sit at threshold for hours and hours on end. But now it can be it can be pretty painful the last couple minutes a bit of a race, that’s for sure.
Trevor Connor 39:15
That run is the hard part. So let’s say you have that big vo to max power to really be able to fight or be at the front for that those last couple kilometers and let’s say you have that big power for the sprint. We still haven’t covered everything you need to still do well in the sprint there there is the positioning side of it and there is the competence side of it. This sprint finish is one of the roughest parts of bike race and it can be one of the scariest parts of bike racing because you especially if you’re in a pack sprint, you are shoulder to shoulder with a lot of guys or women who are ready to eat their own mother To get that when I realized I wasn’t a sprinter the day so I had a chance to, I think it was Gord Frazier I spoke to who is the winningest cyclist in US history, he won more credits than than any other writer ever has, I believe. I asked him what it took to win a sprint and got an answer that told me even if I could generate 2000 watts, I will never be a sprinter. He said, when I get to that final corner, I have to take it in a way that there’s a 50% chance of winning the race and a 50% chance I will end up in the hospital and not care which it is.
Yeah, but I’ll say from personal experience, because around this table, I’m, I’m a bit more of a sprinter than Trevor, I will not pretend to be anything like CT Frazier. But definitely one a few sprints in my day. There, my brain would just turn off in the last lap. That’s the way that like it was it was, I would I would categorize it as a fight or flight response, I think, you know, you get a surge of adrenaline. And yeah, basically, my brain would just turn off. And you just do, you stop thinking about what you’re doing, you just start doing it. I like I would love to be able to describe better, what the last lap of a crit was like, but I honestly couldn’t tell you most of the time. Because Yeah, like I said, the brain, the brain just kind of turns off and you do what needs to get done. And you open it up and your brain kind of turns back on after you cross the finish line. And I think if you if you’re scared of that, then being a sprinter is probably not for you. And if you’re if you’re unable to sort of do that, turn your brain off and just do it. And being a sprinter is probably not for you. Fast doc is sponsored by cork, maker of next generation power meters and other kick ass bicycle data systems. Their Calvin app is the digital wrench for quirks power meter technology. Calvin uses Bluetooth low energy or ant plus to deliver firmware updates, diagnostics, power meter zeroing and calibration from your desktop, laptop, or smartphone. Find out email@example.com
Trevor Connor 42:15
I think the best way I could describe it is when you are 40 miles from the finish. And you want to sit 10th wheel in the race for the most part, you can hold your position. When you are coming into a sprint finish, there is no holding position. It is constantly being fought for. And you just have to be moving up and moving up and watching for getting boxed in watching for riders coming around you and just every time you see a hole, you go and fill it every chance you have to move up to riders, you take it or you are very quickly going to find yourself fourth wheel and out of the sprint.
Yeah, basically, if you’re not moving up, you’re moving back, there’s there, like you said, there’s no holding a spot in the last couple laps of a crit or something like that, if if you’re not actively moving up, you are moving backward. And so actively move up constantly, every single hole that you see up the side, whatever I mean that that’s where it’s helpful to have a really good teammate who understands that you do have to be careful because sometimes, if someone offers you a lead out and they don’t know what they’re doing, and if they end up losing position, and you also lose position, but for the most part, it’s good to have somebody who’s willing to burn matches a bit early, take you up the side of the field, particularly an amateur event without that really works a lot better. And then push it sort of drop off in a position right when you need to be.
Trevor Connor 43:34
So what are some of those tactics for the and I’m asking you Kelly, because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the last two kilometers. What are some of the tactics when you’re up there? What are some of the tactics when you are solo versus you have a few teammates?
Mm hmm. solos tricky. I’m going to Solo Solo Solo could actually be better sometimes depends on me on the finish. I mean solo I would just generally find, find the nearest good sprinter and follow them around, or or find someone with a with a team and follow them around. You know, when you start getting into the higher echelons of bike racing. Sometimes there’s something called a sweeper, which is someone a teammate of a sprinter who actually sits on the sprinters wheel and just protects it. If you can, if you can. Elbow that guy or lady out of the way and steal the sprinters wheel. That’s pretty ideal. If you have a team. This goes back to everyone in your team should have a roll. Not not a plan. You know, you don’t want to tell people Okay, listen, Jimmy, you’re gonna pull from 1.5 k two, one K, and Bob here is gonna pull from one K to 500. And Steve is gonna go from 500 to 250. And then I’m going to take over that that’s never ever, ever, ever going to happen. But if you put people in the right order, and they know what order they’re supposed to be in and they just go as hard as they possibly can. They can’t go anymore. Then you hope that the timing is right, right? The one thing you can do is say, all right, if we have, if we have three of us up here, and with three of us, we know we don’t want to hit the front until one and a half good to go. If we have five of us up here, we can hit it a bit earlier. Right? That’s the only sort of plan you can really make. But beyond that, yeah, I mean, just just make sure everyone has a role, make sure they know who the last guy is, and make sure that they understand that they are not actually sprinting for the finish line, that their finish line is earlier. And this comes back to amateur racing. We’re not always the best at sticking sticking to our roles, because all you know, everybody wants to win, right? I think this is a classic. This is pretty classic thing where the last man and lead out, it’s like I can see the finish line. I’m just gonna go for it. Right? That that doesn’t work because that means that they’re going to hold back a little bit and not pull the actual sprinter up to where they’re supposed to be your your finish line is 20 seconds before the finish. Exactly.
Trevor Connor 46:02
Yeah. And I would say in your lead out train, the order should generally be worse sprinter to best sprinter. Yep. So I was always the first one in the lead out train because I was always the worst center. So my job was to sit on the front and get the pace really high to discourage anybody from breaking away. And that would also allow all my teammates to get in behind me and get into position so I would take well well before you’d ever see the finish I would take a 567 minute poll at a very high pace and I would probably be off two minutes before the finish or a minute before the finish and then each rider after me would take a faster and and shorter poll until the final Leto guy was was practically doing a sprint. Yeah,
the last the last laid out man is sprinting. They’re just they’re their finish line is just a little bit early. That is a full on sprint and you know theoretically the sprinter behind them is even faster so can can keep up and then can accelerate. Once again. We caught up with keel reinen who rides for trek segafredo and has been an integral part of john degan clubs lead team for most much of the season including at the Tour de by tour California. We asked him about timing of lead outs because a lead out sometimes it all comes down to timing
get those guys in a position final k you know the priority is always always positioned before depth so it’s better to run short and get those guys where they need to be then wait wait wait and be too far back. So ideally, I’m dropping Khoon off with about 600 meters to go 700 meters to go and you know if it’s not working out right and we’re too far back then I gotta use my energy a little earlier and make sure we’re okay to go there on the right wheels at least
that’s interesting because armchair quarterbacks like myself, we look at the television and we we more often see teams that look like they go too early, but you’re making it sound like that’s intentional that it’s better to go too early than to go too late.
Yeah, I mean, it’s you know, you don’t want to be first into the wind. But if you’re you know in that final K and you’re more than 15 wheels back it’s already too late so it’s it’s better to err on the side of caution especially if you’re running a short train you know, when a team’s got GC interests and and sprint interests they might not have as many leadout guys you know if you’re coming to a race like Quickstep is here with almost you know everyone committed to the lead out trying to train minus one or two guys it’s a lot easier to hit the front earlier so just just kind of depends on on the depth of the lead out train
any tips and tricks for amateur bike races out there trying to put a put a lead out train together in the cat three field
decide what side you’re going on before the race starts
that’s a good one actually. Depending on what wind and probably the way that the finishes
Yeah, it depends on those those final few turns and the wind and mostly just so that everyone’s on the same page. You know, you don’t want to be sometimes you got to change the plan on the fly, but it’s better if you don’t.
So sprinting isn’t always out of a big bunch, right? I mean, it’s not always gonna be a big peloton, it comes into the finish and I will say that I think I mentioned this earlier that you know, those are always my favorite Sprint’s when it was down to, instead of being 80. Guys, it was down to 20 then I was a lot more confident that I was one of the one of the fastest guys in the group. But can be even smaller than that. If you’re the type of rider like Trevor and you need to go for a breakaway in order to win a race. You still need to be able to sprint out of a break occasionally there’s the chances of you coming in solo are a lot less than you coming in with three to four other riders. So let’s talk a little bit about things you can do. Coming into a finish to make Are you when out of a group of three or four writers and this could be honestly we could do. We could talk about this for ages, and all the different sort of scenarios that you could go through. But there are a couple just good tips that you can follow pretty much every time.
Trevor Connor 50:15
This is really more you can ask me about that, when you do if you’re, you know, you’re going to be fourth out of a group of four.
So the first thing you have to do is is take stock of your own sprint abilities versus the group that you’re in. And that, you know, that comes down to knowing your competitors, which you will sometimes and you won’t Sometimes Sometimes you’d have to guess Be very, very careful assuming that a bigger riders a better sprinter, that is not as not always the case. Anyway, take stock of the riders around you figure out Am I the second fastest Am I the first vessel to might have my the fourth fastest out of this group of four. And from there, you can start to kind of make your your plan. If you are the slowest guy in the breakaway, it’s worth giving it a shot a bit early, go into the sneak attack sitting at the back, four or 500 meters out, wait for a low on the pace or for someone else to pull off and just just go for it. And you sprint those first hundred meters, like you’re sprinting for a finish line. And then just try to hang on for dear life. Because if you’re not a super strong sprinter, you still need to get that gap against guys that are probably able to jump a little bit harder than you the only chance you have is to is to give it absolutely everything way earlier than they want to. And hope that they just that they have a split second of indecision and don’t jump on your wheel. And then hopefully you can move around to the finish line. If you’re the fastest guy in the group. Well, you can kind of do anything. The one thing you don’t want to do is lead out. Yes, if you’re in a breakaway, and you’re the worst, sprinter. Trevor, you have some personal experience in this matter.
Trevor Connor 51:56
Oh, we are in my wheelhouse now.
What do you do?
Trevor Connor 52:02
So if you’re like me, and pretty much you want to win a race, you have to cross the finish lines solo, which means I don’t win a lot of races. I do well, in a lot of races, I don’t win very many races. There’s a few things you can do. Kaylee really touched on one, which is you have to size up all the people in the breakaway with you. And you have to figure out who are the sprinters, then it’s pretty much you got to get rid of them before you get to the finish. And I will tell you, if you’re 510 minutes away from the finish and you haven’t gotten rid of them races over. I see too many people try to make that last minute attack to try to do something. No, it has to happen much, much sooner. Don’t wait for the last five minutes The race is already over.
Yeah, good thing to keep in mind is that if you’re the worst sprinter in the group, you might also be the best time Charles, right. Because our physiology kind of dictates that that is assuming that you know that there is just some superstar rider in that group. You know, the Peter sagen. Generally, if you have less sprint power, you’re gonna have more aerobic power. That’s to your advantage.
Trevor Connor 53:10
That’s where I was always at. So I always tried to turn the breakaway into, let’s not try to be super conservative here, I’m gonna waste a ton of energy, I’m gonna force all them to waste a ton of energy. And my guess is they’ll crack before I do.
I would find you so irritating in a breakaway, Trevor. My thing was always do as little as possible,
Trevor Connor 53:32
which I wouldn’t let you do, I would make you work and you would hate me.
Yes, I would be yelling things.
Trevor Connor 53:38
Ultimately, if you are the worst sprinter and you’re in a breakaway of six or seven, and your chances of dropping all of them are slim, the best thing to do is, is basically put some change in your pocket. Meaning identify somebody in there who has a decent chance of winning who you can help out. Look for somebody that you race a lot. That’s especially if they’re on a local team that you want to be friends with maybe some of the time, I often go up to that sort of rider and go, you need a hand you need a lead out, I will help you out. So I will sacrifice that race but knowing that since I help them get on the podium or win the race, there’s gonna be a race down the road, where they might be able to help me It could be as simple as it’s a long race. I don’t have a feeder there. Their team has a feeder, Hey, can you toss me a water bottle and they’re gonna be much more amenable to helping you out? No, I
think actually, what what more so than any sort of hard and fast tips here because there are just so many scenarios that you could go through and each one is going to be different. Maybe the best thing and maybe this is what we can we can really recommend is go back and watch finishes of classics races, when it’s down to four or five or six riders. So for example, We have we have two, sort of slightly different finishes on the same weekend, the very beginning of this season. So I’m loop het nieuwsblad, which is one by Greg van ever met over Peter socket and set finmark. And then the very next day Kern, Russell Kern, Peter Sargon, who won over a group of five in the finale. Those are two very, very different finishes, go and watch finishes like that. Figure out in that group. What kind of rider am I? Am I sagen Am I step by step with a slightly worse sprint my saga with the best sprint and my Greg van I’ve met with the sprint that’s right in the middle. And look at how those riders played the finish and how whether they were successful or not. So I think omloop is a perfect example of Greg whenever Matt versus Peter Sagal generally, saga is going to win that sprint. But Greg, whenever met, timed it perfectly. He knew the finish saga and kind of took a weird line around that last corner. And the result was that saga never even came close to him. That’s the kind of thing that you can really learn from watching pro racing.
Trevor Connor 56:05
Yeah, I think the point here is that more than any other side of racing, the sprint is highly strategic. And there are thousands and thousands of waves that can play out as a matter of fact, pretty much every sprint finish is going to be different. So we can’t give you a here’s how to win a sprint finish. You just have to look at the scenarios. Smart. I think it’s Be smart, learn how to read the field, work on that neuromuscular side to get your power up, find that confidence to fight for position, and then beyond that, it’s whatever this however this scenario plays out, and it’s going to be different. And you’re just going to have to make quick decisions and hope they’re all right.
Trust your instincts. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, you know, once you’ve maxed out your genetic potential, in terms of that peak power, then you can really start thinking about, okay, how do I build by v2 so that I’m a little bit fresher in the last 20 seconds, you can start thinking about, how do I position myself up near the front with the least possible effort, because that gets you a little bit fresher in the last 30 seconds. A lot of this comes down to just being who has the best legs at the very, very end of a long, hard day. And a lot of that comes down to just being really efficient. So
Trevor Connor 57:24
I think if I could give any advice on the sprint, it’s the basically the one thing not to do, which is to not make a decision. When you’re in that sprint finished, you’re going to have to make 40 decisions in five minutes. And if you hesitate, if you question and don’t make a quick decision, I almost guarantee you’re going to shoot back 1020 places and you’re going to be at a contention you aren’t you aren’t always going to make the right decision. And you have to experiment a lot. But I guarantee you if you make no decision,
you’re out of contention. Yeah, the answer should pretty much always be yes. Should I go to the gap? Yes. Should I follow this guy? Yes. If you think of it, it’s a Yes, just do it. And like I said, my brain would turn off at the end of these races. And so honestly, I can’t even I can hardly even tell you what sort of decisions are made, but I’m sure that there were many decisions made and almost always, yes, that’s that fight or flight kind of response. Get yourself amped up, get a bit of adrenaline running, and just go for it. Well, dear listeners, that was another episode of Fast Talk. As always, we do love your feedback. You can email us at Webb letters at competitive group comm you can subscribe to Fast Talk on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and Google Play. And while you’re there, be sure to leave us a rating and a comment. Also, while you’re there, check out our sister podcast, the velonews podcast, which covers news about the week in cycling and also features myself as well as editor in chief Fred dryer and our news editor. Spencer Paulsen become a fan of Fast Talk on firstname.lastname@example.org slash velonews and on email@example.com slash Belen is Fast Talk is a joint production of Connor coaching and velonews which is owned by competitive group. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talker are those of the individual for Trevor Connor.
I’m Kaylee fretts.
Thanks for listening