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Three training sessions to become a better sprinter

Cadence drills, standing starts and lead-out sprints to ensure you cross the line first

Sprinting is an area of cycling that riders often forget to specifically train.

Most of us will know a really strong rider who always comes last in a town sign sprint. They may be first up the climbs,  but they don’t have the kick on the flat.

If you race, unless you come across the line solo then you are going to have to sprint against someone else. As a result, in order to convert those good results into great ones, a strong sprint is absolutely crucial. And even if you don’t race, it’ll save you buying the coffees at the cafe after the town sign sprint.

Needless to say, sprinting is all about putting out a lot of power in a very short burst. Most sprints last no more than ten seconds, so you need to train in short, hard bursts to improve.

Here are three sessions that will help you improve you kick. These sessions will refer to your training zones – read this article for more on training zones and how to set yours.

Unless you break away solo, you’ll need to outsprint your rivals if you want to ride a race – so it’s important to work on your kick for the line (Pic: Sirotti)

Cadence sprints

Why should I do it?

When it comes to executing a fast sprint, a lot comes down to how many muscle fibres you can recruit at once. When you open up a sprint, an electrical signal is sent from your brain to each muscle fibre, which tells it to contract.

To optimise your sprint, you want to be able to fibre as many fibres at the same time as possible. More muscle fibres = more force, more force = more power, and more power = a faster sprint.

However, it’s not quite as simple as that as sprinting is a dynamic movement – it isn’t simply a case of pushing down on one pedal as hard as possible. This means muscle contractions have to be carefully coordinated to ensure your power is going through the pedals and isn’t wasted.

Cadence sprints involve sprinting in a very low or easy gear, so there will be almost no resistance to push against. Sprinting in such an easy gear means you will sprint with a very high cadence, which will force your muscles to make more contractions than normal. This will help your body practice at not only contracting as many muscle fibres as possible, but also contracting them in the correct order.

Another benefit of this session is that it works on your leg speed, so you can turn the pedals faster in a sprint and ultimately go quicker.

Use these training sessions to turn good results into great ones (Pic: Sirotti)

What is the session?

20 minutes warm-up – steady riding in zone two. This is important as sprinting is a big effort and not something you want to do on cold muscles.

5 x 12 second sprints

With your hands in the drops, roll along (in a slight tailwind, if possible) at around 15 mph (25kmph) in the small chainring and middle of the cassette (17-19t is perfect). Sprint at maximal intensity for 12s, aiming to keep as high a cadence as possible.

Take 5-6 minutes recovery easy riding between each effort

20 minutes cool down

Standing starts

Why should I do it?

There are two sides to sprinting – it’s a combination of leg speed and power – and the ability to push the biggest gear you can, as fast as you can, is going to make you go quickly.

We’ve already worked on leg speed in the cadence sprint session, so now it’s time to focus on how much force you can put through the pedals.

Doing sprints from a standing start gives you extra resistance to push against. It’s the same idea of weight training in the gym but the benefit of doing it on the bike is that you are training your muscles specifically to cycling. Once again, this session is also great for improving muscle fibre recruitment.

What is the session?

20 minutes warm-up – steady riding in zone two

5 x 12 second standing start sprints

Start each sprint in the big chainring, at around the 17-19 tooth sprocket on the cassette (you can always adjust the gearing to make it easier/harder for yourself)

In the drops, slow almost to a standstill and then accelerate away. It will take a big effort to get the pedals around but try and accelerate throughout each effort. On top of that, try and make sure you are only pushing with your legs not your back – use your core to stabilise your torso.

Take 5-6 minutes recovery easy riding between each effort

20 minutes cool down

There are two key elements to sprinting success: leg speed and strength (Pic: Sirotti)

Lead-out sprints

Why should I do it?

If you think about when you might need to sprint, then chances are, unless you’re a kilo rider on the track, it’s going to be at the end of a hard effort. Think of a stage in the Tour de France; the peloton is in one long line riding at 60kmph+ before the sprint even starts. Therefore, it’s important to be able to sprint when you are already in the red.

That is exactly what this sessions tries to replicate with repeated 90 second efforts, of which the last 15 seconds is a flat out sprint. The first 75 seconds are designed to put you into the red and replicate the effort you will have to make before you kick-start the final sprint.

The one key area you should be focusing on in this session is how hard you kick at the start of the sprint – stamp down on the pedals as hard as you can and then try your best to hold it to the line. Don’t save anything in that initial kick.

A great example of this type of sprinting is with Mark Cavendish – he will put a couple of bike lengths into everyone in the first five seconds then hold that to the line. Once everyone is up to speed its difficult to make the difference – sprints can be won or lost in the initial kick.

Mark Cavendish’s aggressive sprint sees the Manx Missile get ahead of his rivals then hold on until the line (Pic: Sirotti)

What is the session?

20 minutes warm-up – steady riding in zone 2

5 x 90 s – the first 75 seconds should be in zone five, then kick as hard as you can and try and hold the speed until the 90s are up. Ideally in the first 75 seconds you will have a tail wind or be riding down a false flat. This helps to represent the speed you will encounter running into a sprint.

Take 5-6 minutes recovery easy riding between each effort

20 minutes cool down

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