Aussie Ben Kirstin comes first at the US Crit Championships. Photo courtesy of Velonews – Casey B. Gibson
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not a good sprinter. It’s one skill that I’ve always wanted more than anything and haven’t been able to acquire. This basic fact makes me watch and analyze the great sprinters to the Nth degree. I always get sucked into buying those cycling magazines with the headlines on the cover “Sprint Like Cav”, or “Robbie’s Sprint Tips”. All they usually say is to stay relaxed, keep at the front, and go like stink in the final 200m. Absolutely nothing tangible in there! These guys are so good that they barely have to think about what they’re doing. They just do it…and win.
One sprint secret that will make you more successful is this: the final sprint isn’t in the last 200m, the real sprint is for the final corner. I’m not saying that you go 100% into that final corner and then lose control and completely wipe everyone out. What I’m saying is that you need to do everything within your ability to get into that final corner in the top 3-6 or so places (depending on how far the finish is. Most crits are about 200-300m from the final corner). You positioning going into that final corner will determine your success more than your ability to sprint the final 200m will. If you arrive at the final corner in 1st position, it’s too far up. If you come through in 10th position, it’s too far back. Not many sprinters will win from over 10 bike lengths back over 200m – no matter how good you are (we’ve all seen McEwen do it though).
Everyone is fighting for these top places and it won’t be easy. The pace will be ON and you’ll probably use precious energy to get there. Getting through a tight pack in the middle of a race is one thing, but working your way to the front of a charging train of sprinters is another. Watch out for the “swarms ” passing you on your left or right sides and jump in on them. This way you won’t need to work your way to the front all by yourself. Sprinters have great peripheral awareness and either see or sense riders coming up on their sides.
Once you get that good position into that final corner it’s all yours. All you need to do is deliver everything you’ve got for 20 more seconds over the final 200m and you’re almost guaranteed finish with a decent placing. Not to mention you won’t get caught up in the crashes.
If interested, here are a few more sprinter’s tricks that I’ve picked up from those sly foxes. If any of you sprinters are reading and have anything else to offer, I’m all ears.