Road Bike Skills 201: Sprinting to the Finish Line
The race has come down to the final kilometers, you look to your left and then to your right. Who will go first? Should you take the leap or wait for a wheel to follow? A rider jumps from behind and just like that, it’s on.
After you know the basics of how to sprint, like body position, cadence and mechanics, becoming a race-winning sprinter takes a certain amount of experience and instinct, along with a really great team.
We’ve asked Coryn Rivera, Team Sunweb’s star sprinter and 2018 US National Champion, to give us a few tips for developing our own winning sprint.
Sprinting Q & A with Coryn Rivera
LIV: What are five critical components to a successful sprint finish?
CORYN: 1: Save energy - You need to have as much energy saved to have a strong explosive sprint at the end of the race.
2: Position – Analyze the finish and see where you want to be in the peloton. First wheel? Or third wheel? Really depends on the finish and your strengths.
3: Timing – Analyze the finish and see when you want to start your sprint. Also, if you think being the first wheel is better for you, maybe you have to start your sprint earlier than if you think being the third wheel is better for you. It mostly depends on your strengths, competition, and conditions.
4: Gearing – Also depending on the finish, uphill, flat, downhill, headwind, or tailwind, then you might have to think about what gear you want to start your sprint in. Too big takes too much power and time to get up to speed. Too small will get you up to speed quickly but then you have to shift. Starting in the right gear allows you to get up to speed fast enough and continue to build the speed to the finish line.
5: Lead-out – If you are lucky and have a teammate, a lead-out is a very critical part of a successful sprint finish. You have to know the finish, know your teammates and what their strengths are, and you have to know how you want to sprint. I usually work my way backward when analyzing for a lead-out starting with where and how I want to be dropped off for the sprint finish.
LIV: When a sprint finish is inevitable, what role do your teammates have in getting you into position to sprint?
CORYN: My teammates are the key to a sprint finish. I have to trust that they will take me to where I need to be. And they have to trust me that I will win for them. They will either do a full lead-out train for me or they will drop me off in the ideal position for me to have a good sprint. Sometimes teammates can even support you in a sprint by being behind you and sweeping your wheel to ensure no other competitor will take your wheel.
LIV: As the sprinter, where do you position yourself behind the rider in front of you prior to executing a sprint?
CORYN: That is all dependent on what the finish line is like. It is important to study the finish and have a good feel for it going into the race. When you are coming into the sprint, give a little space so you can get a run on the rider in front of you so you can pick up speed while being on the wheel before popping out into the wind. I typically don’t like to start the sprint, so I come from 2nd or 3rd wheel.
LIV: Where in the bunch is the ideal position for breaking out for a sprint?
CORYN: Still dependent on the finish. If it is fast you want to be towards the front. If it is a slow sprint you might be able to jump out from farther back.
LIV: What role does bike handling have in a successful sprint finish?
CORYN: Bike handling is very important if there are a lot of people sprinting. Plus at such high speeds, every movement matters, so you have to be quick and confident in your bike handling. [Learn drills for becoming a better bike handler HERE.]
LIV: Whether you are coming from behind during a sprint, or defending your lead, how do you choose the best line?
CORYN: The best line is dependent on the course and the wind. You want to take the fastest line and also stay protected from the wind when sprinting. Usually sprinting closer to the barrier gives you the most protection. Plus leaving the wind side open for people who want to come around you will help your sprint because your competitor has to jump out into the wind to start sprinting.
LIV: What factors affect the timing of your sprint and how do you know when you need to go?
CORYN: Timing is all about instinct and knowing yourself. I once planned to sprint exactly at 200m, but then I got jumped before it and I couldn’t make it up. I learned my lesson and have since been sprinting on instinct. You have to feel the right moment. And the more sprints you do, the more you learn about yourself and others.
LIV: Are there any drills you do as a team or alone to practice sprinting and reaction time?
CORYN: At team camps, we split up into teams and challenge each other in 1.5km sprint lead-outs. One team has to do the lead-out while the other team has to mess them up or challenge them.
LIV: Is there any other advice you would give to a racer who is looking to improve their sprint?
CORYN: Practice, practice, practice! A lot of being a good sprinter is experience, so the more practice you have, the more experience you have as well. And when you don’t do well or win, learn from your mistakes or learn what you can do better.