There’s 200 metres left. There’s a dozen riders spread across the road. The leadout riders have left the leaders, drifting back through the pack. Pedals are being spun furiously. Suffering is etched across the faces of the fast men and women.
The one who set off earliest, hoping that their go-long technique will take them to victory, is being caught. To their right and to their left, their competitors catch them up and then overtake them. There’s 100 metres left. The favourite is still sitting in the slipstream of their greatest rival.
And then, boom, the favourite launches to the right, comes around and sprints at chain-snapping speed towards the line.
The win is theirs. The glory is all theirs. And everyone watching marvels at how fast man can sprint on a bicycle.
(Image by SWPix.com)
Sprinting is cycling's purest form of competition. Whoever gets to the line first is the winner. Simple. It’s also the facet of cycling that prompts the biggest adrenaline rush.
Above all, however, it’s what we all want to improve. It doesn’t matter if we want to be the fastest sprinter in a criterium, during a Zwift race or against our mates when racing to be the first to pass the town sign, speed is addictive, and being faster is something all cyclists aspire towards.
It's now more possible than ever before to better one’s sprinting technique and speed thanks to Zwift, with hundreds of workouts specifically targeting a faster turn of pace, and an infinite amount of group rides and races offering the perfect platform to train.
Arguably the fastest man in Britain’s domestic criterium scene in the past decade, former professional Jon Mould says that Zwift offers everyone the tools to go even faster than ever before.
“One of the biggest advantages riders have now is that there are so many sessions made for sprinting, and if you follow a plan, you can really take your sprinting up a level.
“There are sessions that replicate sprinting from easy riding, and then sprinting from Zone 3 and Zone 4 riding, jumping off that intensity into a full-gas sprint.”
(Image by Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)
The latter is key, Mould says, because most riders will need to perfect their sprinting for criteriums, races that typically last around an hour and take place on a short circuit. They are characterised by repeated short bursts of sprinting with a fast and furious dash to the line at the end.
“If doing crits, Zwift is definitely so helpful,” the Welshman adds. “You can even race crits on Zwift and they’re getting even more like the real things with the corners and how people approach them. It’s really starting to replicate what sprinting is actually like.”
As Mould mentions, Zwift is awash with races to practise sprinting, with the Champs-Élysées, London Classique and Crit City’s Bell Lap being some of our favourites.
The advantages are not just limited to the race-winning feeling or a personal best, but they also extend to real-life racing. The adage of the more you practise, the better you become can never be said enough when it comes to racing.
Take part in a crit race on Zwift and you are able to try out different things, to see when is best to launch a sprint, and how to better muscle your way through the pack and hold a better position.
To best improve sprinting, riders should first see how long they can hold a sprint for, as well as testing how long it takes them to get up to peak power.
A structured training program, drawing on the many hundreds of available workouts, should then follow, where riders should vary up the type of riding.
Practising their VO2 max efforts will enable them to recover from sprints easier, and thus help them to get to the race’s line with enough energy to still be able to sprint.
“This is one of those things that a lot of people miss,” Mould says. “In a crit you’re riding around at a high Zone 4 before you even get started on sprinting, so you’re working really hard and then having to sprint at the end of a race.
“It’s important that people practise sprinting from upper Zone 3 and 4 riding. The winter is a great time to practise this, in between strength efforts and riding in a lower gear.”
The latter is often associated with riding at a higher cadence, something else that shouldn’t be overlooked in training.
Watch any sprint and you’ll notice how frequent the legs turn over the pedals; if a good rider has an average cadence of between 80 and 90 rpm, when sprinting it’s imperative to practise a higher cadence of between 110 and 120 rpm.
Of course, the most obvious training is sprint repeats. That can result in a number of different approaches, but something like 10 sprints for 20-30 seconds is good practice, with Zone 2 riding in between efforts.