Let's assume you've been riding for a little while now, and as the months, and possibly years, have rolled by you've noticed yourself getting stronger, fitter, and faster. In and of itself this is a triumph, so give yourself a little pat on the back. So what comes next? Longer rides, maybe a Grand Fondo? For many riders, the next step is to have a try at a local club race or criterium (which just means a race that goes round and round a street circuit rather than an out-and-back style race out on the country roads).
Your first race is an exciting thing, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. So stay calm, ride within yourself for a while, and enjoy the thrill - it's all about the fun and the enjoyment of matching your skills and speed against other riders at a similar level.
Most club criteriums end with a sprint finish, so we're going to look at some simple ways to develop more power and speed.
One of the kings of the sprint in the ProTour, Marcel Kittel, explains how he managed to develop his awesome finishing speed: "It starts in the gym, it finishes in your mind, but the real work is done out on the road.” So while a powerful physique and a determination to win are important, nothing matters more than being out on your bike, putting in the miles and some specific sprint training.
Following are some sprint workouts designed to increase your absolute top speed, and to provide valuable practice time riding your bike and developing your skills while riding flat out.
Declining Time Sprints
After a good warm-up, start with a sprint of 60 seconds, then 50 seconds, 40, 30 and 20, all at maximum effort, with a very short recovery between each sprint (ideally one minute or less). Allow your heart rate to return to E 1 (easy) training zone, then repeat the sequence. This series of sprints simulates repeated efforts during race situations, and teaches your body to respond when you demand maximum performance.
This workout can be done with your training group or on your own. After a warm-up of at least 15 minutes, change up into a large gear (53 x 14-16) and pedal along smoothly at a good pace. Stand up on the pedals and accelerate as quickly as you can for 10 seconds, utilizing all your power, energy and focus. Coast along for 15 seconds, then jump straight back up and do it again. Repeat until you have completed 6 sprints. It doesn't sound much, but your legs and lungs will be burning after this session!
What's Peter Sagan's Favorite Sprint Workout?
For this workout, train on either a slight incline or the equivalent resistance on a wind trainer or spin bike. Warm up for at least 20 minutes, starting easy and building up effort slowly to the point that it becomes difficult to speak. Once warmed up, perform three full intensity sprints of 20-30 seconds, with a 2 minute recovery after each one. This completes the first stage of the workout.
The second stage is a three minute long sprint interval. Pedal at 90-95rpm for three minutes, with effort spread evenly over the three minute period. Ideally by the end of the three minutes you should only have enough energy to go for another 10 seconds before hitting the wall (failure). You do not want to collapse at the end of the three minutes, but close to it. You need to be able to recover to repeat the workout after a rest.
Pedal slowly for at least 10 minutes - even longer if that's how long it takes to recover. Lengthy recovery is essential to give time for your muscles to restore their oxygen levels. Once the recovery cycle is complete, repeat the workout. Aim to complete each short sprint with focus and intensity, and finish each interval properly, i.e. without failing. This means that you have to carefully choose the gear/resistance and speed at which you cycle. It is better to perform only one good sprint interval than a few poor ones.
This is a brutally hard training session if done correctly, and should really only be attempted once every 10 days or so. The benefits, however, are enormous: the workout combines top-end sprint speed with high-speed, high-intensity endurance, which means you get faster and you teach your body to go fast for longer periods of time.
Train with friends
When it comes to sprint training it often works best when you have some training buddies. There are two reasons for this: firstly, it's good to have some motivated, likeminded riders with you to help you push yourself to reach new top speeds. It's also crucial to be able to recreate race scenarios as much as possible, and the best way to do that is to work together, gaining valuable bike skills and making use of the slipstream your team mates and training partners provide. So word up your friends, find a bunch to train with or even start your own sprint training group - and enjoy the company as you all get faster together.