Tech Tips

Training for strength, speed and the sprint

Mario Cipollini
Bike shop in Pokhara

Imagine clicking your lever to change gears only to realize you're in the hardest gear already. You're not sure you can go any faster because last time you checked you were already doing 30 miles per hour. You can't breathe any faster, despite your brain screaming out for more air. You're watching that finish line as it gets closer and closer - through a haze of pain, you decide it's time to go! You swing out from behind your leadout man and go for broke. He's yelling something at you but you can't hear him over your thumping heartbeat. You're going faster than ever before and yet you squeeze out more speed. This is life on the edge and it feels good! But then the unthinkable happens...

Your best friend Mario passes you like you're standing still. All you can see is the swagger of his hindquarters as he takes off like a rocket into the distance, seat whipping from side to side. He just ate you for breakfast and won the sprint.

We're here to help you beat Mario.



Sprinting is all about delivering maximum power output for a short period of time. Although sprinting might seem like a short-lived skill to have, you have to realize that the ability to sprint can be morphed into different forms of power delivery. For example, being able to sprint will mean that you can generally also accelerate well - so if you ever need to ride across a gap in the peloton you can get it done more quickly. If you encounter a short, steep climb the power used in sprinting can now also haul you over the pinch more efficiently and faster too!

Some sprints are long and others leave you barely enough time to decide when to go for it... But the key element to any sprint is acceleration. Whether it be from a standing start or a 30 mile per hour leadout sprinting is about going fast - and then accelerating to go even faster! That is how a sprint is won.



To beat Mario, you'll need to do things that Mario doesn't do while he trains. Maybe he's too lazy, or he didn't read this article - because there are plenty of ways to improve your sprint without even sprinting. We'll get to the sprinting part later, but for now you need to increase your power output. 


Strength Efforts

Find a gradual hill of any length and ride up it with a pedalling speed of 60-70 rpm. Do this a few times and you'll start feeling the pain. Be very sure that this is muscular discomfort, and not pain within your knee joints. If you experience structural pain, stop immediately or ride a higher cadence of around 75 rpm. Here's a program line to get you started:

Work Out: 4 x 5min Strength Effort @ 65 rpm seated


Build on this method, and make your strength efforts longer, spanning up to 10 minutes. Soon you'll be building up to do a 2 hour road ride, with 4 x 10min Strength Effort @ 60 rpm.


Strength Effort Accelerations

Once you've done a few rides with Strength Efforts, you could start to include some SEA (Strength Effort Accelerations) into your rides. While you're performing a strength effort, begin to accelerate from 60 rpm up to around 90 rpm in the same hellish gear. Make your acceleration smooth and controlled - no jerking and yanking on the pedals. Try the following for size:





3 x 5 min Strength Effort @ 60 rpm with 30 second SEA at end


Meeting Gym

Popping in at your local gym is a great way to build your strength. The best part is, you're very unlikely to see any other cyclists there, especially Mario. Consult a personal trainer or gym instructor and discuss your goals with them. No doubt they'll have you pumping out some squats and lunges in no time. This is a great way to build your power but also an opportunity for you to include some other work such as Core and Stability classes.


Sprint Drills

After having done around 3 - 4 weeks of training that include the above, it's now time to actually work on that sprint! Ensure your sprint locations are safe and devoid of other cyclists or cars. While you're out riding you can do the following:

5 x sprint with 3min leadup - 4 min rest between sprints.


What this means is that you'll be doing 5 sprints, but you'll begin increasing your intensity for the 3 minutes leading up to the sprint. When you sprint, make sure you're in a gear you can manage - remember, it's about acceleration! Do this a few times a week, and you'll notice an improvement in your sprint as well as your technique.



Road Bike Sprint Finish

Photo: BBC

So you've been working away at your strength training, and it's time to prepare for the rematch with Mario. It's been about 6 weeks of hard work, and you're about to show Mario what disappointment tastes like!

As you ride towards your imaginary finish line ensure you are in a gear that allows you to accelerate, as well as not run out of gears. If you need to change gears do so before you sprint (changing while sprinting can be risky, as your gears might slip)

Try sitting behind Mario for a change, instead of in front of him. The added drafting effect will allow you to deliver your killer blow with more power. As your finish line gets closer get ready to jump past Mario and go for gold. You can do this in two ways, depending on your preferences:

  • BE SMART. Wait for Mario to accelerate, and then draft off him before 'jumping' him for the line within the last 50 metres.
  • BE A HERO. Catch Mario off guard, and go early! There are more brownie points for doing this, as the risk of falling short are much greater. The greater the distance until the finish, the greater the reward in winning!

Be safe out there, and remember to ride with etiquette. Not all bunch riders want to sprint, so don't risk looking like a goose by taking off down the road, only to realize that you're the only one sprinting! Lastly, never sprint on a road with side streets. Cars struggle to judge your speed as it is. By doubling your speed, you're also doubling your stopping time - be smart and ride safe!

And when you do beat Mario, be courteous and shout him a coffee.



Gopr2706Author: Joey Esterhuyzen
Joey has been racing bikes since he was a kid. He never grew old because of this, and still pops up on the race cards now and again near the pointy end... Joey loves nothing more than a solo road ride in the hills, or a fast and flowing MTB trail session... "Who says you can't whip an XC hardtail?!"

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