Sprinting is a vital skill for cyclists at all levels, but it's not as simple as it might seem. Winning bunch sprints and hitting top speeds on two wheels isn't all about pure power and your physical ability to turn the pedals quickly, it's also down to mastering things like positioning, timing and tactics.
Whether you're sprinting for a stage win on the Champs-Élysées or going shoulder to shoulder against your riding friends in the local town sign sprint, this guide is going to help you channel your inner Mark Cavendish and beat whatever competition you're up against…
Build your power
Before you can start learning all the tactical nuances about a bunch sprint, you need to be up there and in contention with the other sprinters. To do that you're going to need to lay down some big power numbers.
The best way to build your power is through specific sprint training sessions. These can include your classic interval sessions or even a couple of hours at the gym each week lifting weights. But for us, this power sprint session detailed below is one of the best for developing some explosive power, the kind that is going to help you win a bunch sprint:
Find a flat and relatively clear section of road
Get into a big gear and slow down until you're almost at a standstill
Count yourself down from five and then accelerate sharply
Try to hold your max speed for at least 20 seconds, or until you start to spin out
Then ease back, spin for five minutes and repeat.
Reading the race
Every sprint is different, the type of finish often dramatically affecting the tactics. But almost all sprints will require an understanding of positioning and, crucially, timing. Master these two aspects of a sprint and you'll be winning races in no time at all.
To get yourself in the best position for the sprint, you'll want to have studied the final kilometre of the race in great detail beforehand. Corners are decisive and you'll want to be on the inside line going through them, shortening the distance you have to ride. Be careful here however, take the inside line and you could get boxed in.
Secondly, you'll want to position yourself on the wheel of either a teammate or the fastest guy in the bunch. The next step is getting the timing right. It doesn't always have to be perfect, but if you miss the initial acceleration, you'll be left with a lot of ground to make up.
When the rider in front of you accelerates, try and match this speed and jump into the slipstream. If you can hold the speed comfortably, leave a small 2m gap between you and their wheel. This gives you a slipstream to accelerate into, allowing you to slingshot round the outside at some incredible speed.
If you're the one launching the sprint from the front, you don't want anyone in your wheel benefitting from the slipstream, so kick hard and fast to try and create a big gap. This is where the explosive sprint session detailed above comes in handy.
It can take years to master each individual aspect of a bunch sprint, but the more you practice and get involved in the final melee, the quicker you'll learn.
Optimising your bike
You're unlikely to win a bunch sprint on a hybrid town bike, nor a sportive road bike with relaxed geometry. You're going to need a bike that's incredibly aero, compact, lightweight and, most importantly, super-stiff.
At the Bike Factory we stock a wide range of sprint-specific road bikes, many of which are ridden by the sport's fastest sprinters. Specialized's S-Works Venge is one of the fastest bikes in the WorldTour at the moment, dominating sprint stages across the globe under the control of riders like Elia Viviani, Peter Sagan and Pascal Ackermann.