This post is for the recreational cyclist, the average Joe or Jane with a day job who simply likes to ride a bike fast…
Do you see everyone jostling for position coming into the last two miles of the club ride just to watch them hammer by you to sprint for the finish? Would you like to finish first? Read on because I’ve got a fool-proof way to help you make it so.
First, the final sprint requires different training than what’s required to hang on for the first 30 or 40 miles. Let’s work backward from the finish for a second… The final sprint requires a lot of strategy leading up to picking the right time to roll out, sustaining the speed generated by your initial move and holding or building on that to the finish. I’ve written before about how I train to climb better and faster than the people I normally ride with and it’s pretty simple… Most people look at hills as a time to slow down and slog it out to the top. When I was running, the guys who brought me along and showed me the ropes taught me to attack the hills – to maintain my normal pace up the hills and let gravity help me to sustain that pace and rest at the same time on the way down. I simply took that same concept and applied it to cycling. Two or three days a week, on my harder training rides, I attack the hills on the way up and use gravity to maintain that speed (or even increase it) while resting on the way down. Now, you may be wondering how this can possibly help with a sprint finish on flat ground and the answer is pretty simple: Sprinting is all about mad, intense, raw power and acceleration over a short period of time. By attacking the hills on training rides and maintaining or increasing your speed up hills you’re actually practicing your sprint every time you ride up a hill – you’re developing the muscles needed to smoke the others and the ability to use them whenever you want. You’re also developing the respiratory system, training it to sprint – and if you’re lucky, you’re doing it a few times every training ride with increased resistance. Over time, sprinting becomes less of a challenge.
Next up is the strategy. Depending on how big the group is, ours is usually between 3 and 8 cyclists, you have to time your final pulls up front right so you’ve got time to recover before the big push. I like to spend at least two to three minutes at the back which is just enough time to start getting antsy to roll out… I think of it like being a Black Lab on a family trip to the family cottage on the lake. If you don’t know what this is like, a Lab that’s about to hit the water will smell the house, even in the car, about two miles before you ever see the driveway. He/She will start getting antsy, start roiling about the back of the vehicle, sniffing… He/She will become animated. That’s where you want to be two miles from the finish – at the front, pulling and just about ready to drop back to recover. Between 2 miles to go you want to drop back – if it’s a small group, 3-5 cyclists, head all the way to the back to take advantage of as much draft as you can. With a larger group, 10-20 or more, you’ll have to be careful with how far back you choose to drop – too far back and it’ll be too much ground to make up.
With a mile to go you should be back to square again with your breathing and you should feel recharged. Now is the time to get fired up. Do your best to start breathing deeply, from your diaphragm – you want all of the good air in that you can get and you want to exhale fully too (to get rid of all of the bad). With a half-mile to go you should be just about ready to pedal out of your shoes. Going back to that Black Lab, you’ve arrived at the cottage and let the dog out of the car… You want to feel like the group is going to slow, that you’re on a leash and they’re holding you back from a long-awaited dip in the lake… With a quarter-mile to go you should be about fit to be tied if you can’t let loose soon. An 1/8th of a mile is where you make your move. A quick glance over your shoulder to make sure you’re clear, up shift once or twice and go. At this point it’s all elementary. You either have it or you don’t – you’ve only got about 15-20 seconds left so give it everything you’ve got.
This is where all of that hill work pays off. See, because you’ve been sprinting up hill, not just interval training, you’ve developed some incredible power. You won’t be able to sustain it for very long but all of those other people who struggle up hills won’t be able to match you. Well, you might get smoked from time to time by someone who’s tired of you beating them, but that’s racing, baby.