Going fast is what attracts many people to cycling with the feeling of speed being addictive. Tour de France sprinters are a unique type of rider and they not only possess tremendous speed but are also willing to take some big risks. But, what can you learn from the sprinters at the Tour de France about how to get really fast and how to set up your bike for pure speed?
Pic above: Zac Williams SWpix.com
Sprinters are capable of generating explosive speed over short distances but having the best sprint at the end of a road race is about more than just having the highest peak power.
Tour de France sprinters must also have the endurance to climb the high mountains and complete every stage if they want to be in with a chance of winning on the Champs-Élysées.
Your bike setup, positioning and tactics all have a part to play so here are 10 top tips to sprint like a pro and get you the win at that next town sign sprint.
First and foremost, to be able to unleash the best sprint you can you're going to need to trust your drivetrain. A drivetrain that's in good working order should shift seamlessly with silky-smooth pedalling.
However, this isn't always the case because your chainrings, cassette and chain can all wear which leads to poor shifting and lost efficiency. If you find your chain skipping a gear this could also be because your gears aren't indexed properly.
You need to be able to trust your drivetrain fully so that when you decide to put the power down, you can 100% go for it.
Even the pros sometimes have problems. On Stage 7 of this year's Tour de France, Mark Cavendish reported that he had a problem with his gears while sprinting, eventually finishing second to Jasper Philipsen.
After ensuring your gears are working properly, you're going to want to choose the right gear for the job. When you're coming into the final few hundred metres of a road race you'll often hear people changing down their gears which is a good indication they could be about to launch something.
Sometimes it's better to choose a gear sooner rather than later so that you have time to react and can start putting the power down as soon as possible. The gear you choose should have enough resistance in the drivetrain to allow for the burst but you will likely have to shift down the cassette once you get on top of the gear.
Many recreational riders will have a 50x11 or 52x11 as their largest gear ratio, (it'll depend on the brand of groupset used as well as the individual's preference) but the pros these days normally ride with a 54-tooth outer chainring with the sprinters often going for something even larger.
Wind conditions can significantly affect sprinting performance, and adapting accordingly is vital. Sprinters at the Tour de France will employ strategies to navigate windy conditions during sprints and are fortunate in that they often have a team around them who they can draft.
If, like most of us, you don't have a team around you, you'll need to decide where the wind is coming from before you start your sprint. If there's a headwind you should leave your sprint late and if there's a tailwind you can risk going earlier.
Jasper Philipsen has been powering to stage victories at this year's Tour de France, but this wouldn't have been possible without his lead-out man Mathieu van der Poel.
Speaking of lead-outs, getting yourself a sprint train is a great way to go faster. Rope in a few friends and set them to the task. They might not be too keen at first, but you can usually bribe them with cake.
Doing some lead-outs with friends is great fun with each person’s turn getting shorter and faster until you finish it off with a glorious dash to a random sign on the edge of town.
Switching to deeper wheels isn't always necessary but Tour de France sprints happen at speeds of over 60km/h so aerodynamics are exponentially more important and the margins of victory are small.
If you take a look at a photo finish image from a sprint stage, you’re unlikely to see any wheels under 40mm deep in the top 10.
Using deeper wheels can be more aero, making it easier to hold onto speed. Deep wheels can also be far stiffer than shallower-section wheels, and that comes in handy when bikes are getting thrown around in a sprint finish.
The easiest way to make yourself faster and bring up your speed is to get more of yourself out of the wind. The most aero bike on the planet isn't going to help a great deal if your body – which is responsible for the vast majority of drag – is acting like a giant sail to hold you back.
Sprinters often have long and low front-end setups that allow them to get head low when going for the line. Mark Cavendish (who has crashed out of the Tour this year) has a lower peak power than some of his sprint rivals, but he is able to tuck himself down very low to reduce resistance.
Be careful with going low. You might be far faster for 100m, but throwing your back out just to reach the drops won't do you any good. If you are moving your position, take things slowly with incremental changes.
Many riders have rituals and something you see many sprinters doing is turning the dials on their shoes a few clicks before a big sprint.
This isn't necessarily the most comfortable for a full day in the saddle, but a more secure shoe is favoured at higher power outputs.
Grippy bar tape provides a secure and firm hold on the handlebars, improving the control and handling of the bike which is essential for Tour de France sprinters when they're manoeuvring through non-existent gaps at high speeds.
A stable grip on the handlebars also facilitates efficient power transfer and so grippy bar tape allows you to exert force without worrying about your hands slipping.
You can also do efforts on and off the bike to increase your peak power. On the bike, work can consist of a mix of high-speed sprints with a fast cadence and standing starts where you power a big gear up from almost stationary to top speed. Throw in a few sprints for town signs and you've got yourself a basic training session.
Off the bike, you can head to the gym to pump some iron. You can walk past all the big boys doing bicep curls and head straight for the squat rack and leg press machines.
Seeing as most of us are rather useless at lifting weights, you'll want to work on technique first to avoid injury before building the weight slowly.
A sprint can come down to millimetres so it might seem crazy to hear that leaving a gap between you and the rider in front could be exactly what you need to win a sprint.
Whilst there's a time and a place for sitting tight on the wheel in front to hide from the wind, there are also times when it's good to leave a gap, often referred to as 'rushing the gap' or 'a slingshot'.
A gap between you and the person in front gives you the opportunity to launch your sprint while still in their draft and by the time you need to come out of the wind to go past them, you will have reached a far greater speed and likely be moving too fast to be caught.
Which tips will you be using to help you win your next town sign sprint? Let us know in the comments section below...