Updated on 15 July 2022: Going fast is what attracts many people to cycling with the feeling of speed being rather addictive. But what can we learn from the sprinters of the Tour de France about how to set up your bike for pure speed?
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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.
Sprinter often have long and low front-end setups that allow them to get head low when going for the line. Mark Cavendish (who, of course, isn't racing the Tour de France 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.
Bigger sprinters sometimes smashed the pedals harder but can't cheat the wind in the same way.
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For those of us without a massive peak power, this lesson from Cavendish – and other riders like Caleb Ewan – is a simple way to increase sprinting speed.
This technique requires a lot of practice and remember to keep looking forward instead of checking out the power numbers on your computer.
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.
Take a look at a photo finish image from a sprint stage and 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 sprinters are usually the larger, more powerful riders in the peloton and as a result, they often demand the stiffest components. Should you be more powerfully built than the average racing snake, don’t be afraid to prioritise stiffness over tiny weight savings.
Chunky carbon stems like the Pro Vibe Sprint on this Bora-Hansgrohe bike (above) from a previous year are still a fairly common sight on the bikes of larger riders, although more bikes now come with integrated cockpits that are designed specifically for that make and model. Stiff components upfront can help riders with arm muscles generate maximum power.
Riders used to have their spokes soldered where they crossed to make them as stiff as possible. Thankfully, wheel technology seems to have progressed to a point where this isn’t needed anymore.
While 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) the pros these days normally ride with a 54-tooth outer chainring with the sprinters often going for something even larger. If you want to hit 50mph when sprinting then you’ll need the gears to do it.
This might sound like a simple solution but pushing those gears is the hard bit and you may need a lead out to get you up to speed.
ASO Alex Broadway SWPix.com
Speaking of lead-outs, a great way to go faster is to get yourself a sprint train. 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.
If you've ever seen someone's bike and wondered what those little buttons that poke out of the bar tape are, you can rest your troubled mind. These are Sprinter Shifters on Shimano electronic groupsets and Blips on SRAM electronic groupsets.
You can get creative with their placement which is great for riders who struggle to reach the shifter buttons on normal levers. Sprinter shifters also allow the rider to maintain a full grip on the drops for maximum power in the sprint.
The last few years have seen an ever-increasing focus on the aero credentials of components, clothing and setup.
You might want to go over your bike, clothing, helmet and accessory choices and ask yourself if there is anything that isn’t quite cutting it on the aero front.
Particular attention can be paid to the handlebar, helmet, jersey and wheels.
While in years gone by we’d see jerseys and bib shorts being the norm for sprinters. Times have changed and it's all skinsuits now.
We have touched on training the skills used when sprinting, but 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.
If your name is Wout van Aert, you can disregard all of the above and just use raw talent to rip the legs off some of the best climbers to win the bunch sprint.
It's simple when you're really good at bike riding.