🚀 New Knowledge Episode - Why Winning Sprints Takes (much) more than Sprinting 🚀

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Why Winning Sprints Takes (much) more than Sprinting

You don’t have to be the most powerful to be the best sprinter. Here’s why.

There’s more to winning field sprints than having incredible peak power numbers. Neal and Jeff break down the skills, power, and speed to be a great sprinter, from understanding the demands of the course, positioning in the pack, how to ride climbs and descents, managing your team’s effort and why five-minute power (MAP) matters so much to get into the best position for victory. Enjoy it! It’s Nice!


Are the transcripts gone? I prefer to read these sessions…

Hello TrapMeSuf

I have fallen behind on the transcripts. I just updated the episode and they are now available. Attaching them here for you as well! Thanks, and enjoy! READ HERE: Neal 0:00
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Knowledge Podcast by Wahoo. I am Neal Henderson and I am Jeff Hoobler.

Jeff Hoobler 0:06
And today we’re going to talk about sprinting and more specifically, why five-second peak power is not the best determinant of A sprint finish or placing in pro cycling.

Neal 0:16
Hmm, Jeff, I thought five seconds sprint was everything about sprinting?

Jeff Hoobler 0:20
Well, there are a lot of factors, Neil, as you know, but let’s talk about why this might be.

Neal 0:25
Alright. Well, there are a few things I guess we will discuss. I mean, five-second power is somewhat important, but it is by no stretch, the be-all end-all couple of things we’re going to talk about his age just gotta get to the finish to even contest a sprint. We’re also going to talk about your location and or position going into a sprint as an important factor. Why are we doing

Jeff Hoobler 0:46
real estate here?

Neal 0:48
Location, location, location, location, location, location, how to sell it, if you want to buy it, okay, or something like that. Also going to talk that actually, sprints aren’t five or 10 seconds long at the elite level, they are like 20 to 30 seconds. So you’ve got to sprint a whole lot longer than just that short little bit. Also, talk about repeatability. I mean, a few things associated with that. So let’s go ahead and get started. Back at that beginning, the first thing is that you’ve got to get to the finish in order to be able to sprint.

Jeff Hoobler 1:18
Yeah. And as we know, cycling is an endurance sport, you know,

Neal 1:24
endurance, that means they’re just riding at 55 to 75% of FTP,

Jeff Hoobler 1:29
just cruising along the whole day. Not really doing much. That’s

Neal 1:32
pretty much what happens, right? No, I

Jeff Hoobler 1:34
don’t think so. I think most of us have seen some pretty eventful stages that right from the gun, there are breaks forming and counter attacks and etc. And that takes some juice.

Neal 1:46
Yeah, definitely. So even in stages that end up in a field sprint or a mass start finish. It’s not a steady ride, beginning no matter what, there’s always going to be some level of attacks, people trying to establish a breakaway. And in some cases, that initial attack again, it’s not one and done. It’s not like, Oh, they’re gone. And that’s it, it can be literally over an hour of the attack, counted attack, going in speeds in excess of 50k an hour for that first hour, just with that kind of effort is absolutely immense.

Jeff Hoobler 2:19
Yeah. And every time you do one of those attacks, obviously, we’re dipping into that anaerobic capacity, we’re going to have a little bit more fatigue build-up. And so those things accumulate, just establishing the break as well as throughout the stage.

Neal 2:33
Yep, absolutely. And so there’s a huge amount of energy expended in both responding to those surges, even if you’re trying to sit in the middle of the group and not be an aggressor or be the one chasing down. There’s still that on-off nature, that heavy effort that you have to just match and hold the wheel. And that is something that can play a factor in the finish. Ultimately, if you’ve done too much work and really overspent some of your energy there

Jeff Hoobler 2:59
stages that are designated as sprint stages. These sprinters generally aren’t up the road trying to do those attacks, because they know they can’t do that over and over and still finish at the front.

Neal 3:11
Yep, for the most part. For the most, There are occasional exceptions to every rule. Right? But

Jeff Hoobler 3:16
you can’t you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Yeah, and then eat it again. And then

Neal 3:22
eat everyone else’s cake and eat. Part right eats their lunch before you eat your own. I think it’s an old quote. Yeah. So

Jeff Hoobler 3:29
what else are we talking about here? Like different course and profile demands?

Neal 3:34
Yeah. So the course itself, the wind situation on the day, where the wind is coming from? Are there going to be crosswinds? Are there going to be echelons forming? Are there going to be teams trying to catch out writers who aren’t towards the front? If you have a strong classics team with a bunch of writers who can just drill it in the wind and put things in the gutter that can make an absolute pancake flat course be incredibly difficult to maintain in that beat group.

Jeff Hoobler 4:00
And what you’re getting at is, again, more energy spent. Yep, not exactly

Neal 4:04
right, exactly. The other thing that is the profile, of course, there are some flatter transition stages that tend to be sprint finishes. But there are also a lot of stages with some climbs, whether they happen a little bit earlier in the race, or later in the race that tends to be maybe shorter, it’s not going to be an H C climb that typically is going to end and then a sprint finish. But you might have category three, four, or even sometimes a cat to climb and of course, that does end up in a sprint finish. And so the energy is required to stay with the group you can’t just fake it you know up the climb. You got to do the work

Jeff Hoobler 4:38
and having teammates I mean, obviously, we’re talking about saving energy and using other people’s energy to help you get to that finish. As I said, You gotta be you gotta get to the finish in order

Neal 4:52
to just quickly I remember hearing Davis Finney talk about he would do a little bit more of a slip slide on some of the climbs or go with his team to the front and then fan be fading through that peloton as the decline is going up and being able to again stay with the group but also expend a little bit less energy. Even though he wasn’t a climber per se, that was not his forte, he was able to manage his energy expenditure and still stay with the group and do it that way. If you just kind of start in the middle of the back, you’ve got less room to slide. If you have a really strong team around you, which we’ve seen in cases, you might have a sprinter that does get dropped. But then they’ve got riders that will bring it back, potentially a little bit on the descent, and then on the flats leading into the finish. And there are a lot of different ways to get done, though.

Jeff Hoobler 5:35
It’s interesting. Sprinters tend to be really good bike handlers. And that is another place that they can pick up time.

Neal 5:44
Definitely on the ascending like absolute maniacs, and just again, skilled riders able to ride faster than everyone else, and be able to chase back into it on descent is again a skill set that most sprinters have to deploy.

Jeff Hoobler 5:59
So moving on, let’s pick up another piece of this and talk about intermediate sprints.

Neal 6:05
Yeah, sprinters, there’s a green jersey, say at the Tour de France, and that green jersey is awarded to the rider with the greatest amount of points. It’s not a sprinters jersey, it’s the points leader jersey. And so with that, the points are awarded based on intermediate sprints. During each of the stages, pretty much every stage maybe minus a time trial is going to have an intermediate sprint with some lesser number of points. And then at the finish, and again, differently finishes Yeah, like what’s expected to be a bunch of field sprint finish has much higher points on offer than the number of points for a mountain top finish or a really big climbing stage.

Jeff Hoobler 6:46
So are you saying that if sprinter is not just targeting stage wins or sprint finishes, but the green jersey, they might change their approach?

Neal 6:57
Absolutely. So it’s a little bit of a tactical battle that they can wage and look at where the points are the greatest getting into a breakaway stage potentially and sprinting out of a small group might give them a decent amount of points rather than really going up against all the best sprinters on a mass, you know, field sprint day, or going out on attacks and getting some of those intermediate sprints and just having a reasonable finish and not really winning stages can put you in, in the potential to be in the leader’s jersey for that sprint competition, the points competition, a few different ways of getting it done. So you have different types of riders trying to exploit different skill sets and abilities.

Jeff Hoobler 7:36
Right, so that drain Jersey holder might not be the best sprinter. Yep, they might

Neal 7:40
not win the most ages, though. In some cases, they do some cases that the points are the best. They’re in those fields sprints so it can work out with that in mind, though, there is the repeatability of Sprint capacity that is important for those kinds of riders that it’s not just that one effort at the finish, again, we talked about at the start with a lot of attacks going there’s a lot of energy expended, you may be doing a full sprint effort in an intermediate sprint, and then you have potentially the finish line sprint. And so you’ve got a lot of different times that you’re putting out some big effort,

Jeff Hoobler 8:12
right, put that big effort and then put your battery back on recharge.

Neal 8:16
Exactly. So moving into the next thing, that location. So again, maybe not exactly real estate, but kinda like real estate, you’ve got to be in a decent position going into a sprint to have an opportunity to have a chance.

Jeff Hoobler 8:31
Yeah, absolutely. You could be the fastest person out there. But if you’re starting 1520 wheels back, it’s not going to tell you much good. Yeah,

Neal 8:38
I’ve sprinted for like 30 Yes, before myself and races right, I dropped in the first 20 Summer up the road. And I’m down to a small little group of people way back and, you know, I sprint but it’s not for the wind anymore. Right? much lesser value.

Jeff Hoobler 8:50
But with that location, it’s going to really depend on whether Are you a freelancer? Or do you have a lead-out train that’s dedicated to getting you to the line, that’s going to have a huge impact on the amount of energy that you have to spend before you get to the line?

Neal 9:05
Definitely, I would say I’ve seen different kinds of teams set up that some will have a really well-drilled train, they may have multiple riders, four or five riders committed to trying to deliver their sprinter to the line in the best position in the last 150 200 meters. You’ll have other teams where they might have other ambitions in the race or they might not have enough riders to be able to help deliver the Sprinter with a good lead out and so some riders also even just prefer to kind of freelance it and serve wheels and make good decisions because a good plan for a team is a starting point. It’s been able to adjust on the fly because situationally so many things change

Jeff Hoobler 9:46
road furniture, wind, roundabout, Till’s somebody

Neal 9:50
counter attacking 2k Out 1k Out All of those things, how do you manage those kinds of things? is a big part of that success and where are your URL plays a really big part of whether you have the opportunity of contesting that sprint.

Jeff Hoobler 10:05
You know, if we, if you think back to some of these really well planned out lead-outs and sprint finishes, you know, you might see two or three teams at the front with their whole lead-out trains, and then just might start 10k out, it might even start before that, to just stay up there, keep that position and try to keep people out of trouble what’s going on there with the revenue it up so early.

Neal 10:28
Yeah, some of it is trying to prevent others from being able to move up. So if you have strong enough riders who can just keep that pace high, somebody who’s a little bit out of position is 20, or 30. wheels back, they have less opportunity to move up. That’s a big part of it. Sometimes you’re having to bring in a real in a breakaway, that’s been away, it’s kind of close, but you still got to get the job done and got to reel them in. The other thing that is like how you line up your final few riders, if you do have kind of what would be a more typical train, you will typically have somebody who you know, especially a good way to think about this. And like amateur racing, if you have kind of to lead out riders in front of your designated sprinter, and one who kind of sits on the wheel who’s a sweeper, there’s a few things you can do right with that first lead out person, they are probably going from like around one kg out to somewhere around 500 meters to the finish line. And they’re lifting that pace. They’re seated, but they’re arrow and they’re just lifting, lifting, lifting. And then the final lead out for your sprinter is going to take over from that 500 to somewhere around 200 meters plus or minus depending on the finish where that rider is actually sprinting at their almost full out effort, some cases in the saddle sometimes out of the saddle for the last little bit and delivering that sprinter with their final opportunity. A sweeper, on the back, Jeff is going to do why would you have somebody behind your designated sprinter?

Jeff Hoobler 11:46
Well, a couple of reasons. One is going to keep people off that sprinter’s wheel, you want to get a

Neal 11:51
little separation. So when your sprinter launches their sprint,

Jeff Hoobler 11:55
they’re gonna sit up a little bit, see if they can create just a little bit of gap, make somebody else go around if they’re gonna try to close it.

Neal 12:03
And they also have the chance if there’s another rider from a different team who starts to overtake your spinner. Well, then if you’re able to slot on the wheel of that overtaking rider, then again, you may help your team out and be able to pick that overtaking rider potentially.

Jeff Hoobler 12:18
Right. And like you said, it depends on how many people you have on this train. And you know how many people are left at the finish, you know, it might just be one person. And then you just got to do the best you can. But ultimately, what you’re saying is to keep that speed high, so that the Sprinter doesn’t have to make a bunch of different speed changes and accelerations that are going to cost at the end.

Neal 12:42
Exactly. Because the amount of power that it requires to go fast is high to go faster than those who are ahead of you takes even more power to accelerate to jump ahead. All of those things would just be energy spent that you might not then have available at the finish. So another big part that bike handling is your skill set, these riders are very skilled,

Jeff Hoobler 13:05
and doing it at 60k plus per hour is a whole different ballgame, then you’re doing it in the parking

Neal 13:12
lot. Yeah, doing it at 20 miles an hour. Okay, doing it at 35 plus, is immensely different.

Jeff Hoobler 13:20
Yeah. So reading people around you micro-adjusting to stay in the draft, anticipating, you know, people that are coming up next, you getting those elbows out so that you’re not going to get your wheel taken out. I mean, pull all of

Neal 13:35
those things are for sure. So let’s move into the next thing about how long are they spinning. Really like what’s going on in that way? ballpark? You know, how long do you think you see most sprint finishes last Jeff?

Jeff Hoobler 13:47
So we’re probably looking at about 20 to 30 seconds for the actual sprint finish.

Neal 13:53
Yep. And then some of this is just a little bit of physics. So we use that 60k an hour.

Jeff Hoobler 13:59
But before you go there, we’ve been going fast for a long time. So

Neal 14:03
we’ve been going 5055 into that 60k So we’re

Jeff Hoobler 14:07
not even in a sprint, yeah, we’re

Neal 14:10
the heavy, heavy effort, for sure. So that energy being spent up to that point is like your VO two MAX type of Max aerobic power in those last 5434 or five minutes before that final sprint. So it’s a heavy, heavy effort, heavy, heavy

Jeff Hoobler 14:23
effort. So take us back to that, that last 20 to 30 seconds. Yeah. So

Neal 14:28
at this point, generally, the riders are already going pretty close to 60k an hour. And to cover 250 meters at that speed. It only takes a little under 15 seconds, maybe 14 and a half seconds. And the power required if you’re just kind of an average sprint-size rider so you’re not a 60-kilo mountain climber more like probably a 75 kilo rider 180 centimeters, it’s going to require about 800 Watts just to hold 60k an hour. But again, if you want to when you’re not holding this speed that you’re delivered at the front, you’re actually accelerating a little bit. So that makes this effort become closer to 800 900 1100 1200 average watts for those final 20 to 30 seconds is that all, that’s all just just a peak of about 12 to 1500 Watts, which, again, sounds immense. Keep in mind there 746 Watts and horsepower. So at 1400 92 Watts, you’re doing two horsepower. So these kind of beasty sprinters are coming in, you know, with a peak of a little over two horsepower and holding over a horsepower for those final 20 to 30 seconds. But if they did a pure sprint, when they were rested, most of them have a peak power of 1600 over 2000 Watts, right,

Jeff Hoobler 15:44
which is why it’s so critical throughout the rest of the day, manage to manage that energy usage, right?

Neal 15:50
can’t spend what you don’t save Jeff,

Jeff Hoobler 15:52
he can’t, nope.

Neal 15:54
What about a credit card doesn’t work. Not in this not physiologically speaking, okay? For the women, it’s not drastically different, it’s a little bit less, you know, 20 25% Navy on some of those values. So we’re still talking about these women are coming in holding 600 700 800 Plus watts for those 2030 seconds with a peak of typically over 1000 watts. I know. Even our team pursuit riders, you know, from our 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams, all of them could hit over 1000 Watts, on Sprint efforts, and they were Team Pursuit forming that effort, which again, like we talked about in that final lead up to the sprint is you have to have that aerobic capacity, that maximum aerobic power to even be there to launch that final sprint.

Jeff Hoobler 16:37
So let me ask you, this are these grand tour sprinters the best sprinters power,

Neal 16:43
they’re the best endurance sprinters. But if you’re talking pure sprint power, you gotta look to BMX riders really as the actually the highest and track riders not far behind. For a BMX rider. They had just literally a handful of pedal strokes and a handful of seconds to get up to maximum speed. They are hitting 2425 2600 watt peak power in those first few pedal strokes. That is huge. Absolutely immense. That’s higher than your track riders that are you know, still 2223 2400 watts.

Jeff Hoobler 17:18
So we’re talking four horses.

Neal 17:20
Yeah. Isn’t that crazy? One of their legs is more powerful than both of most of our legs. It is wild. And so but they

Jeff Hoobler 17:29
don’t have to ride a horse to forge

Neal 17:32
for doing Yeah, so BMX, different track as well, a little bit different in that demand. And that’s the cool thing about these endurance riders, they have to be able to still hold somewhere for the men in the four and a half to five watts per kilo for those long climbs. 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 50 minutes, 60 minutes, in some cases, at that level, and to be able to a get to the finish in the time cut. Because if you don’t make the time cut, you get to go home, race is over for you. You get to go home, you get to go home, and most will fight tooth and nail to avoid being eliminated because they want to have that opportunity. Especially like Tour de France. I mean for the men, they finish on the shoulders, it leaves a so let me

Jeff Hoobler 18:11
ask you one out of left field here. What about the cyclocross riders that are on the tour? Now, sprinters

Neal 18:17
I mean, you’re talking about Mary on the bus. Yeah, exactly. Well, geez, they’ve had some pretty good success, transferring that repeatable on off anaerobic capacity, power, that speed that race, did you know duration is basically an hour unless for the most part and cross and are having great success in these four or five hour one day classics as well as Grand Tours for that reason of, it’s not just a steady state endurance competition of just grinding people off your wheel. A lot more of these attacks, counter attacks, that anaerobic capacity requirement for success now that we’re seeing,

Jeff Hoobler 18:58
so you’d need to do more than just sprint and just ride it FTP.

Neal 19:02
Exactly. I mean, you got to do you got to do a little bit of everything. To be at the front even to be a sprinter. You got to have endurance. And to be a GC rider, you also have to have some sprint capability.

Jeff Hoobler 19:14
So let’s talk about how many times or when you might actually hit your peak power, is it only in the last sprint?

Neal 19:24
Interestingly, I’ve worked with some sprinters in the past and analyzed quite a lot of files of races that they’ve won other races that they’re in the Knicks and sprinters very, very rarely hit their peak power in the finishing sprint. It’s way off and happening elsewhere in the race. Maybe not even those intermediate sprints, though, I’d say fairly common to see in an intermediate sprint, some of the higher peak power, it’s earlier in the race, fresh, fresher, that kind of thing. But often it’s just a positioning, often in the last five minutes at that peak power to maintain mean, where they are or to try to gain position to be there potentially to be in the mix for the final sprint is where you see peak power, not in that last 1015 20 seconds. So it’s really interesting how that occurs. And again, you have to be able to train to repeatedly hit those high high efforts and be able to do them, especially when you’re fatigued if you’re gonna have success.

Jeff Hoobler 20:23
Yeah, absolutely. So like you’re saying, if you’re hitting it in the intermediate sprint, you’re, you’re coming in fresh, and usually there’s not a big lead out to that there might be, you know, 500 meters, maybe even a K and some conditions, but you’re not draining your battery before you even get to learn.

Neal 20:41
Yep, you’re trying to maintain it as best you can to dip that final bit in that last couple 100 meters. I mean, here’s a fun fact. Five minute power and Max aerobic power is actually pretty high for a lot of sprinters. You’ve heard of a guy named Mark Cavendish? Yeah,

Jeff Hoobler 20:57
I think I’ve heard that name. Yeah. And

Neal 20:58
what do you think, you know, he’s pretty much pegged as a sprinter right?

Jeff Hoobler 21:02
I think he’s probably would be classified as Premier. Yeah. What if I

Neal 21:05
told you that he actually set the British the UK for K individual pursuit, national record at the 2016 Olympic Games and a 4k individual pursuit and an Omnium? And what kind of power are we talking about their max aerobic power max over there for just over four minutes and change. He actually beat Bradley Wiggins time, he was the fastest UK rider at that point, I think there may have been one or two that have gone a little faster than him at this point. But you have to have a multitude of skill sets, Mark even once in prologues combination of that kind of power, that accelerating out of quarters, especially in a technical thing, great bike handling abilities. And so a lot of times, sprinters are also great in team time trials, too, because they can take those heavy pools really high power, they can recover on the wheel, they’ve got great ability to pilot the bike well, and to work with the team. And it’s pretty wild to see that a sprinter again, is not just a uni dimensional one hit wonder.

Jeff Hoobler 22:08
Yeah, it’s amazing the the multitude of talents and skills that have to come together for somebody to be a really good sprinter. And to do it over and over again. It’s not a one offer.

Neal 22:21
Nope, definitely. So it’s pretty cool. When you watch a sprinter, what different type of capabilities and abilities they have. And, you know, they may not show it all the time in different areas, because they’re trying to save it in certain cases. But when they put it on display, it’s pretty impressive.

Jeff Hoobler 22:35
So with all that being said, you need a bucket of skills, power and speed to win a sprint stage in a professional bike race. And you have to do it after riding for many hours, and many days and even weeks.

Neal 22:50
Yep, all of those things. And sometimes just a little bit of luck will also help. I’ll take that to the bank every time little luck.

Jeff Hoobler 22:57
So going back, it’s not your five second power.

Neal 23:00
Nope. Nice to have. But it is not the predictor, Jeff. Gotta throw in all these other things. So remember, number one, you got to get to the finish. So you got to do a lot of work to get there in in the front group, you have to have your position in that location going into the final sprint, it’s not going to be a short little 510 second effort. You got at least 20/32 max effort with that preceding four or five 610 minutes mean really, really heavy. And you’ve got to be again capable of repeating and doing it after you’ve been out there for for hours, days or even weeks.

Jeff Hoobler 23:37
Yeah, so manage your energy, know where you are. Be in the right place, and be lucky. be lucky.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


@Eddie.RogersTKP This one was fascinating - really enjoyed it!

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