Welcome to our new ProTip series where we ask elite and professional cyclists for their very best cycling tips and advice. Today we’ve asked 2014 U23 U.S. Criterium National Champion and fierce sprinter James LaBerge for his Top 5 tips to winning a sprint. The former Achieve athlete and pro cyclist has several wise insights into the world of sprinting.
In James’ words, 95 percent of the time a race will come down to a sprint, so knowing how to sprint and having the skills and tactics down is very important. You’ve got to practice!
Positioning doesn’t just pertain to the last couple of laps or miles of a race, but is crucial throughout the entire race from the beginning. You can be the strongest sprinter in the field but if you don’t know ahead of time that there is a cross wind or a climb coming up you might not be able to make it to the finish with the lead group or even race for the win.
Having a team behind you and willing to work for you is probably your biggest asset when it comes down to a sprint. Having as little as 2 or 3 of you (including yourself) can make for a strong half-lap leadout in your race. Without teammates, you’ll have to “burn matches” or waste precious energy just to get to the sprint in a position to win.
Another very important way to win a race is timing it to perfection. You’ve seen in the Tour de France that a race comes down to a bike throw and even then, it’s just centimeters between the winner and second place! If you have a head wind coming into the finish, you might want to wait until the last second to poke out into the wind and pass for the victory because the longer you are in the wind, it will slow you down dramatically in the closing meters of the race.
4) Know yourself and your Sprint
This is probably one of the most underrated aspects of sprinting. You might have a good bunch gallop kick but there are different kinds of sprints out there and each of them work in certain situations. For example, if you can keep a sprint going for a good 20 to 30 seconds all out, then you might be either better off as a leadout man for your sprinter (who has a really quick turn of speed) or start sprinting from about 300 meters out from the finish which is usually a long way out, but for you that might be your best option to try to win a race, rather than waiting until 200 meters and losing 5 spots in the actual sprint. Knowing what you’re capable of and what kind of sprint you have can easily determine the winner of the race.
5) Know your Competitors
By knowing who you’re up against, you might feel it’s better off to have your teammates help you stay behind the sprinter of another team or come around them with your own lead out during that last lap of the race. Or if there’s an outright better sprinter than you in the race (climbers, TT guys), it would probably be in your best interest to at least try to break away without that sprinter so that you have a better shot at winning the sprint against the rest of the competition later on at the finish. I’ve personally had this happen to me in criterium and road races. It’s easier in road races to get rid of sprinters when you go up hill but you could drop sprinters from a breakaway too in a criterium by attacking them and making them really earn it to even make it to the finish with the possibility of sprinting.
Final Words of Wisdom:
As a sprinter myself, you have to believe in yourself and give it your best shot. Even if others doubt you, you can surprise them and yourself with great results that might include a win! Keep pushing on those pedals to the line and anything can happen. Remember: practice, practice, practice!
James LaBerge is the 2014 USA U23 National Criterium Champion and raced professionally for Champion System-Stan’s NoTubes in 2015. He currently rides for Team Mike’s Bikes-Equator.