Sprinting – Secrets from the Pros


2013-milan-san-remo

This is how you do it.

Sprinting – you either have it, or you don’t… right?  We’ve all watched the great ones with amazement and disbelief: Zabel, Cipollini, Cavendish, Kelly, etc.  They seem like they were born to sprint.  In the modern era, we watch the overhead HD helicopter feed as the high-speed bullet train lines them up to launch for the line.  We see them squeeze through gaps the human eye can barely detect at 40+ mph, violently rocking back and forth for what seems like an eternity as we hold our breath…  We hear Phil or Paul saying things like “…Renshaw is putting the missile in the tube…”.  And then it’s over. They cast a casual glance over their shoulder as they cross the line alone, having zipped their jersey before the effort in the ultimate pro move to show respect for the sponsors.  Or they cross it in a psychotic tangle of bodies, looking like a pack of rabid wolves chasing an injured rabbit, launching their bikes at the line at the exact millisecond needed to stake their claim.  Then they raise their arms to some point between a crucifixion and a salute, which is oddly enough, probably a metaphor for both how they feel AND the way to see if someone is having a stroke.

So… how does a Masters Cat 3 like me with very little sprint knowledge or experience get better?  You ask the Pros.  So I did.

Dirk Friel, World-renowned coach, author and founder of Peaksware, (perhaps you’ve heard of Training Peaks or The Cyclist’s  Training Bible??) took a few moments out of his day to give me this advice:

“I’m no expert when it comes to coaching for sprinting.  The main thing I can say is I’ve found efficiency of movement is very important. Moving pedals fast is the #1 focus then you need to add force behind the pedaling speed. 

From what I’ve found sprinting more in training does help. There aren’t many short cuts to improvement. The #1 way to improve sprinting in my book is to get on the track where you are forced to learn how to pedal fast.”

He then went on to reference Wiggin’s stage win on last year’s Tour of Romandie as a classic example of the guy with the track legs being able to crush asphalt when it mattered most.

I’ve been wanting to get down to the Washington Park Velodrome in Kenosha for a couple of years, but haven’t made it enough of a priority.  Here’s a guy who has personally been responsible for training millions of elite athletes telling me to make that my TOP priority.  What excuse could I possibly come up with to NOT go this year?

Moving on.  Next up, Frankie Andreu.

If you’ve read anything about Lance in the past 5 years, you’ve seen the name Frankie (or his wife Betsy) pop up.  What sometimes gets lost in the story is how incredible Frankie was, having competed in the TdF 9 times.

Perhaps referencing my own hopes, I started by asking him who was good at sprinting that shouldn’t be.  Frankie shared the following with me:

“There is no mold for a sprinter.  I think of skinny guys when it comes to not being a good sprinter.  But it’s all down to the fitness and training and muscle fibers.  Alberto Contador comes to mind as a great climber but also a rider with a fast finish.  Taylor Phinney is tall and lean and yet he is very fast and powerful.  He isn’t just a sprinter but can do everything.  Cycling in a way is a jumble of athletic misfits, riders of all different shapes and sizes can excel in different areas.”

So you’re saying there’s a chance?  A guy like me, built more for hockey than cycling, can – with the right training, fitness and muscle fibers – at least get invited to the party.

  • Right training – check.  Work with a coach, or at least structure your training around your goals.
  • Fitness – check.  Lay off the beer, work hard in the gym in the off-season, on the bike in pre-season.
  • Muscle fibers… uh.. aren’t you born with or without a certain type?  More on that later.

Next I asked for his thoughts about “controversial or unconventional sprinters” (are you sensing a theme?):

“Not sure on this one.  Controversial are the ones that are super aggressive and do whatever they want even if it means crashing.  Some call this just being aggressive and confident but there is a line that can be crossed in going too far.  I consider (that) you cross the line if you push and pull with your hands, sling riders, or hit with your shoulders or head. This just becomes dangerous. You have to keep your hands to yourself.   This is where the natural talent and muscle fibers take over. It’s special to find someone like Cavendish, Kittel, Sagan, that have that extra turbo of power to hold everyone off. It’s more about power then speed. “

Roger that.  Be confident, but don’t be a dick.  Got it.  And more about the damn muscle fibers??  Moving on.  Lots has been written about what you SHOULD do to become a better sprinter, but what about things you SHOULDN’T do?  What are some of the biggest mistakes or wastes of time?:

“One mistake is waiting too long to be in position.  It depends on the race but you can’t wait until the last lap to move up and sprint. You need to be in position a few laps before the end in a crit.  As the speed increases you save energy by already being in the front.  A common mistake in road races is being too close to the front when all the workers peel off you find yourself out front with too far to go to the finish.  It’s good to find other sprinters and sometimes follow them during the last kilometers.  The experienced guys know where to place themselves. It’s important in a finish to know where you want to start your sprint.  Pick that spot out ahead of time and when you reach that mark go no matter what.  If you wait a second you might get passed and then you’ll second guess that hesitation.  As you sprint you learn if you are good from a long way out or need to wait and do a shorter sprint.”

OK, maybe nothing too revolutionary here, but the one thing I keep re-reading is “…when you reach that mark go no matter what.”  There is absolutely nothing physical about that statement, it is 100% confidence, something I am sorely lacking when it comes to the sprint.  I am in sales and whenever a new sales rep starts there is inevitably a chicken and egg scenario:

Should I call on new customers on day 1 without knowing the new products/service, or should I wait until I have enough knowledge to feel comfortable setting the appointment?

Inevitably, the person with the most confidence makes the call on Day 1.  The other NEVER GAINS THE CONFIDENCE, no matter how long they study the products and services.  Confidence comes from within, and involves facing fear head-on. This much I know, but that doesn’t mean I always put it into action.  When I was younger, I was afraid of heights.  In order to overcome the fear, I jumped out of a plane… several times.  Fear conquered – confidence inspired.  So, it sounds like the cycling equivalent is to pick my spot in a couple of early season races and go for broke.

Last question, I pull back the curtain and go for broke.  “If you were to train me for 4 weeks for the Tour of America’s Dairyland and had a million dollars on the line, what would it look like?”:

“Motorpacing is great.  It’s super valuable and makes a huge difference in speed.  Sitting behind the motor and sprinting around it at 28mph will help your power and teaches your body to be able to turn the gear.

Accelerations.  Starting from a low-speed and then in the saddle accelerating up to a full spin in about ten seconds.  This teaches explosive power, leg speed, and recruits the fast twitch muscle fibers.

Power sprints in a large gear are great also.  Same as above.  Slow speed and in 53×11 jump out of the saddle for ten seconds and try to accelerate.

Another option is to find a medium hill.  Use the downhill to take you up to speed and at the bottom take off flat-out and hold until the speed starts to drop.  Once the speed drops then you shut down.  All of these exercises are like intervals but with full recovery in between.”

OK, cool stuff – but even MORE about muscle fibers.  Let’s see what all the hoopla is about.

Click here for the skinny according to Kelly Baggett.  If you’re like me you look at all that scientific mumbo-jumbo and close the link, so let me sum it up for you:

Which one is the sprinter...?

Which one is the sprinter…?

You’re either a born sprinter, or you can transform yourself into a sprinter.  I’m in the second category, so let’s explore that a bit more.  You’re born with a pre-determined body type and a pre-determined % of fast-twitch (sprinting) & slow twitch (strength and endurance) fibers.  André the Giant can’t transform into Djamolidine Abdoujaparov but you can transform into a leaner, meaner version of yourself.  How?  Quoting Baggett:

“In training you can accomplish this by focusing your training on strength, power, and speed dominant activities.  By doing so you train your nervous system and all your muscle fibers to behave in more of a fast twitch manner.”

Sounds simple, but painful.  In cycling this translates to things like squats, plyo-metrics, pushing a weight sled and anaerobic activities like (surprise) sprinting.  Check out another Baggett article called “How to Create a Speed Machine Using the Weight Room”.

If you listen to those who know, and you want to find yourself on a podium at the end of your next race here’s the secret sauce :

  1. Get fit.  All of the rest of this revolves around the fact that you’ve done what you can to get as lean, mean and strong as you can before the race starts.
  2. Learn to pedal fast.  Well… duh.  I thought I had this one tackled until I started adding high RPM training rides into my pre-season work.  As someone who never used to shift into his small chainring (never) it’s been eye opening to try to sustain a 120+ RPM spin for more than 30 seconds, especially uphill.
  3. Actually, this is probably point #2.1 – ride the track.  You can’t go fast if you can’t go fast.  Not everyone has access to a track/track bike, so the lesson here is learn to churn butter for a long time.  And when it’s super- creamy, churn it some more.  Besides, who doesn’t love butter?
  4. Get stronger.  Not Hulk Hogan strong, but functionally strong. Learn to push beyond your comfort zone, and then beyond that.
  5. Get confident. It seems to me that sprinting is 90% mental.  Knowing you are going to win, knowing when to go, knowing how hard to go, never second guessing yourself.  I’ve seen all of those traits in the guys that win consistently. 
  6. And here’s one last one I’ll throw in – wise up.  Get smarter.  You can’t crush it at the line, if you’ve been crushing it the whole race.  Last year, 1 guy, riding by himself, won the entire Tour of America’s Dairyland series (in my Category) by riding smart.  He laid back during the race and let everyone else do the work.  With 2 laps to go, he put himself in position to win and on relatively fresh legs sprinted out the last hundred meters every day.  After a few days of this the entire peloton assumed each day would boil down to a sprint so no one ever pushed the tempo and made him work.  There were probably faster guys, and smarter guys and guys with a lot of confidence in the pack, but only one with the perfect blend of all 3.  Without saying a word, he dictated the series – just like you can this year.

Next month – Part 2 including an interview with another 7-11 rider (and local legend) Tom Schuler.

Give 7 Armstrong Tours to the “clean” riders?


Many Of The Riders Who Could Inherit Lance Armstrong’s Tour De France Titles Aren’t Clean Either

Tony Manfred | Aug. 24, 2012, 9:25 AM |
Lance Armstrong

AP

If the USADA gets its way, Lance Armstrong will eventually be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005.His titles officially go to the riders who finished second in those races.

But the problem is many of the cyclists who runner-up to Armstrong have been convicted or accused of doping over the last decade.

In his seven titles, five different riders finished second to Lance — Alex Zulle, Jan Ullrich (3x), Joseba Beloki, Andreas Kloden, and Ivan Basso.

Zulle admitted to doping as part of the 1998 Festina Affair — the first big cycling doping scandal. But when he finished second to Armstrong in 1999, he had already confessed to doping and Armstrong called him a “clean rider.”

Ullrich was given a two-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February of 2012 in connection with a doping scandal called Operation Puerto. His races from 2005 to his retirement in 2007 were also vacated.

Kloden was connected with a 2006 doping program in Freiburg, Germany. He eventually paid a €25,000 fine — which technically isn’t an admission of guilt in German court. Yesterday, fittingly enough, the German National Anti-Doping Agency announced a preliminary investigation into Kloden and a few other riders on new doping suspicions.

Basso was also banned for two years in 2007 and 2008. According to the New York Times, he admitted that he “attempted doping,” but denied he ever actually succeeded.

Beloki has not been connected to any doping scandal.

This isn’t to say that what Armstrong allegedly did is okay. But the idea that stripping him of his titles will instantly reflect the “fair” result of those races isn’t quite that simple.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/armstrong-tour-stripped-winners-2012-8#ixzz24UP7sZL9

My 9 Days as a Domestique


The 2012 Tour of America’s Dairyland has finally come and gone.  I was fortunate enough to be able to race all but the last day of the series this year, 9 days in a row.  I am still a Cat 4 on the road, since most of my racing experience has been on dirt (where I am a Cat 2).  My road experience before ToAD was a grand total of 10 races over the past 3 years, and 3 of those were this year. 

Overall, ToAD was a success for me.  I am definitely a better rider now.

Here are a few things I’ve realized:

  • I can race for 9+ days in a row.  Not every day will be my best day though.  I started the series strong, faded a bit in the middle and came back even stronger at the end.  I found myself wishing that I could have raced a few more days to see my best efforts.  Prior to ToAD I had only raced 2 days in a row once.
  • Staying hydrated cannot be overstated.  I am very conscious of this, so in addition to the recommended daily allowance of beer I added Pedialyte.  Gatorade, and most cycling specific sports drinks are too sweet and/or “chemically” and tend to give me a stomach ache.  I used plain Pedialyte before and during the Bone Ride this year, and it really helped.  So I made sure to down a bottle every evening at home during ToAD.
  • Eating enough calories cannot be overstated.  Like most cyclists, my motor’s always running.  I tend to eat something about every 3 hours just about every day.  Also, like most cyclists, I try to eat pretty “clean” – good food, high in protein and complex carbs.  Halfway through the week I realized that I was eating like I normally do, not like I was racing every day.  That night I came home and ate a whole pizza, then went to Kopp’s and ate a chicken sandwich, onion rings and a chocolate shake.  The next day, I was twice as strong as the day before.  I did go back to eating clean that day too, but filling the void of negative calories the day before seemed to help tremendously.
  • Warming up on a trainer is awesome.  I have always warmed up on the road before races.  Such a simple thing, but I will always do it this way now.  It allowed for a structured warm-up, and it was cool to talk a little last-minute strategy with teammates before we launched.  Plus, I had access to anything I needed.

Leatherman making his daily move to the front…
Photo courtesy of Nick Schwietzer
http://www.nickschwietzerphotography.com

  • Crit racing is a science and an art.  Like golf, a lot of guys buy expensive equipment thinking it will make them better.  It doesn’t.  The best crit racers are smart, patient, tactical and smooth riders.  They have the ability to ride unnoticed until the last lap or 2, then be in the perfect position to sprint to the line.  They could probably do it on a Schwinn Varsity and still kick most people’s ass.
  • Speaking of ass, there are a few guys in every category that believe we are out there to fight to the death and defend the honor of our dead grandfathers – at all costs.  I took a bad line early in one of the races.  It was partially due to excitement and partially my lack of experience.  For the next 2 laps, everyone within 50 yards of Speedy McJagoff had to hear him drop F bombs about my bad line, etc.,  etc. etc.  Really?  I hope his paycheck from Team Douchebag doesn’t bounce.  I’m still learning, and anyone around me would have realized that it was a mistake on my part, one that I did not repeat.  I even tried to ride up next to the guy and apologize, but he wouldn’t shut up, so I didn’t.
  • Speedy McJagoff was never on the podium.  Enough said.
  • I was not riding for myself, I was riding to put my teammate on the podium.  I have never played team sports in my life.  I have always gravitated toward things that were a test of myself against the clock, or someone else.  I have never had a “role” to play in sport.  WORS races are all about going as fast as you can, by yourself  (at my level anyway) until you cross the line.  Hopefully you win, or at least don’t cough up your spleen when you’re done.  I have a whole new level of respect for the no-name guys going off the front in the Tour, or the guys blowing themselves up with 5K to go to get the lead out man into position. 
  • Crashing and getting back into the race is instinctual.  I flipped into the barriers around a corner in the Waukesha race, and I was back on my bike and pedaling before I realized it.  Thankfully, it was a minor crash.  My shin caught the corner of a metal barrier and it took a nice bite out of it, the only bad thing was that there was not enough skin left to stitch up.  The allure of racing is the adrenaline rush, and I got a double dose that day.  I have crashed in mountain bike races, once bad enough to require a trip to the ER, but I never realized how fast my body automatically puts me back on the bike.  
  • The only thing cooler than going 40 miles per hour on a city street with hundreds of people watching using only your own body for power is going 41 miles per hour on a city street with hundreds of people watching using only your own body for power.

Lance Armstrong & Doping – the Verdict is in:


We’re not worthy!

For the past week or so, almost every one of my non-cycling friends has asked me about the latest allegations surrounding Lance Armstrong.  The conversation goes like this:

Non-Cycling Friend: “So… what do you think about Lance Armstrong??”

Me: “I don’t.”

NCF: “But do you think he doped?”

Me: “Honestly, I don’t think about it.”

The End.

Thankfully, none of my cyclist friends have even talked about it.  Why?  I don’t think anyone really cares one way or the other.  Plus, I think deep down inside, 99.99% of people with access to most of the details firmly believe that he is guilty or innocent – I really don’t think there are any “undecideds”.

Like anyone my age, I have watched Lance’s rise to super-stardom from early on.  But as an avid American cyclist, I was a passenger on the Armstrong bandwagon since the early days too.  I wanted a red, white and blue hero to rise up and kick some Euro ass.  Do I think his achievements are extraordinary? Absolutely.  Do I think he is a dick?  Absolutely.  I think that the vast majority of people who dominate any particular thing – politics, sport, etc. have to have tremendous egos.  People with tremendous egos are usually not too concerned with anyone else.  Does any of that matter to me? Absolutely not.  I don’t call my buddy Lance up and have a beer with him after work on Fridays.  I’ve been in the same room with him on several occasions and ridden along side of him in a charity ride twice for about 5 seconds (along with a thousand other people). That’s it.   Nothing that Lance Armstrong does, or will ever do, will affect my life one way or the other.   Many people point to the fact that Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test.  I can also say that Tour de France and Giro d’Italia winner Marco Pantani died alone in a hotel room after bingeing on cocaine for a week straight – something he routinely did even while racing and passing drug tests.  Armstrong has already spent a lot of money to prove his innocence, and I can also assume that both Nike and LA STILL have a lot of money in the bank… 

In the end, who gives a rat’s ass?  What difference does it make to you and me?  If LA doped, he doped.  If he’s clean, he’s clean.

How will that change your next ride?

Drugs in cycling – AFFIRMATIVE.


Why is there so much controversy about drug testing? I know plenty of guys who would be willing to test any drug they could come up with

–       George Carlin

Have you heard, they busted another pro cyclist for doping.  Yawn.  In an unrelated story, the sun came up today.  It’s not that I don’t care, but I don’t care.  Pro cyclists are dopers.  All of them.  So are NFL players, and MLB players and Olympians, etc., etc., etc.  Since when do we care so much about drugs, but ONLY in cycling?  In 1980 there were (3) 300 pound guys in the entire NFL.  In 2010, there were 532. That’s a 17,733% increase. I’m sure they all just eat more bacon now… that explains it.  When was the last time you heard about the Federal Government going after the NFL for doping?  Never?  So why cycling?

I’m not defending these jack-wagons for doping, I think it’s ridiculous to train your body to be among the fittest athletes in the world, and then inject synthetic chemicals into your body to purposely push it beyond the human limits.  I understand that if “everyone’s doing it”, it’s impossible to compete if you’re not.  I understand the money that’s at stake, the fame, etc.  I don’t understand the witch hunt though.

I will never be paid to ride a bike for a myriad of reasons, number 1 being I’m just not good enough (by a LONG shot).  But I will always ride.  I will never have a bad day on the bike, ever.  Cycling IS my drug, but that’s me.  Whether you think these guys are clean or dirty, what does it matter?  Do I think that my son will do drugs because Alberto Contador “ate some tainted meat”?  No.  Do I think the FBI will be visiting the set of 2 ½ Men to piss test Charlie Sheen anytime soon?  No.  Sheen’s an admitted drug user who is publicly spinning out of control, so why are we spending millions to go after household no-names like Yaroslav Popovych?

I guess the only point I have is that Spring is right around the corner, and I’m excited for the cycling season to start again in earnest.  I will watch any and all television coverage I can find of the pros, and I will ride my bike anytime that I can.  If this year’s TdF winner is NOT involved in a doping scandal of some sort, I will consider that to be newsworthy.

Here are some recent “feel good” headlines:

Sports Illustrated “The Case Against Lance Armstrong”

Sky may relax ‘zero tolerance’ doping policy

Now let’s see some racing, jack-wagons!