Tour de France sprinters are a unique type of rider. Not only must they possess tremendous speed and be willing to take big risks, they must also have the endurance to climb the high mountains, complete every stage, and still have enough left to fight for the top placings. This slide share offers insights into how these riders perform.
Sprinting Like a Tour Rider
By Tim Cusick | June 2016
“It's not like playing chess.”
Mark Cavendish on sprinting
The Physiology of a Sprinter
Sprinters tend to be bigger. In a study conducted by Paolo Menaspa1
2014 Tour de France, the top six sprinters weighed an average of 71.6 kg, and
the top six General Classification contenders weighed an average of 64.4 kg.
Data from 2014 TdF / Science in Sport: The profile of a sprint: What does it take to win a sprint stage?
The top five sprint finishers peak power
output was 989-1443 W, and their
average power was 865-1140 W for a
duration of 9.0-17.0 sec. These
numbers are typically 10 to 15% lower
than maximal peak, as fatigue plays a
large role at the end of a TdF stage.
The Physiology of a TdF Sprinter
They are still endurance athletes
What is noteworthy about Tour de France sprinters is that they possess the
physiology of endurance athletes, you can’t escape six hours of cycling over
mountains, but they also have the ability to generate enormous power outputs
at the end of a stage.
A typical day in the saddle for the TdF sprinter looks like:
Comparing Sprint Power
Due to fatigue, cyclists can only hold a certain amount of watts for select
amounts of time. Comparing Power Duration abilities give us some insight into
the different demands of cycling. Remember that the sprint numbers are
produced after 120 to 200 km of racing so they do not represent a true peak
What does it take to win? Avg Power Watts / Kilogram Typical Effort Length
Win a Tour de France Climb 5.9 - 6.2 W/kg 30 to 40 minutes
Win a Tour de France Late Break 7.8 - 8.1 W/kg 1:30 to 2:30 minutes
Win a Tour de France Sprint 17.0 - 19.0 W/kg 1 to 20 seconds
What is a watt?
A watt is the torque x angular velocity, or in simple terms:
How hard you pedal x How fast you pedal
● W - Power outputs are often communicated in pure watts and use the
● W/kg - Watts are divided by rider’s weight in kilograms and expressed as
W/kg. This helps to compare outputs of riders of different sizes.
Components of the Sprint: Power
Since a watt is how hard you pedal times how fast you pedal, it is logical to
assume there are only three ways you can increase your max watts:
● Improve your ability to increase torque (pedal harder) while maintaining
● Increase your ability to pedal faster while maintaining the same torque.
● Increase your ability to pedal harder and faster, which is optimum.
Definition of pedaling harder
Applying more force at all key points of the pedal stroke builds torque. Force
makes things move while torque makes things turn. You need to turn the cranks
with more torque.
Definition of pedaling faster
The average TdF sprinter has maximal power outputs at a cadence roughly
between 115-125 rpm. This is a skill to be developed if you want to master the
art of sprinting.
Components of the Sprint: Form
Grip the bars
Grip the bars in the drops, with hands around the lower center
of the bar curve and elbows slightly out and ready to engage
the upper body.
Explode out of the saddle with strong legs, driving down from
the one o’clock position with your dominant leg.
Engage the upper body
To get maximum power, you need to pull up with the same
hand as the leg pushing down. This often gets confused, and
riders often believe they pull up with the opposite arm instead.
Activate your glutes
This can’t be stressed enough. Activate the glutes while making
a maximal sprint effort.
Components of the Sprint: Form
Drive your cadence
Drive your cadence to the highest number you can sustain
without losing torque. Target at least 110 rpm.
Move the bike
If you’re using your upper body to pull up while pushing down
on same pedal, you will get a natural “swing” of the bike. If you’
re pushing the bike to one side, you’re not pulling up correctly.
Learn to get low
Today's generation of sprinters have shown the value of
aerodynamics. A 10% reduction in Frontal Area (CdA) can
result in more than a 10 foot advantage in a 15 second sprint.
Phases of the Sprint:
Positioning, Acceleration, and the Sprint
Phase 1: Positioning
Positioning for the sprint is every bit as important as having the ability to sprint.
Obviously, if you’re out of position, you won’t be able to use your sprint,
no matter how good or bad it is.
● Know the final turns and terrain to the finish.
● In the last mile or two, focus on staying near the front so you have a clear
shot at the line, but not so far forward that you find yourself on the front too
far from the line.
● Plan your way around any obstacle, like a corner, in advance. Know which
line you want to take.
● Set a landmark to start your sprint from in an optimum position. Usually,
this is within the last 300 yards.
● Look through the finish line and take a straight shot. Do not deviate from
your line, as this may cause a crash.
Phase 2: The Acceleration
Rapid acceleration is a skill that can make the difference in any sprint. A
sprinter with a great first step can put one to two bike lengths on an
opponent in a heartbeat, robbing others of the ability to use their slipstream and
forcing them to chase to the line.
● Know your mark and time it well.
● Be in the right gear. It is a common mistake for sprinters to be in too big of
a gear, which slows the impact of their acceleration.
● Know your power leg and start your acceleration phase with it. Most of
riders are right leg dominate.
● Pull yourself forward (don't stand) with your bars as you accelerate and
ride out of saddle. Doing so adds power to your initial trust.
● Use others and explode out of the draft to maximise acceleration and top
● Commit every time. Train your mind to know this is it and avoid hesitation.
Phase 3: The Sprint
Top end speed
Developing a fast sprint is more about learning to continue your acceleration,
not just top end speed. Most riders can produce enough power to sprint
creditably and simply need to train themselves to apply that power
correctly. This problem is usually driven by cadence rather than torque.
● Develop strength/force in the off- and early-base seasons both in the gym
and on the bike. Focus on torque and power.
● On the road, train for sprinting in an easier or lighter gear in which you can
accelerate with relative ease. This is the key for learning to extend your
acceleration throughout the sprint.
● On the road, focus on increasing leg speed while maintaining, or gaining,
torque for improved performance results.
Sprinting is a chaotic, explosive experience that challenges you to go to
physical extremes while navigating a potential minefield of safety issues.
Sprinters need to have the courage to win.
Learn to commit
Full mental commitment to a sprint is harder than you first think, but the cyclist
who fully commits to the move often enjoys the win!
In the end, sprinting is won more often by tactics, not power. This means that
all sprinters need to have high situational awareness and be ready to react.
Science in Sport: The profile of a sprint: What does it take to win a sprint stage?
Performance Analysis of a World-Class Sprinter During Cycling Grand Tours Paolo Menaspà, Chris R. Abbiss, and
David T. Martin