Updated on 28 June 2021: 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?
Opening image: Ridley Bikes
The easiest way to make yourself faster and bring up those speeds is to get more of yourself out of the wind. The most aero bike on the planet is useless if your body is acting like a giant sail.
The sprinters often have very long and low front end setups that allow them to get their head low when sprinting. When Cavendish was sprinting against Kittel (above) a few years ago, the difference in their style was stark. Cavendish would tuck down low whereas Kittel simply smashed the pedals harder. This is because Cavendish had a far lower peak power than Kittel, so had to cheat the wind more than the big German.
For those of us without the massive peak power of Kittel, the lesson from Cavendish, and more recently Caleb Ewan, is a simple way to increase our sprinting speed.
This technique requires a lot of practice and please remember to keep looking forward, instead of taking a detailed look at your power numbers.
Be careful with going low. You might be far faster for 100m, but if you throw your back out just to reach the drops, it won’t be great for the rest of your ride. If you are moving your position about then take things slowly with small changes that you can adapt to.
Take a look at a photo finish image from the average 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 but they can also be far stiffer than stock wheels, ensuring that all of the power that you kick through the pedals gets put down onto the road.
The sprinters are usually the larger 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, and many of you will be, 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) are a common sight on the bikes of larger riders. Stiff components upfront can help riders with arm muscles to 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 as their largest gear ratio, the pros normally ride 53x11 with the sprinters upping this to 55x11 when they know the sprint is going to be exceptionally fast. If you want to hit 50mph when sprinting then you’ll need the gears to do it.
While this sounds like a simple solution, actually pushing those gears around takes some doing and you may need a lead out to get you up to speed.
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 the promise of 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 very creative with their placement which is great for riders that 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 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 use the same bike that you rode on the previous day’s mountain stage while ripping the legs off some of the best climbers to win the bunch sprint.
It's simple when you're really good at bike riding.
Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.