Sprinting on a bike is really fun, really exciting to watch... and really not terribly important for the recreational cyclist. That said - it's still something to practice, because it's a great way to improve your fitness, because it leads to more muscle and bone, a stronger heart, and improved economy when you're NOT sprinting.
Now, I'm NOT a sprinter, but I still train and coach short, intense intervals periodically, and here's how it's done.
Sprinting requires a lot of power, in an almost instant transition. A pedaling cyclist is using their aerobic system most of the time; sprinting requires that you use one of the simplest foundations of muscle contraction - the phosphagen system. It lasts between 2 and 15 seconds. Today's stage, for example, was about 13 seconds of incredible intensity, so the cyclists were literally 'Firing on all cylinders'.
First, remember - you should probably be at least somewhat fit, so call us if you have questions or doubt your ability. We'll work on other things first.
Second - WARM UP THOROUGHLY. Sprinting cold is asking for trouble. Spend at least 20 minutes warming up, increasing intensity and power, staying on top of your hydration, and keeping your carbohydrate stores topped off. A few pick-me-ups, or false sprints, where you just increase power output over 15-30 seconds in a steady rise, until you are breathing hard, and sweating a bit, will definitely help.
Third - cycling sprints on Television are rare, and usually occur at the END of an event. They're just too hard to replicate too often in a stage, or even over the course of three weeks. Do just a few, between 3 and 10 seconds, and make sure that you spend AT LEAST 3 minutes recovering, and HOPEFULLY more like 5. Professional sprinters can take up to THIRTY minutes between sprint efforts. It's just that taxing!
Fourth - Start in a gear that allows you to accelerate instantly. I usually begin in my big ring, but somewhere in the middle of my cassette. When my legs begin to spin out, I shift to a harder gear and attempt to spin out in that gear. If I'm lucky, I'll get one more shift before exhaustion sets in, and my power begins to drop.
Finally - if you're outdoors, BE SAFE. Sprinting for a sign on the road, or a painted line is one thing. Sprinting to beat a changing light or to get ahead of a train just is NOT worth it. Be safe, know the road ahead of you, keep your chin up and your eyes forward, and be prepared.
Sprinting is sort of like the candle on a cake. The mix is all chocolate and red velvet, the icing just pure, delicious sugar, and the candle, when lit, is something to wonder at.... and then quickly blow out! They're fun, they're hot, and they're VERY short-lived. The fitness gains include increased power output over longer periods of time, a higher metabolism, and the growth of muscle and bone, because of their intensity.
Thanks, and if you have any questions about this tip or your cycling, give us a call or just stop by before our evening classes!