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A cycling sprinter is a road bicycle racer or track racer who can finish a race very explosively by accelerating quickly to a high speed, often using the slipstream of another cyclist or group of cyclists tactically to conserve energy.


The road sprinter

Sprinters have a higher ratio of fast-twitch muscle fibers than non-sprinters. Road cycling sprinters sometimes tend to have a larger build than the average road racing cyclist, combining the strength of their legs with their upper body to produce a short burst of speed necessary in a closely-contested finish. Some sprinters have a high top speed but may take a longer distance to achieve it, while others can produce short and sharp accelerations.

A sprinter is usually heavier, limiting their speed advantage to relatively flat sections. It is therefore not uncommon for sprinters to be dropped by the peloton (also known as the 'bunch' or 'pack') if a race is through hilly terrain.

Sprinters may have different preferences. Some prefer a longer "launch" while others prefer to 'draft' or slipstream behind their team-mates or opponents before accelerating in the final meters. Some prefer slight uphill finishes, others prefer downhill finishes.

Sprinter tactics

In conventional road races, sprinters may bide their time waiting until the last few hundred metres before putting on a burst of speed to win the race. Many races will finish with a large group sprinting for the win; some sprinters may have team-mates, so-called domestiques 'leading them out' (i.e., keeping pace high and sheltering the sprinter) so that they have a greater chance of finishing in the leading positions.

In the 1990s Mario Cipollini had his lead-out train team Saeco to support his sprinting abilities. Such teams keep the pace in the final kilometres as high as possible to make late attacks very difficult, thus ensuring that the sprinters have the best chance of victory. They also aim to keep their sprinter (e.g., Cipollini) well-positioned against other sprinters. These team-mates tend to "peel off" one by one as they tire; the last team-mate is known as the "lead-out rider" and the best of them are excellent sprinters in their own right. Today (2009), several teams have lead-out trains for their designated sprinters; recently, one of the best lead-out trains was provided by the Milram team serving their sprinters Alessandro Petacchi or Erik Zabel. Today, Quick Step often use this tactic for Tom Boonen, with other fast men like Wouter Weylandt and Steven de Jongh usually leaving the train last. Team Columbia is also a current user of the lead-out train, with Edvald Boasson Hagen,George Hincapie or Mark Renshaw setting the tempo for Mark Cavendish.

Sprinters can also compete for intermediate sprints (sometimes called 'primes'), often to provide additional excitement in cities along the route of a race. In stage races, intermediate sprints and final stage placings may be combined in a points competition; for example, in the points classification in the Tour de France, the maillot vert (green jersey) is won by the race's most consistent sprinter. At the Tour de France, the most successful competitor for this honor is German sprinter Erik Zabel, who won a record six Tour de France green jerseys (1996-2001).

Several of the Classic one day races, for example Milan-Sanremo or Paris-Tours tend to favour sprinters because of their long distance and relatively flat terrain. Most editions of these races end in a bunch sprint, often won by racers also successful in the points classification at stage races. For example, Zabel has won Milan-Sanremo four times and Paris-Tours three times.

The track sprinter

Sprinting on a cycle track or velodrome ranges from the highly specialised sprint event (where two - sometimes three or more - riders slowly circle the track looking to gain a tactical advantage before launching a finishing burst over the final 200 metres, which is timed), to massed-start events decided by the first across the line after a certain number of laps (similar to road racing). The sprint specialist may also ride short track time trials over 1000 metres, the Olympic sprint and Keirin events.

In Madison racing, a team may comprise a specialist sprinter, for when sudden bursts of speed are required, and another rider able to ride at a more consistent high tempo.

See also


The Complete Cycle Sport Guide, Peter Konopka, 1982, EP Publishing



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