How to get your sprint on like Coryn Rivera
Whether you need to switch up a gear to propel yourself into safety, give it some serious welly at the end of a race or (seemingly) effortlessly accelerate past that bunch on a club ride, here’s how to get your sprint on with a little help from one of our favourite pro’s…
Coryn Rivera is one of THE best sprinters in the women’s peloton, so there’s no better person to share their tips on how to pack a serious power punch on demand. Who could forget that cheeky little finishline sprint against Marianne Vos in this year’s World Tour for Team Sunweb? Awesome.
Here’s what the sprint supremo had to say on getting your sprint on, plus our round-up of super-smart sprint-technique advice…
So Coryn, how do you train to get the most out of those last few seconds of racing?
I do some weight training in the gym during the winter months and ween off as it gets closer to race season – definitely focusing on strength and explosivity. On the bike I also focus on the same things. I do some seated big gear sprints, some short, small-gear accelerations, plus some sprints at speed.
How do you work out what gearing you need to get the most out of your power?
It really depends on your strength as a rider and the type of sprint you’re preparing for. Normally out of a corner or uphill you want to gear lower (as opposed to coming into a fast and flat sprint where bigger is better).
Regardless, you definitely want to be in your personal power band, where you can accelerate in the most efficient way possible.
The jostling in a sprint can look a bit intimidating. What’s your mental approach to sprinting?
I always take a look at the finish line and work backwards from there. Before the race I think about how I’d ideally like to take the sprint. So, things like, which side to come off of the wheel or leadout train, the wind direction, how far the line is from the last corner and which line to take. Then I think about my competitors and what they would do and how I could potentially benefit from that.
During the race I always keep the plan in mind but react quickly on instinct. Of course, a plan doesn’t always get executed and there are some factors that may change your plan, so you have to react accordingly.
I also never decide in advance where I will start my sprint – I really go by feeling and what is going on in the race.
What about pacing? How do you work out how much sprint you have in you?
Normally sprinting is full gas, but this definitely depends on the course. Uphill, downhill, flat and also taking into account the wind. Normally, once I step on the gas, it is all out. But if it is long and uphill, maybe you stay on the wheel at 90% then hit it for 100% going into the last few metres.
It’s very situational, but usually when it is time to go you really have to commit! If you can feel your competitors closing in on you and you need that last extra little bit, you’ll be surprised at the power you can summon to get you that extra millimetre you might need. Sprinting isn’t all in the legs, it’s in the head too.
The technique: how to nail your sprint
There are a number of key things to practice that will help you nail that sprint, as Hannah Troop explains…
Out of your saddle & in the drops
A good way of getting your head around sprinting is to watch old videos of sprinters doing their thing. Watching how they get out of the saddle, their body position and the movement in the bike as they sprint is good for visualisation when you’re doing it yourself. You’ll see that Coryn - and most pros - sprints out the saddle and in the drops.
The reason she is out of the saddle is because you’re able to push more explosive power down through the pedals (in contrast to when you are sat down) because you have your whole body weight behind it.
Being in the drops also lowers your centre of gravity, meaning you have more control over your bike, as well as being more aero. You also have the added benefit of better grip around the bars (rather than being on the hoods where your hands can slip off).
Keep the elbows bent and close, then make sure your body is low over the handlebars to keep you as aero as possible. Making sure your back is flat is another way of improving your aerodynamics, which is especially helpful if you are a tall rider.
To check out your position, it’s excellent if you have a friend who is willing to come watch you race and take finish line photos and videos; or set up a training session with a pal who also has a thirst for speed where you can film each other’s efforts. Watching how you look versus how you think you look can really help you hone your technique.
The other top tip is to keep your eyes on the prize – the finish line. Looking up sounds like it should be a given, but there are a number of pros in the peloton who could do with taking note of this point.
Having your head up and looking forward instead of at your handlebars will help you keep your line (and not veer off to the left or right). Not only does this help prevent crashes, it means you’re less likely to get given a rollocking by race officials.
Just before you’re about to stand up and give it everything you’ve got, make sure you’ve changed up a few gears so that when you do stand out of the saddle, the higher gearing provides enough resistance against the increased power you now have going down into the pedals. Through this increased resistance from the gearing, you’ll push extra power through the pedals, which will translate into extra speed.
You might find your legs start to spin out a bit as your sprint velocity increases and that you need a harder gear; it’s fine to change up another gear, but be aware that your drivetrain is under a huge amount of pressure at this moment in time.
If overloaded too much you could end up dropping your chain or even snapping it –neither of which is desirable. The key here is to momentarily ‘not’ pedal for half a stroke while you change up, as this will reduce the pressure on the drivetrain. This obviously takes practice to make sure you maintain enough speed.
Side to side
When we ride our bikes, normally we’re told that keeping the upper body as still as possible helps propel us forward using less energy. This is quite the opposite in sprinting; by adding in side-to-side movement by pushing and pulling on the handlebars, you balance the natural side-to-side movement you’ll feel from being stood on the pedals pushing power down through them. It will also help you leverage more power into your sprint. Make sure you practise doing this, as it can feel a little unbalancing, especially as you add speed.
The bike throw
In the final moments of a sprint where you’re neck and neck, you can also pull out the ‘bike throw’, which looks awesome (Coryn is awesome at this – see video below from 3 minutes 30).
In a nutshell, to give you a better chance of winning the sprint, moments before you hit the finish line you stop pedalling and fling your bike forward by straightening your arms and pushing the bike ahead of yourself. As a sprint finish is calculated on the first wheel to cross the line, this technique can instantly add those extra centimetres needed to win.
Concentrating on so much technique when a sprint is literally over in 30 seconds or less seems like a lot to take on, but as with most things, all those little technique tweaks can add up to a massive difference.