Sprint Training

  • By Tim Cusick
  • 02 Aug, 2016
Cyclists riding on a road
Sprinting is a primary component of cycling for racers and recreational riders alike, but it’s often neglected in training programs. Sprinting is about generating high watts, but we have to remember that a watt is defined as how fast you pedal multiplied by how hard you pedal, so don’t start with the assumption that it’s all about strength and mashing pedals.

To better understand sprinting, lets define the three components of success: acceleration, top end speed, and fatigue resistance.

Acceleration is the ability to increase speed rapidly. Sprinters with great acceleration create immediate gaps and leave other riders fighting to get on the wheel. In my experience, acceleration is driven more by cadence than pure power. Riders with smart gear selection and the ability to spin high-cadence sprints will always out-accelerate riders who love big-gear, heavy-power sprint accelerations. Acceleration rates measured in WKO4 give us insight into the “snappyness” of a rider. 

Top end speed is exactly what it sounds like: how fast can you go in an all-out sprint. Top end sprinting is all about generating speed and is a combination of form, cadence, strength, and positioning (aerodynamics). Power clearly plays a role here, but tracking sprint speed gives us insight into the ability to translate watts into speed through quality of form and aerodynamics.

Fatigue resistance is often neglected in sprinting but is very important. Simply put, fatigue resistance is the ability to resist a decline in power over time when sprinting compared to your Pmax (max power output for at least one revolution of the crank). The ability to measure decline in power vs. Pmax gives us insight and diagnosis to possible developmental needs in sprinting.

Sprinter Types

I get a lot of questions about what is normal and what is average in cycling. I use data to track performance of an athlete over time and measure the dose and response of training. WKO4 gives me all the information I need to diagnose an athlete, prescribe workouts to improve select components of speed, and track results. WKO4 also helps athletes understand themselves and use the data provided for race and performance success.

Using top speed as a measurement, I divide sprinters into three groups and make certain sprint recommendations.

High Acceleration and Low Fatigue Resistance
These are the sprinters who can put three bike lengths on you before you know it but cannot sustain the long sprint. This type of sprinter needs to be skilled at positioning in the finishing setup, finding the right lead out, and using it to wait to the last second possible to complete the final sprint. I often recommend that this sprinter be more of a freelancer and focus on racing the other racers, targeting key competitors and looking to pass them late in the sprint. Starting the sprint too early is death to this type of sprinter, as they open a gap, get chased, and end up passed by more fatigue-resistant riders.

Low Acceleration/High Fatigue Resistance
This is the classic long sprinter. The long sprinter wants things fast and hard over the last two kilometers to soften the peloton so he can prepare his move. For this type of sprinter, I often recommend having a marked sprint point (not as much freelance) on the course that triggers the sprint. This will help the long sprinter focus on the pre-setup lead-in instead of waiting too long to start his move.

High Acceleration/High Fatigue Resistance
This is a rare combination, but it obviously opens up lots of options on how to win. For this type of sprinter, the strategy becomes very specific to the race and to the competitors.

So how can you build your cycling sprint speed?

Now that we understand and see some measurements of the three components of speed and how they affect racing and performance, the final question to be answered is how do we improve our speed? As with any training, the answer is specificity! In the early winter phase, I typically take a “train your weakness, race your strength” approach, but as we get into the season, I eventually focus on strengths.

• During this time of year, add one sprint workout a week (possibly two, depending on overall training volume).
• Complete the sprint workout after a rest day. You want to be as fresh as possible.
• Rest more during sprint workouts. I see lots of sprint workouts with rest intervals too short for muscular recovery. I know your heart rate returns to normal quickly, but give your muscles time to fully recover so you can do each interval 100%.
• Focus on form in each workout. Improving your form will make your top end speed higher by better utilizing the power you put out.
• An advanced tip: learn to be more aerodynamic in your sprinting. As part of your form work, learn to sprint deep in your drops and low over your top tube.

So what type of workout should you do? Here’s a good sprint workout focused on building all three components of speed.

Warm-Up : Warm up for 10-20 minutes with some 1-minute high-cadence, low-power efforts to open things up. Make sure you are good and warm.

Main Set : Small chain ring / high cadence sprints
• 3 x 3 50-meter sprints in small chain ring (39 x 16/17). Roll onto the sprint line around 8-10 miles per hour with a cadence of 85+ rpm. Jump as hard as you can, quickly accelerate your cadence to the max you can sustain, and hold that for the entire 50 meters. Do NOT shift. Focus on the fastest rpm you can generate (without crashing). Rest for 3-5 minutes between sprints; be very fresh for each. Soft pedal for 5–10 minutes before the next set.
• 3 x 3 100-meter sprints in large chain ring. This time roll to the sprint line in your big chain ring and smaller cassette (so maybe 53×19/20) at a speed of about 14-16 mph, again with a cadence of 85+ rpm. Jump as hard as you can and maintain the gear till you hit max cadence, then shift into one harder gear and focus on getting your cadence back up to max as quickly as possible. Hold the cadence till you hit the 100-meter mark. Soft pedal for 5-10 minutes.
• 3 x 3-minute 150-meter sprints, high-speed, big-gear version. Using a big gear set such as 53×16, roll up to the sprint line at 22-24 mph, again with cadence over 85 rpm. Jump hard, accelerate to max cadence, shift into one harder gear, get cadence high again, and then shift into one harder gear. Focus on maintaining high cadence to the finish line.

Cool-Down : Get in 15-30 minutes of easy spinning home.


There are a lot of cycling skills we should work on. But if you’re racing in organized events, or even the town line sprints, winning and bragging rights come down to the ability to sprint and finish the race. This vital skill is pretty hard to replicate indoors, but when most of us are able to get outdoors regularly, it's a great time to work on this critical skill. Even if you never race, there's a huge thrill in seeing just how fast you can make your bike fly.

Ride fast and have fun!

About Tim  
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 product development leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is a USAC coach with over ten years experience working with both road and mountain bike cycling professionals around the world. He is also a co-founder of Velocious Cycling. You can reach Tim for comments at tim@wko4.com.

Velocious Cycling Adventures Blog

By Tim Cusick 16 Nov, 2017
I’ve been coaching cyclists for nearly a decade now, and the most popular goal among new clients is to improve their climbing. The good news is that while not all cyclists are built to be mountain goats, most of us can improve our climbing ability with some patience, hard work, and, well, a few tricks.

The physics of climbing are pretty simple and essentially boil down to a rider’s power output and the total mass of the rider and bike. While there are some other inputs (aerodynamics, rolling resistance, and mechanical friction), gravity is the biggest burden when the tarmac points up.
By Tim Cusick 31 Oct, 2017

A couple weeks ago we talked about the benefits of indoor training , and I mentioned how many of us overdo indoor training and end up as a February Superstar. This is easy to do, but it's also easy to prevent, and, more importantly, with a well-designed plan faithfully executed, you can achieve dramatic performance gains from your indoor winter training and hit the racing or gran fondo season in winning form. All the tools are in place and available to you.

Nevertheless, I still see many people blowing it completely, because it seems to be human nature to hope that you can achieve higher goals if you simply exceed the plan an expert has shown you. More is not better. So here, finally, are my favorite dos and don’ts when following a training plan in general, and I’ll spin the advice to specifically refer to your winter indoor training.
By Tim Cusick 18 Oct, 2017

Your indoor training period can provide the most dramatic fitness gains you experience all year. How? Here are some of the advantages:

  • You don’t have to stop for traffic, signs, or signals while trying to execute focused workloads and intervals. No interruptions. Pure focus makes efficient use of time!
  • You won’t be tempted by the other riders you may encounter to overdo your session, and you won’t be tempted to draft those other riders and under-do your session either. Note that THIS profound advantage has been diminished of late by online virtual racing. More about that later.
  • You minimize the time you spend coasting or pedaling easily due to hills. They make you reduce power output because your speed quickly becomes excessive with even a little power applied.
  • Simply put: you can more easily adhere to a workout script in terms of intensity and time and complete the session on target for the prescription.

With the evolution of ergometer training and its associated software, it’s become simpler, even “turn-key,” to follow your script, because you can pre-program it before the ride. Your control software handles the timing of intervals and rest periods, and your hardware controls the power level to be on-target no matter what. I recall my own frustration with writing out the stop-watch readings to start and end each interval and then watching that terrible clock throughout the sessions. It was tedious and discouraged me from riding. With pre-programmed ergometer training, you are relieved of all the menial tasks and left with only the hardest and most important one: pedaling. You have no excuses, and you won’t make any mistakes or miscalculations.

Indoor training’s effectiveness goes far beyond the scope of the single session as I have described so far. In the bigger picture, with an effective planned progression of workload intensity and recovery, day to day and week to week, you can stay on a path of “maximal rate of improvement” without suffering a physical burnout or setback along the way.
By Tim Cusick 01 Oct, 2017
We want your trip to our cycling camp in Mallorca to be as carefree as possible, and we know traveling can be stressful, so we've put together a list of answers to frequently asked questions many campers have. If your question isn't answered here, comment below or contact us , and we'll be glad to help!
By Tim Cusick 11 Sep, 2017

Probably the most frequently asked question we get about camp is this: should I rent a bike or bring my own? I often suggest packing and bringing your own bike for our tours, but for the Mallorca camp, I recommend that you rent a bike instead. Why? In Mallorca they’ve made it so simple and easy to rent a quality bicycle that it’s hard to find a reason not to take advantage of the process.

So how easy is it exactly? You’ll reserve your bike online in advance, and then when you check in to the hotel, you’ll be handed your bike access key. Bring it down to the bike station, and you’ll find your bike hanging on its numbered hook and ready to go. It’s that simple.

By Tim Cusick 07 Sep, 2017

Let’s face it: cyclocross hurts! Not only does it require strong mental and physical toughness, it also requires a rider to be able to implement both skills and tactics while going full gas. This means we need some highly specific training with lots of time spent focused in the high intensity range.

As with any cycling discipline, historical and current data go a long way to guiding your training strategy, implementation, and tracking, and this will improve your results. But with such an intense discipline, you also need a very specific approach to training with data.

Understand the Cyclocross Hour

A lot of riders compare a cyclocross race to a 40km time trial or a criterium because of its similar duration. This is a good starting point, but while there are lot of similarities, there are also some key differences. Let’s compare these hour events.

By Tim Cusick 03 Aug, 2017

It’s hot, it’s humid, and you’re getting tired. Each August I am reminded that my athletes have been training for eight to nine months now. The typical annual training cycle kicks off in November, and August is usually the final, challenging phase. We all face the challenges of heat, humidity, fatigue, and lower motivation, forcing us to reach deep and finish the season with style.

The challenge? After nine months of both physical and mental focus, we’re tired. Those April feelings of “all I want to do is go fast” have turned into the August “I’m not sure I want to suffer anymore” blues. So how do we combat the combination of physical and mental fatigue? I have one word: change.

For me and my athletes, August is a great time to introduce or experiment with change in order to squeeze in some final performance while improving knowledge. As motivation and fitness begin to fade, we have an excellent opportunity to introduce some change to recharge our late season. At this point in the season, we’re probably as fit as we’re going to be, and our training focus needs to be on speed and performance. Let’s milk the last vestiges of fading fitness in the name of hitting those late-season goals or events.

Change Your Microcycle

You’ve probably been following the same micro cycle pattern for the past eight months now: Monday off, Tuesday hard, Wednesday aerobic, Thursday hard, Friday easy or off, and weekend full of racing or hard group rides. Your body has gotten comfortable with this rhythm and has actually begun to expect it. This is the first area we can introduce some change and elicit some quick results.

What to change? Try a few weeks of block training. Change the rhythm of your training; shock your body out of its norm by introducing a new training pattern. A simple version of block training can be done as three days on (harder training days) followed by two days off/easy, then four days on, then three days off. This creates a twelve-day cycle. Repeat it two times to complete the month. Sure, it might throw off your schedule and make some challenges for longer ride days not falling on the weekend, but don’t worry about it. You really don’t need longer rides this late in the season, and you’ll get more benefit from mixing things up.

By changing up your daily rhythm and requiring your body to first go hard for more days in a row and then rest for more days, you shake things up and push some new adaption by jarring your system back into response mode.

Change Your Training Tactics

Look back over your training for the last ninety days. I bet it will be more patterned than you think. In early spring we start falling into the same workouts, repeating those that best prepare us for racing or the ones that best fit within a heavy race schedule. August is a great time to change our tactics. If you’ve been focusing on threshold-style workouts, complete a full block (as outlined above) of neuromuscular (sprints) and anaerobic capacity-building workouts. If you’ve been pushing a lot of speed work and sprint stuff, go back to some sweet spot work. The goal is to change your intensity and content and shake up the system by changing the tactical focus of your training. Your body is an amazing adaptation machine; it’s used to adapting to the workouts you’ve been doing, so change it up, shock the system, and squeeze out some final improvement.

Change the Way You Race

You’ve been working on your racing strategy and performance all year. August is a great time to test something different. Try mixing it up. If you’re a sprinter, get some early breaks rolling and see if you can make them stick. If you’re a long break rider, sit in and then attack from one kilometer out. Use this time period to experiment with different race tactics while introducing new high-intensity efforts within the race process to shock your system and push some final gains.

Change Your Equipment

August can be a great time to test some changes in equipment. Have you always wondered if you’d be faster on those deep dish wheels versus your light climbers? Try it! Been exploring some minor changes in position? Give them a try and see if they can help you race (just be careful). We can often find some pretty big sales this time of year offers some pretty big sales on different equipment, which can be an excellent opportunity to expand your toy collection.

Change the Measurement

Since I’m the product development leader of WKO4, this might sound sacrilegious, but change the way you train and race with data. August is a great time to introduce some unstructured training and explore racing without data on your handlebars. Here’s a Pez confession: after fifteen-plus years of training with power, I still do not race with power on my head unit. Why not experiment with training and racing by feel?

Turn the dog days of summer into the change days of summer. It’ll refresh you, your training, and your equipment, and you just might up your final performances in the training year!

By Tim Cusick 07 Jul, 2017

Lets face it: climbing is hard! And what’s harder than climbing? Epic climbing! Let’s take as an example the Taiwan KOM Challenge, a 100-kilometer ride from sea level to over 3275 meters (that’s nearly 11,000 feet). In and of itself, the climb is challenge enough for most, but the real crusher is in the final 8 kilometers averaging nearly 11% and topping out above 27% for a short period.

Find Your Gear

With over 11,000 feet of climbing and some significant grade on hand, the first piece of advice is to get some lower gears. The ability to sit and spin is key to reducing muscular fatigue and energy for stronger climbing later in the event.

Spinning puts more strain on the aerobic system, so expect your heart rate to be a tad higher, but it puts less stress on your muscular system, which helps you manage your fatigue better. I would, however, recommend that you avoid over-spinning (using a gear so easy to pedal that you hit very high cadences) as a way of dealing with the elevation gain. There are enough gearing options available to us that we can get some amazingly low gear ratios, but it’s possible to go too low. This is a timed event, after all, and doing well means going faster, not just spinning faster.

My advice to clients doing timed ultra-climb events is to test gears well in advance and find a gear that allows a high cadence target (70-80 rpm) at a tempo climbing pace; I call this our tempo gear. Once this gear is established, we set up the bike with one or two gears easier to pedal to allow for cadence of 75-90 rpm on similar climbs; I call this our spinning gear. We start all early climbing in our spinning gear to help reduce the load on the muscles early, but at some point, to enhance time, you do need to use the tempo gear and push more power.

Find Your Rhythm

Ultra climbing success has a lot to do with your ability to find your climbing rhythm. We frequently hear this term but rarely see it defined; I define climbing rhythm as the ability to synchronize your power output, cadence, and breathing into a coordinated pace or rhythm. Most people seem to think only about the cadence; here’s how you balance all three.

Power: If you have a power meter, you can put an actual number to the effort, but in this case, I simply mean how hard you’re climbing. The rhythm might be different during longer climbs to deal with changes in grade, so the effort required drives the target.

Cadence: Cadence gets matched to power/effort. For ultra events I tell all my clients to put cadence on their device screen in big, bold numbers. Once you’re going at the right power, match a cadence you previously tested in your gearing tests and stay there as best you can.

Breathing: This is the part of the equation most often neglected. As you climb and fall into your rhythm, make sure your breathing does the same. Take deep breaths to get the most oxygen possible and exhale deeply to empty your lungs. I recommend inhaling through the nose when possible and use this phrase to help my clients remember it: smell the roses, blow out the candle. A forceful nose inhale opens up the lungs and diaphragm, and a more explosive exhale through the mouth empties the lungs effectively. Thinking about your breathing in your training rides will help you develop a habit of deep breathing before you have to deep breathe to keep enough oxygen flowing in your system. This takes some mental focus, but it can really help.

Find Your Stance

Should you stand or sit more? I get this question a lot. Generally, the larger you are, the more you should sit and spin instead of stand; the more weight you need to support in standing, the higher the stress on the aerobic and cardiovascular systems. However, standing does not necessarily create a decrease in efficiency, just some different demands.

I believe it’s very important to stand sometimes, regardless of size, because it engages different muscles, changes some blood flow, and gives the sit bones a little break. I recommend my clients take a varied approach toward seating and standing, but I want it to be part of the climbing rhythm, so we develop a pattern of sitting and standing. For example, we might sit for two minutes, stand and climb for twenty to thirty seconds, then sit again for two minutes. Developing a practiced rhythm of sitting and standing helps you get the most from each.

One note: when standing, always shift into one harder gear (assuming the grade stays the same). The standing effort will always increase aerobic stress and heart rate, and you can justify the cost by using the weight to push a slightly bigger gear to get a tad more speed.

Find Your “I Won't Quit” Voice

At the end of the day, the battle of ultra climbing is won in the mind based on your ability to control (or at least ignore) that little voice in your head that eventually starts whispering, “This hurts, go slower, please stop, we are done, ouch…” All endurance athletes spend a lot of time hearing this voice, but the difference is whether or not you listen to it.

There’s a great video rolling around the Internet about a Navy study on this inner voice. According to the video, when the average person's mind says, “You’re done,” the body is actually only 40% done. I don’t usually quote Internet “studies” designed to be more motivational than scientific, but this message resonates with me. As a long-time coach, I’ve seen the mentally tougher athletes win out time and time again. I’ve also seen athletes decide to believe in themselves and, as a result, go way beyond what they thought they were capable of.

The negative whispers aren’t likely to stop. Ever. But you can fight them with a strong positive message. I tell my clients to find a message that inspires them and keep it in their mind. It can be a short mantra that represents your goal for the event, something that inspires you to overcome, or something that simply motivates you. Regardless what it is, use it every time your body says, “I’m ready to quit now.” Counter the inner negative voice with a positive message and a desire to achieve. And remember: you are only 40% done!


The ability to achieve ultra climbing challenges boils down to training and desire. A well-prepared athlete equipped with the right equipment, tools, and mindset can thrive and end up with a very rewarding experience.

By Tim Cusick 22 Sep, 2016
Fall is an especially wonderful time for cycling as we ride through its colorful foliage and under its clear blue skies. But along with the clear skies come chilly temperatures. After a summer of easy choices (a jersey and shirt), we’re back to the thirty-minute dilemma of what to wear on our long Saturday rides. It’s tough enough just to find those lost layers after months of neglect, not to mention making sure we own the right pieces for the different temperatures.

We all know that when we’re cycling (or doing hard exercise of any kind) in chilly weather, the first rule of thumb is to rule out any clothing made of cotton. Cotton retains moisture (perspiration) and can leave us feeling wet, clammy, and chilled. For comfort on the bike, choose moisture-wicking layers made of synthetics or merino wool. These fabrics dry much faster than cotton and help transport perspiration away from our skin.

I personally have over thirty years of high-mileage cycling experience, and you’d think dressing for a cycling outing would be easy for me by now, right? Not so much. Part of the problem is that I have too many choices (see below), and I’ve learned I can mix and match the pieces to fit all types of riding and all types of weather. I find it helps to take mental notes on each daily ride or even write down my clothing combos and the approximate temperatures so that I can plan for future rides.

Here are my favorite cool-weather clothing tips. Everyone has different comfort levels and certainly different warming needs, so these are my personal choices and merely guidelines.  
By Tim Cusick 18 Aug, 2016

We are always striving to reach higher levels of cycling performance than we’ve ever achieved before. And we all know this is easier said than done. How can we follow through on this goal? The key is to realize and accept that you’ll need to make some sacrifice and some change. If you're already training smart (or at least reasonably so), you’re ready for three areas of change that will help you smash your fitness and performance plateau.

Increase volume more than 20%

This is the hardest thing for most of us to accomplish because life tends to limit our time to train, but the investment will yield high returns. The key is to increase the volume by enough to really make a difference, and 20% is a great target. It sounds like a lot of time (and it is), but let’s break it down a little. A typical recreational rider, gran fondo participant, or category racer trains about 10-12 hours a week, which means that a 20% increase for these riders means training for roughly 12-14.5 hours a week. Most of us can actually find an extra 2-2.5 hours if we really want to.

It’s important to use the time well. I don’t recommend adding 15 minutes to every workout; to maximize your gains, add an hour to just two workouts each week.

Here are a few tips for making it count:

  • Ride to your group ride. I know, this means you might be a little more tired for the ride itself, but leaving the house early and riding down is a great way to pick up time, because most of us can get up a little earlier. If you don’t have the time to ride home afterward, make a deal with someone to drive you home. This is an easy way to add an hour of cycling time each week.
  • Pull a double. Pick one day a week to ride the trainer early in the morning for an hour, then complete your regular workout later in the day. This is another way to gain time simply by getting up a little earlier.

Increase time at threshold (or just below) by 25%

Threshold power is the single biggest contributor to cycling performance success. Don’t get me wrong; you still need to be able to power climb and surge and sprint to the finish, but building your threshold will give you the biggest possible bang for your buck. It’s also a great focus for the winter season.

Again, lets break down the numbers. Most analytical software programs can show “time in zone” analysis for power or heart rate. Take a look at your time in the zones. If you’re an average recreational cyclist, I bet it’ll be in the 10% range (if you group ride a lot, it may be a tad higher). Using the 10-12-hour total average, you’re probably working in your threshold zone about 1-1.5 hours a week. To increase that percentage by 25%, you’ll need to move your time in that zone up to 1.25-2 hours.

To get the best results, this extra time at threshold needs to be consecutive (accomplished as extended intervals). Here are some ways to get there:

  • Add more sweet spot training (SST) in December, January, and possibly February. Sweet spot means extended intervals ranging from 15-60 minutes of riding at about 90% of your threshold (88-93%, to be specific). SST gives us most of the benefits of pure threshold work with a lot less fatigue, so we can do more in a week or month. The classic target is 2 x 20-minute intervals, but you can expand that to be 3 x 15 minutes, 2 x 25 minutes, and 4 x 15 minutes (or 3 x 20 minutes). An hour of SST in a single workout is a good goal for most recreational cyclists, and you can complete up to four of this type of workouts each week.
  • Plan your progressive workouts. It surprises me how many people do not have a training plan. Ad hoc training is fine if you’re just getting in some exercise, but if you really want to improve your cycling performance, you’ll need to make your workouts progressively harder; this will keep your body overreaching and adapting. Plan your weekly SST load to give yourself a target.
  • Progress to threshold work. In your mid to late base phase, start building your time at true threshold (95-105% of your tested threshold). And then start the process over!

Take a look at the chart below as an example of increasing time in SST zones. This athlete made a significant increase, resulting in a 30-watt improvement in threshold from the same period the year before.

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