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The Art of Sprinting with Szymon Sajnok

“To be honest, the sprints are more chaotic and dangerous when you’re there, fighting in the peloton, than when you watch it on TV from the helicopter angle. When you see it from a fan perspective it all looks more fluid but, from our perspective, it is more hectic. In the UCI WorldTour races, there are usually around 15 riders who are going for a top-three result in the sprint. Every team has one leader and everyone is looking for their spot so, it’s pretty straightforward and a little bit safer. In smaller races, with many Professional Continental and Continental teams, there are more riders who want to take advantage of the opportunity and want to get into the mix. With more guys involved the sprint is more dangerous.” 

“In the finale, you have to be extremely focused, keep your head on a swivel and look for any gaps to jump into. You also need to pick the right moment to move up and launch the sprint. In the final kilometer you just follow the wheel in front of you, hopefully the wheel of your teammate, and then pick the perfect moment to go. With 100 meters to go, when the road ahead of you is clear, you just put your head down and push on the pedals the hardest you can. At that moment you’re not really aware of what’s going on around you, you just go flat out. With 1000, 500 or 300 meters to go you still have to pay attention to everything, but in the final kick to the line, it’s all about the power in the legs. During the sprint you hear that it’s loud but there is no way you could hear a certain person screaming your name. You switch off all the senses and completely focus on the task.”

Pre-sprint planning 

“If a bunch sprint is expected then during the pre-race meeting we go through the finale in detail. The Sports Directors talk with us about the lead out – when a certain rider should start pulling and when another takes over – and the key corners and roundabouts or how far out the last turn is. I also read the road book very carefully in my hotel room and I do visualizations. I usually go as far as five kilometers out but, if the race ends on a circuit, on narrow roads then I start my analysis even further, with 20 kilometers to go. If you are not positioned well for the last corner it’s basically over for you. Sure, you can still move up a few places in the peloton but, that will cost you energy. I like to know the final five to seven kilometers to go in detail.” 

There are many factors that impact the strategy for a certain sprint. For example, if the road is wide and straight, and there is a headwind, then you can wait a little bit longer until moving to the front of the group. There is no point in spending too much energy if you can attack from behind. If it’s more narrow and twisty then you need to be at the head of the bunch much sooner. In my case, intuition still plays a big part in how I do my sprints. I haven’t established a pattern or a scheme that I would use repetitively. I’m still learning and trying to figure out what would be an ideal lead-out for me.”

In-race preparation  

“I like to start the sprint clean, with nothing in my pockets. With 5-10 kilometers to go, I take the last sip of my isotonic drink and then I get rid of the water bottle. If I still have some energy gels then I eat them, with 10-15 kilometers to go. Emptying my jersey pockets is more for the psychological effect than anything and it’s just something I like to do. With 20-30 kilometers remaining, I do a little stretching since the body gets stiff after spending a few hours in the same position and just before the sprint, I tighten my shoe straps.” 

That feeling

“If I launch my sprint and I jump off somebody’s wheel in a perfect moment and I see that I have a clear path towards the line then I feel amped up. When I took second place at the VOO-Tour de Wallonie I had exactly that feeling and when I put the hammer down, I was just waiting until the power shuts off. That happened 50 meters from the line.” 

“When there is a high possibility of a bunch sprint, you’re trying to save as much energy throughout the race and then release all that energy in the end. You see your teammates working hard for you, protecting you so you could arrive at the line as fresh as possible. When the time for the sprint comes you want to go as hard as you can for your guys and you want to leave everything out there.” 

Teamwork

“I prefer to have my own train rather than to try to position myself behind another team. However, most of the time it’s difficult because it often gets very hectic and it’s easy to lose a wheel of your teammate. I like to stay with my guys as long as possible, especially when the entire peloton is heading to the line.”

“There is not much talking inside the final three kilometers. If there is, it’s through the radio and it’s mostly our Sports Director who gives us final directions. Sometimes, I may ask the team to wait for me a little if I faded in the group too much and I need some help to bring me back to the front. There is no yelling or shouting, we communicate mostly through the radio. The wind blowing in the ears makes it almost impossible to hear somebody who is more than one or two bike lengths away.”

Sprint fast, live slow

“Off the bike, I like to play chess and I think it has a lot in common with sprinting. Obviously, everything happens much faster in the race and you need to make decisions quicker, but chess teaches you how to predict your rivals’ moves and you can practice logical thinking – if somebody went here, than I need to go there, need to find another gap. Anticipating under pressure is an important skill.” 

“Being a sprinter is quite a stressful specialty in cycling because there is a lot of going on in the end. You don’t necessarily think about crashing while you’re going 60km/h but those thoughts about safety sometimes pop up in your mind earlier in the race and you have to remind yourself to watch out.”

 

 

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