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.
Apart from using sprinting as a racing tactic, 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 classification. 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 recipient of this honor is German sprinter Erik Zabel, who won a record six Tour de France green jerseys (1996–2001).
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, while others prefer downhill finishes.
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. These team-mates tend to "peel off" one by one as they tire; the last team-mate is known as the "lead-out sprinter" and the best of them are excellent sprinters in their own right.
Several of the Classic one day races, for example Milan-San Remo 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. Stronger sprinters with abilities in hilly terrain or on cobblestones also have good prospects of winning other major classics such as the Tour of Flanders or the Amstel Gold Race.
Cipollini holds the record for most stage wins in the Grand Tours as a sprinter; 57, of which 42 in the Giro d'Italia. Zabel won 41 stages, and 10 Points Classifications in both Giro, Tour (six times) and Vuelta (three times). Like Zabel, Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi won stages and the Points Classification of all three grand tours, including 20 stage wins in Spain. The record for stage wins in the Vuelta belongs to Delio Rodriguez with 39 wins. Mark Cavendish was named the Tour de France's best sprinter of all time by French paper L'Equipe on July 15, 2012.
A good sprint can also secure several victories for other specialists, such as Classics riders and GC-contenders. Seán Kelly won 21 stages in the Tour and Vuelta, and the Points Classifications of both races four times each, in addition to his nine major Classics wins. Likewise, Belgian classics specialists Rik van Looy and Roger de Vlaeminck were very successful due to a good final sprint, as was recent two-time World Champion Paolo Bettini.
Conversely, many sprinters use their abilities to win more than just stages, and were successful in classics such as the Tour of Flanders (like Jan Raas) and the Giro di Lombardia (like André Darrigade).
The ultimate sprinter classic due to its relatively flat course is Milan – San Remo, won four times by Zabel and three times by three-time World Champion Oscar Freire. Other "flat" one day races considered important sprinter classics include Scheldeprijs, Vattenfall Cyclassics and Paris-Tours.
- Other successful sprinters
- Guido Bontempi
- Jean-Paul van Poppel
- Djamolidine Abdoujaparov
- Patrick Sercu
- Urs Freuler
- Charles Pélissier
- Marino Basso
- Miguel Poblet
- Robbie McEwen
- Rudi Altig
- Mark Cavendish
- Alessandro Petacchi
- André Greipel
- Thor Hushovd
- Peter Sagan
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 team 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.
The Complete Cycle Sport Guide, Peter Konopka, 1982, EP Publishing