A sprint can come down to mere inches. So in any sprint, leaving a gap between you and the athlete in front of you might seem crazy. But this gap might be exactly what you need to win your sprint.

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What Is the Sprinters Gap?

In a sprint, the small gap between you and the athlete in front of you is referred to as the ‘Sprinters Gap’. When you have a gap between you and the competitor in front you, you have the opportunity to launch your sprint into their draft. Sprinting into another athlete’s draft allows you to accelerate while your competitor exerts extra energy fighting in the wind.

Having a gap like this can be a big advantage in any sprint, because you can use the gap to reach a speed that your competitor can’t. When you use this gap and you accelerate past your competitor, you’ll be moving too fast to be caught.

This tactic only works if you can position yourself at the front of the race at the right time, with enough energy to make your move. Before we get into the sprint, let’s take a step back and look at how you’d get to this point.

Setting up Your Sprint

Every good sprint begins with a good set up. When the race is nearing its end and you know it’s  going to come down to a sprint, make a conscious effort well before the sprint begins to position yourself.

The longer you wait to position yourself, the more energy it will take to move up through the field. To conserve energy, start methodically moving forward a few positions at a time, every lap, during the last third of the race. When the last lap comes around, and your competitors are fighting to get into position, you will be right where you need to be. 

Here are some things to focus on as you set up your sprint:

Take Advantage of Corners

If you are racing on a course with technical corners, the last few corners before the home stretch are critical. Use these corners to make passes and close doors on your competitors.

Focus on carrying momentum into turns so that you don’t need to exert extra energy accelerating out of them. Go into corners pedaling just a bit longer than you’d like too. If you keep your handlebars in front of the athlete next to you going into a corner you will maintain control of the turn and stay in front of the competitor next to you. 

Work Efficiently

Fight for your position while maintaining as much efficiency as possible. Making careful line choices, following wheels to the front and staying out of the wind as much as possible are all strategies that can help you save energy for your final sprint. Before the sprint, all your energy should be geared towards getting on the right wheel.

Get on the Right Wheel

Based on what you know about the athletes around you decide who you’d like to follow into the sprint. This should be someone that is sitting towards the front and is going to follow or initiate the final sprint.

The best athlete to sprint behind is the athlete that complements your power profile for a sprint. If you know this athlete is going to launch a long sprint and you are best at short sprints, stay in this athlete’s draft for as long as you can. If you are best at long sprints, look for a rider who may be trying to lead out another rider. Or look for a rider that might be sprinting too early for their own power profile, but is perfect for your power profile. 

The Beginning of the Sprint

When the sprint begins – stay on the wheel you’ve chosen. This is the athlete you will accelerate into at the end of the race. If the the rider you’ve chosen isn’t where you expected them to be then hop on another wheel towards the front of the group.

If an attack has started too early, stay seated and focus on maintaining as much efficiency as possible. You can stay seated as long as you are able to output a speed that keeps you in the draft. When you reach the point in the course where you know you can maintain a powerful standing sprint, then you can get out of the saddle and initiate your own attack.

The timing of your attack is key. If you make your move too late you might not have enough time to successfully execute. If you sprint too early, a stronger sprinter might have enough time to real you back in. Getting the timing right comes with a bit of practice and varies from athlete to athlete and race to race. However, with time, practice and a solid understanding of your sprinting abilities you will form an intuition for the timing.

Using the Sprinter’s Gap

Most importantly, make sure you leave a gap between you and the rider in front of you. When you launch your sprint the lower wind resistance will maximize the acceleration of your sprint. Figuring out how big this gap should be takes practice. You can do sprint drills with other riders as often as possible outside of a race scenario to figure out how big this gap should be.

When you are ready to attack and you’ve established a gap between you and the athlete in front of you – uncork and execute an explosive sprint.

Don’t veer off to the side when you start sprinting. Instead, sprint directly inline with the athlete in front of you (as long as you deem it safe). To maximize your time in the gap focus on picking up as much speed and momentum as possible. The more momentum you gain the faster you will be when you accelerate past your competitor.

When it’s time to pass, slot out of your competitors draft. You want to do this as late as you possibly can without crashing or hindering the momentum of your sprint. If you move into the wind too soon, it will decrease the efficacy of the sprint and give your competitor additional time to react. If you slot out at exactly the right time, you’ll pass them at a speed they won’t be able to reach fighting in the wind, and you might even catch them off guard.

Anyone Can Use this Tactic!

Sprinting doesn’t need to be your specialty to use this tactic successfully. In fact, this can be an especially useful strategy if sprinting is not your strong suit. Using the sprinters gap in any sprint can be the advantage you need to win a sprint against a better sprinter. So when your next race comes down to a sprint, don’t count yourself out. Employ the sprinters gap and go all in!


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Meghan Kelley

Meghan Kelley is a writer, XC MTB racer and trail enthusiast. Her years spent racing XC and working at TrainerRoad has translated to a passion for all things cycling.