Malliot Blanc Column by Toby Miles – The art of sprinting

PUBLISHED: 12:47 10 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:47 10 May 2018

Malliot Blanc cycling columnist Toby Miles in competitive action on the continent. Credit: Martine Verfaillie.

Malliot Blanc cycling columnist Toby Miles in competitive action on the continent. Credit: Martine Verfaillie.

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Read Toby Miles’ Malliot Blanc Column as the 18-year-old aspiring professional cyclist examines the complex art of sprinting.

Toby in action racing in Israel. Credit: rent-a-bike-israel.comToby in action racing in Israel. Credit: rent-a-bike-israel.com

On Saturday I was back at Hog Hill again in search of good results on a blisteringly hot day.

The heat only made for more suffering after rolled away from the start. An solo breakaway slipped out of sight early and after a committed attempt to catch him, I realised the win was out of reach. Though initially deflated, my attention turned to the two podium spots still available. I intended to snatch one in the bunch sprint.

Sprinting is an intricate art that’s been shaped over more than half a century. In the early days of the sport, around the turn of the century, there were many minutes between riders at the finish, as courses were designed to break all but one rider, the winner.

However, as tactics developed, the number of quality riders increased and it became more difficult for the best cyclists to finish alone. Being able to beat a rider in a straight shoot-out in the final meters of a race became a handy skill as the sport entered the 1930’s.

Now, a rider finishing completely alone is rare and winning often requires you to out-think and out-sprint at least one rider, meaning a strong kick is a huge advantage.

You’ll see a sprint of some kind in any race on TV. As the camera helicopter hovers above the pack, watch as the likes of Mark Cavendish maneuver into position, commanding the space around them and anticipating every surge or slump in pace. Or in a two-man finale, one rider tries the element of surprise to out-think an - on paper - superior sprinter.

The sprint on Saturday was for second place, and there were around 25 men in the bunch who wanted it. With only two riders with teammates, the final 800-meters were a bun fight for position.

As the bell rang to signify the final lap - which took around two and a half minutes to complete - the intensity increases and there is an air of desperation in the bunch, anticipating the adrenaline fuelled, frantic final dash.

The pace was slow as everyone waited, so I seized the opportunity to ride to the front, before intentionally slipping back into sixth position when the pace lifted.

With 600-meters to go, the speed ratcheted up. I had to be alert to any increase in speed or I’d be swamped and blocked from the front, while defending my position with a physical presence.

With 250-meters to go, the race was at full speed. Seconds before it was time to sprint, I sensed a rider trying to pass me on my right.

I briefly rode out of the saddle, swaying my bike side to side to increase my surface area and dissuade the rider from trying to squeeze past - an effective tactic in the ruthless sprinting environment, where only a move which will put competitors in danger is worthy of a disqualification.

With 150-meters to go, I only had one rider between me and the open road. He kicked hard. I did the same, and we thrashed with all we had towards the line.

The rest of the riders slipped back behind me as I fixated on the front riders back wheel, giving everything to close the gap.

I sat back on the saddle, flashed across the line and bowed my head, finally relaxing after 75 hard minutes.

I’d finished third, second in the bunch sprint by a comfortable margin but not troubling the second placed rider, who led the bunch in a minute after the winner.

I bagged my first podium of the year and could only be satisfied, considering I didn’t feel at my best. It’s a result to build from and as always I’ll go into the next race hungry for the win.

For more, follow Toby: @toby_cometsport on Twitter.

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