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Sprint Tactics: Part 2 - 3 Strategies to Race the Sprint From the BACK!

In this two part sprint tactic series we’re talking about tips and training suggestions to help you get the most out of your sprint racing!

In part one, we looked at 3 strategies and key focuses when you’re riding the sprint from the front or bottom position.

In this blog, we’re going to look at 3 strategies and training tips to ride the sprint from the back or top position.

As we mentioned in last week’s blog, sprint tactics will encompass 3 fundamental principles:

  1. Distance 
  2. Speed 
  3. Position   

Distance = The amount of distance between you and your opponent

Speed = The speed in which you ride at during the race at various stages

Position = The position you occupy on the track in relation to the track itself (e.g. how high you position yourself from the top, or how close you are to the bottom/sprinters lane)

So with these three fundamental principles in mind, let’s talk about 3 strategies you can implement in training to help you out-smart your opponent and win if you draw the rear or back position.

Take Height

What it Means:

When you’re riding the sprint from the back position it’s inevitable that to win the race, you’re going to have to get to the front at some point before the finish line.

‘When’ in the race is ultimately dictated by you and you will need to set up the race by putting yourself in the right positions on the track and timing your acceleration.

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s important to note that if you’re directly behind a rider or at a lower point on the track, getting around your opponent is going to be difficult and require good acceleration.

By taking height, that is, positioning yourself higher than your opponent on the track (see the diagram below) you give yourself the opportunity to utilise free speed on the ‘downhill’ parts of the track to get around.

As a bit of a homework exercise, check out the following races and note the back rider’s position on the track in the earlier stages of the race:

Race 1: Vogel vs James - Check out what taking height looks like, Kristina Vogel demonstrates between 1:23 - 1:40

Race 2: Bauge vs Kenny - Check out what taking heights looks like - Jason Kenny demonstrates between 2:58 - 3:13: Click Here

Training Activity:

  • With a friend or training partner, practice ‘follow the leader’ on the track where the rear rider has to be challenged by the front rider in maintaining a good height position at all times. Whilst practicing this tactic, don’t allow for the distance between you to change (e.g. the rider at the back should not drift into back too far or creep up too close to the front rider). It’s up to the front rider to adjust the height/distance/speed to keep the gap right. You can practice this activity at varying speeds which will enable you to replicate a race situation.

Time Your Acceleration

What it Means:

Timing your acceleration simply means picking the right time in the race to make your move to the front.

In timing your acceleration, you’ll need to ask yourself whether you have created enough distance between yourself and your opponent get around them (without getting stuck on the hip) and you’ll also need to take into consideration the type of track you’re riding (round, skinny, long straights, short bends, degree of banking etc.).

To time your acceleration perfectly, you will need to:

  1. Create space between yourself and your front opponent (not be hard on their wheel)
  2. With the space created, run at their rear wheel before accelerating over the top of your opponent
  3. Once you get to the front, execute the right strategies based on the point within the race that you're in (e.g. have you got a lap to go and therefore need to conserve energy by executing a high speed stall? or are you coming up the home straight into the finish and therefore needing to hold form and maintain speed?)

Training Activity:

With a friend or training partner, practice ‘creating space’ by repeating the following steps: 

  1. Ride behind your training partner (be hard on their wheel).
  2. Without taking pressure off the pedals and maintain the same speed, move up the track (approx a meter) then come back down.
  3. If done correctly, there should be a bike lengths gap between you and your opponent.
  4. Once you have created the space, practice timing your acceleration and running at your front opponents rear wheel before accelerating over the top and around them.

Watch Your Distance

What it Means:

It’s not uncommon to see the back rider in a sprint drifting too far back from the front opponent, and ultimately leaving too much distance to make up the gap.

The result almost always sees the front rider taking advantage of the extra space and out-sprinting the rear rider to the finish.

When there’s too much of a gap between opponents, riders are pushing equal amounts of wind (neither benefits from slip-stream) and therefore the race can turn into a time trial with the front rider being favoured with less overall distance to travel.

When you’re riding from the back it’s important to be weary of allowing too much distance to be created between yourself and your front opponent.

What’s too much distance?

Too much distance is unrecoverable space and varies based on each rider’s physiological strengths and the track that their riding on, but for the sake of this blog, we’re going to say that too much distance is any more than 3-4 bike lengths.

If you can stay within 3-4 bike lengths of your opponent and maximise your height advantage (if you manage to take height) and time your acceleration correctly, you should find yourself in a more favourable position to get around the front rider (that is, assuming you have the speed and physiology to do so).

Training Activity:

  • With a training partner or friend, much like the first activity in this blog on ‘taking height’, practice follow the leader. This time though, the front rider needs to challenge the rear rider by varying his/her speed and the back rider needs to maintain 3 bike lengths distance at all times. Start out slow, and as you get more confident and comfortable in completing the activity, build up the speed to simulate race speeds. Couple this activity with ‘taking height’ and you should find that with good practice and execution, you will be better equipped on the line for your next match sprint race!

Have you got some track sprint tactics that you’d like to share with us?

Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear your feedback!