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Cycling sprinter

A cycling sprinter is a road bicycle racer or track racer who can finish a race very explosively by accelerating, sometimes using the slipstream of another cyclist or group of cyclists tactically to gain greater momentum.

The road sprinter

Cycling sprinters tend to have a larger build than the average 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 metres. Some prefer slight uphill finishes, others prefer downhill finishes. For example, Mario Cipollini, a notable Italian sprinter, was able to win all types of finish except those with an uphill component.

Sprinter tactics

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 'leading them out' (ie: keeping pace high and sheltering the sprinter) so that they have a greater chance of finishing in the leading positions.

In the 1990s Mario Cipollini convinced his team to establish a lead-out train to support his sprinting abilities. Such teams keep the pace in the final kilometres as high as possible to make late attacks very difficult, thus ensuring that the sprinters have the best chance of victory. They also aim to keep their sprinter (eg: Cipollini) well-positioned against other sprinters. Today (2005), several teams have lead-out trains for their designated sprinters; one of the most successful ones is the (now defunct) Fassa Bortolo lead-out train serving Alessandro Petacchi.

Sprinters can also compete for intermediate sprints (sometimes called 'primes') during a race. In a circuit race, for example, there may be prizes for the first across the line at half distance or after 10 laps. In a stage race, intermediate sprints and final stage placings may be combined in a points competition; in the Tour de France, the maillot vert (green jersey) is normally won by the race's most consistent sprinter; German Erik Zabel won a record six Tour de France green jerseys (1996-2001).

The Classic race Milan-San Remo tends to favour sprinters, and most of its editions have ended in a bunch sprint. Zabel won the race four times (being nicknamed Mr. Milan-San Remo). Another well-known race for sprinters is Paris-Tours.

Top road sprinters of the past

(in approximate order by date, oldest first)

  • Rik Van Looy (Belgium)

  • Stan Ockers (Belgium)

  • André Darigade (France)

  • Freddy Maertens (Belgium)

  • Sean Kelly (Ireland)

  • Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (Uzbekistan)

  • Mario Cipollini (Italy)

Current sprinting specialists

Currently active professional cyclists who are known as sprinting specialists include:

  • Tom Boonen (Belgium)

  • Baden Cooke (Australia)

  • Allan Davis (Australia)

  • Steven de Jongh (Netherlands)

  • Óscar Freire (Spain)

  • Angelo Furlan (Italy)

  • Thor Hushovd (Norway)

  • Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia)

  • Robbie McEwen (Australia)

  • Jéan Patrick Nazon (France)

  • Stuart O'Grady (Australia)

  • Luciano André Pagliarini (Brazil)

  • Alessandro Petacchi (Italy)

  • Fred Rodriguez (United States)

  • Alexandre Usov (Belarus)

  • Alejandro Valverde (Spain)

  • Max van Heeswijk (Netherlands)

  • Erik Zabel (Germany)

  • Marco Zanotti (Italy)

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 Olympic 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.

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