There are a lot of things I don't do well in cycling. I don't diet well, I don't time trial well yet, and I don't climb particularly well. What I can do pretty decently, when I put my mind to it and I'm half fit, is sprint, or mash up a short power hill with a lot of speed. I take great joy in riding my single speed mountain bike past guys on geared bikes who are having trouble, just mashing up hills.
For some reason - natural ability and natural inclination to work hard at it I'd guess - I'm blessed with a good deal of neuromuscular power (somewhat to the detriment of my aerobic abilites). You have to have some to begin with, but if you've got a little you can build it up quite a bit. It's not just useful for sprinting; it helps in a lot of other areas in racing and general riding and you should think about adding it to the mix if you haven't already.
The first move is deciding you can actually do this - getting your mind right to sprint. A lot of people don't seem to think they can ride super aggressively, really explode out of a pack or sprint for the win or a money placing. They shouldn't talk themselves out of sprinting or making explosive moves ever - that's like agreeing to fight with one hand tied behind your back before the other guy has ever challenged you to fight. I think it's possible to train yourself to be fairly explosive. A good coach or training book will tell you what workouts to do to build that kind of power. But like most things in cycling, it's not really about the bike, it's more about what's in your head.
You may have a totally different mental makeup from me, but I'd like to clue you in on what I've discovered in terms of mental preparedness, what it takes to do sprint workouts and get real improvements in neuromuscular power. I've found that it's possible to train VO2 or threshold or tempo intervals by spinning up to speed, and then hanging on for dear life. You don't need to be on the top of your game to hit most of those training benchmarks. You don't need to ride those intervals; they are happy to ride you.
Sprinting, stomping, mashing is a whole different way of life. When you want to shoot out the front of the pack with a big jump, or take a prime, blast up a short hill or do a quality sprint workout, you need to attack it with confidence. There's no hanging on or muddling through; you need to kick the hill's, the pack's, your bike's or maybe your own ass with confidence.
To be able to do this in a race or a hot group ride, you need to get after it in training when you have sprint workouts. You need to make yourself hurt, bigtime. You need to get all violent and medieval on the bike's ass, and hope you don't break the bike or yourself. You also need to train your mind to think about the kind of violent jump you need to make, to make your effort really pay off. Nothing convinces other riders to stop sprinting early better than you leaving them in the dust with a violent attack.
The workout Bill gave me for today is a typical neuromuscular power workout and it sounds easy enough. 10-12 x spinups, seated, starting in a big gear at a trackstand or near to it. Do 15-20 turns of the crank going as hard as possible, and repeat every 4 minutes or so. According to Bill, this should be in a gear that just permits you to turn 50-60 RPM at the end of each repetition. We're going to have to discuss this because in 53:13 I'm usually hitting close to 90 RPM after 15 turns of the crank, and if I put it in 53:12 the chainline is just off enough that the chain immediately throws itself off the big ring. Doesn't matter what gear you're in though; it's a stomp. You could do this on a hill in a slightly lower gear if you wanted to, or you could do it so that you were spinning up to 90 or 120 RPM or carrying it out for 30 seconds, depending on whether you wanted to work VO2 power or had some other goal to hit. That low cadence / short duration stuff is strength and neuromuscular power work.
Your mind has to be right because you are going to get all sick and violent and stomp on the bike and yank hard on the bars and wrench up using your back and your ass, riding in a manner that is patently dangerous, and you're going to make the damn bike go fast even if it doesn't want to. Sprinting is an act of will as much as a riding technique, and it will hurt because you can't sprint unless your mind is able to dominate your body and ignore it's repeated requests to just stop and chill out. I know I've done a good sprint workout when the insides of my forearms are bruised from banging on my handlebars as I wrench on the bike, my back hurts a little, and maybe my neck is tight. You need to remember it isn't supposed to be easy, and that it won't be.
Do a good warmup at the outset - 10-15 minutes of zone 2, 5 minutes at FTP, finishing with a minute at 105 or 110% of FTP, just to open the legs. 5 minutes of easy spin, then pull up to the line.Now here 's what the stomp should feel like if you're determined to wring yourself out.
Let other cyclists clear the road. You'll want empty space for a couple hundred yards to your front. Make sure you're in 53:12 or 53:13. Breathe deep. Slowly coast up to the marker at 1-2 MPH - a light pole, bench, or crack in the road where you'll start your sprint. Get your pedals in the 1 o'clock / 7 o'clock position. Get your hands in the hooks or on the drops, wherever you like them and wherever they give the best leverage, but not on the flats or shifters, not for this kind of sprint. Move your ass back on the saddle for more leverage. Notice the slight breeze, the sunshine and a few clouds, some distant joggers. Now put them out of your mind, and start thinking aggressively, picturing yourself stomping a hole in the pedals, flogging the bike. Start feeling mad and letting your inner voice shout and rage; picture how it's going to feel (it will hurt) and how you're going to just about blast off.
As you roll into your start point, tap the brake to come to a complete (or nearly complete stop).
Now Explode! Take out some rage on the pedals. Hate the bike for a second. Take charge of it and dominate it. Pull up with your back leg, so it feels like your feet are swimming, doing a clumsy version of the crawl. Exhale hard. It feels like it takes 5 seconds to get the upper pedal to drop to the bottom of the stroke the first time. Grip the bars tight but evenly, and pull back and up hard, using them for leverage. Let your ass leave the saddle by a half inch and stay there - you can stomp the pedals harder that way. Second pedal stroke, same thing but a little faster. Ignore the pedals and handlebars squeaking in complaint at the abuse. Don't lose concentration here - do not take the easy way out - Stomp! Pull up! After the third or fourth pedal stroke, you're actually picking up quite a bit of speed, and there is a temptation to ease off, sit down and spin. Don't! Keep your ass slightly off the saddle, pick up your leg speed and stomp harder and faster. Go! Go! Faster! I don't know why my eyes roll back in my head here but they do sometimes - but still keep straight. And keep counting - 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... Every second or so remind yourself that you are starting to ease off - and you can't ease off here! Redouble your effort. The front wheel may now be lifting a tiny bit off the ground each time you stomp. Don't worry about it, just keep your body straight and don't cross the bars up. The breeze is stronger now. Keep breathing hard with each pedal stroke. Breathe, stomp! Breathe, stomp stomp. Stomp harder and pull up faster, come on! Keep your head up so you don't crash. Stomp stomp stomp. Start your spin as soon as you can by smoothly but very strongly pulling upward and working every bit of the pedal stroke.
Then you're going plenty fast and you're at 16 pedal strokes. You're doing 30, and showing 80 some-odd RPM for a cadence.
Ease up, and spin for three and a half minutes now. Relax your mind, get ready to attack the pedals again, to let the beast out for 15 seconds, and let him howl.
If you are doing stomps correctly, you should hurt a bit. You will be using your arms, upper back and core muscles. Using the upper body adds a lot of power - in my case at least 200 watts. You need to try very hard to keep good form. You will be pulling all-out, and if you get crooked on the bike you can crash it, or damage yourself physically. That'd be embarassing. And yes, Virginia, if you do 10 or a dozen of these, and do them with the vigorous spirit they are meant to have, you will be sore and stiff. Please stretch afterwards or you won't be flexible enough the next day to pick your nose.
My point in all this is that a lot of riders seem to ignore developing their neuromuscular power because they aren't natural sprinters, to their way of thinking. That is kind of silly. Even if you aren't a 'natural sprinter,' being able to decisively pass a rival in a race drives a stake into his or her heart. Being able to jet out of the pack to take a prime or start your solo attack confuses the pack and gives you a chance to get away. Shedding rivals when you start your bridge effort is mandatory, or else you're going to feel like an ass for killing yourself to bring across three guys who work to shut you out at the end of the race. I've done that, it sucked, believe you me. The other reason to train neuromuscular power is maybe the best reason. I find that my ability to work at threshold and VO2 levels is greatly improved because my legs are simply stronger than they were previously, and it's just not as taxing on them to put out that way. Super double bonus points, yes?
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this peak into my turbulent mind during a sprint workout. I started writing this to try to figure out what the hell *I* was doing, since it struck me on the third or fourth sprint that I was in this sort of deranged state, and that I always do this training with that mindset. At the same time, I hope you take it in the spirit it's meant - clueing you in on something that has really helped me in training, and that might be useful to you if you aren't already doing it.
Maybe the coaches and, um, distinguished riders who stop on by here from time to time may be able to shed some light on why this kind of training seems to bring a range of benefits with it.
[Update: after sleeping on it overnight... I'm stiff as hell this morning. I also thought about it a little - what's the meaning of this mental routine I do in sprint training? It's weird to talk about cycling this way. It struck me that I'm applying a contact sports mental process to sprint workouts. I recognized my mental routine as the process I used to get amped up and execute during the Oklahoma Drill in rugby practice. That's a physical toughening and tackling drill from football where you line up, mano-a-mano, 5 meters apart, and try to knock down the other guy, to hit him with everything you've got and just flat lay him out. This may be an unusual approach to take in bike-based training - though I expect some trackies have a similar mental approach based on their hockey-on-wheels shenanigans. As in contact sports, the trick is to get yourself into shape, and into position, where you can apply this attitude in a live game environment - in rugby or football it is when you get one-on-one and have a chance to make a huge tackle or break a big run, in cycling it's the finish sprint or making the big attack. I suppose that the real trick for me is getting into good enough shape that I'm finishing a cross race in a position where it's actually worthwhile to sprint.]