As is the case with most riders moving up through the ranks, I earned many of my upgrade points in pack sprints. However, when I started doing the long training miles required to be competitive in UCI stage races, the zip just went away. My longest week ever on the bike was almost 40 hours. I will never be able to, nor desire to, do that kind of riding again!
Fortunately, if I returned to cycling as a sprinter, I wouldn't have to. Unless you're a Euro roadie needing to sprint at the end of Milan-San Remo after 300 kilometers of racing, endurance riding kills leg speed. So one of the great things about being a domestic crit racer is that you don't need to do those crazy miles. Assuming that my longest race would be about 60 minutes, I would severely shorten my training rides. The longest days would be no more than two hours and many days would be an hour or less. Miles kill swiftness and I would want to be nothing but a bowl full of speed. I won't be able to go up hill and my threshold power will be much lower, but my one-minute and 30-second critical power will greatly increase.
More: 5 Tips for Faster Race Finishes
Track sprinters are in the gym almost year long. I don't think I would be interested in that type of plan, but there would be a shift from the program I did as a stage racer. There would need to be more emphasis on explosive speed. Therefore, in addition to the Muscular Adaptation, Strength and Power phases I would add two cycles of plyometrics. These are explosive movements that often involve jumping motions. In terms of on the bike strength training, instead of 10 minute low cadence (50 rpm) muscle tension intervals I would do a one minute to three minute version at higher loads so the muscles can get used to working at anaerobic levels.
More: 8 Core Exercises for Cyclists
A lot of sprinting success starts in the mind. If you look at the great sprinters, they are always confident, sometimes to the point of arrogance. To be a great sprinter, you have to have the unshakable knowledge that you own the front of that race and that you will take apart anyone who tries to steal your wheel or come around you. Sure there's timing and lead outs and positioning, but what it comes down to is finding your place and owning it. There can't be even a moment of hesitation as you scream into that final off camber turn bumping elbows and knocking helmets. It comes down to controlled ferocity.
Ironically, there is also an element of tranquility required. In my 20-year cycling career I've seen a breakaway succeed in an amateur criterium two or three times total. However, that never stops anyone from trying. It's not a problem if you are going out to have some fun, you want to show off to your friends or you are using the race for training but if you want to win, there is only one way to do it and that is by staying relaxed and waiting for the final sprint.
To find that perfect balance between stoicism and aggression, I would hit the mental training hard. Affirmations, mantras, visualizations.
Despite the fact that I have my entire comeback mapped out in my head, there is one essential element that is missing and that is desire. At some point in my career, cycling became a compulsion and an obligation rather than a passion. Once I can find the fun and enjoyment in the sport I can think about a comeback but my real hope is that I will find a peace with the sport that I can take pleasure in simply by riding my bike.
More: Cycling Drills to Improve Sprinting Speed
Ready to ride? Search for a cycling event