MTBRaceNews.com recently ran this Q&A article and I wanted to share it here too. As always, if it raises a question or two, please feel to contact me.
Question: How do I improve my sprint to get better starting position heading into early singletrack and for trying to drop competition later in a race?
Answer: Your positioning into an early singletrack is critical and the first few minutes of racing will set the tone for the race. Likewise, a late race attack can be essential en route to besting your competition in a close finish. The sprint at the start of the race and the late race attack share some similarities, but given the context of each effort they are quite different. At the start of a race you’re rested, have little fatigue and full energy reserves available. Late in the race you are already working at or near your maximum sustainable pace, there is plenty of fatigue as a result of the high intensity that you have been riding at, and energy reserves are notably depleted.
Keep in mind that the best training, is always training that is specific. For improving your race start you’ll want to practice getting into your pedals fast and going full gas for approximately 30-90 seconds while allowing for plenty of recovery between such efforts. Races make for excellent training in this regard since you also get the dynamic of going bar to bar with other riders which is another critical element. If you have access to a local mass start weekly XC or STXC race this is a great opportunity to work on your start. If you’re practicing solo or looking to build some intervals into your routine to help with this type of intensity, you’ll want to allow enough recovery between repetitions so that you can do them at full speed or very close to it. For your recovery between start sprints, stick with at least three times the duration of your efforts. For example, if you’re doing one-minute efforts, plan to allow at least three minutes of recovery between them so that you can maximize the intensity of each attempt.
Late race attacks can be harder to replicate since they’ll play out a little differently every race. The energy reserves that you have left will greatly impact how hard you can go versus your competition. Only when you sense that you’re going to approach the finish with other riders does it make sense to launch an attack. If you know that you can drop them on the final downhill, your attack might simply be making a clean pass before that descent. Likewise if you’re climbing stronger, your move might be riding away from them on the final climb. These attacks might not be spectacular displays of power, but they are tactical moves that give you the advantage you need when you need it the most. Look to play your strength against your competition’s weakness. Depending on the course, and your competition your best option for an attack can be different every time.
In order to improve your late race attacking prowess, the best solution is to generally arrive to the race more fit and with a higher level of sustainable power. Training to improve your threshold fitness will be of huge benefit to your last lap energy reserves. Taking advantage of a challenging group ride will provide you with an opportunity to go hard late into a ride, so consider this a good training option.
Building your anaerobic capacity will help for a faster start, but improved threshold fitness will give you the edge when you really need it for a late race attack. Both situations require a maximum effort, but training specifically for each situation will be quite different. Have fun working on these aspects of your preparation and let it rip out there!