The lowdown on sprinting

Meanwhile some people are racing bikes. And in a deliberate effort to look for encouraging stories that aren’t related to doping and scandal, here’s a quick observation from today’s bunch sprint in in the Tour of Oman. The sprint was won by Rabobank’s new recruit Theo Bos, the photofinish putting him ahead of Mark Cavendish.

Oman 1

Only take a look at this photo of the sprint*. What you need to look at is the rider on the right of the image, FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni. The French neo-pro finished in sixth place today and has already won in the Tropical Amissa Bongo race in Gabon. Now that’s remarkable itself but look again at his position on the bike. His shoulders are lower than Danilo Hondo’s hips.

The Low Down
Cavendish is a talented sprinter with one of the best trains in the business but the Manx rider can also win unaided thanks to fearless riding, a skill recently acknowledged by rival Andre Greipel who admitted to holding back at times when Cavendish might stay confident.

But there’s another factor behind Cav’s success and that’s his position on bike. He’s not one of the most powerful sprinters by a long way, indeed there are tales of Cavendish being told he’d amount to nothing after finishing an effort test in the lab. And apparently the SRM readings from his wins are surprisingly low. But static bikes don’t measure aerodynamics and this is one of the reasons why he wins. But Bouhanni is even more compact and aerodynamic.

The sprint revelation of the season is Andrea Guardini, the winner of the final stage of the Tour of Qatar and another compact rider. Indeed the Italian rider  says he’s like Cavendish, “yes, I’ve got the build of Cavendish. We’ve got some roughly similar characteristics. But I’d be happier with a quarter of his wins“.

Nacer Bouhanni

But Bouhanni could be one to watch. FDJ don’t have a sprint train but with ex-pursuiter Matthieu Ladagnous, fast-finisher Yoann Offredo and the windbreak that is Yauheni Hutarovich the team could turn surprise from time to time. I’m not suggesting they’d rival HTC-Highroad or Team Sky but done right, Bouhanni might be capable of overtaking the likes of Romain Feillu and Jimmy Casper in a few French races and with some progress, maybe finally becoming the sprinter that France has lacked since the days of Frédéric Moncassin.

Finally, note that a low position isn’t unique to sprinters. Last year I covered the way Bradley Wiggins has also got much lower on his bike.

* I’m sorry to use a hyperlink instead of featuring the image on here but I don’t want to get’s licence with Reuters in trouble.

19 thoughts on “The lowdown on sprinting”

  1. First of all – great analysis. This is something here in the States we do not get a lot of, as most of the coverage is not in depth enough to analyze rider position on the bike. People assume that the best sprinters are the guys with the most solid power, and this really provides some hints to the amateurs out there that what you may lack for power, potentially make up for in strategy and other factors, including aerodynamics.

    Secondly – I hope FDJ surprises the peloton. They have been a consistent presence in the world of cycling for quite some time, and consistently have some of the best looking kits in the pro cycling ranks. They unfortunately lack the budget of some of the better financed teams, are French (insert doping assumptions here), but have been slowly building up some talent in their stable of riders.

  2. Describing Cavendish’s riding as fearless is simply laughable, considering his less-than-great bike handling skills. Just ask Boonen and Haussler, who each lost a good chunk of their season last year as a direct result of a crash caused by Cavendish.

    There’s little doubt that he’s the best sprinter in the world, but Cavendish has a long way to go when it comes to being a responsible and safe rider.

  3. “Describing Cavendish’s riding as fearless is simply laughable”

    “Cavendish has a long way to go when it comes to being a responsible and safe rider.”

    Fearless says to me that he is willing to take risks. Perhaps even risking his safety. You are contradicting yourself here Mark.

  4. Tyler: yes, although it’s a marginal gain rather than something “drastic” no? That said, at this speed and in a photo finish, these things make the difference.

    ColoradoGoat: thanks. It’s true positioning matters. If you look at the average pro you will notice a very big saddle – bar drop. It is perhaps self-selecting/perpetuating but the riders who are more aero have an advantage. As for FDJ, I’m a fan but with some frustration, wishing they could make some gains.

    Mark: those aren’t my words but of an ex-team mate. He didn’t mean “reckless”, he was talking about big confidence and a steady style. Yes, Cavendish has had some big crashes but when it comes to handling skills, I think he’s got it. It’s something Greipel recognises too.

    Euan + Mark: perhaps we can acknowledge that a reputation, even undeserved, can be hard to shake? Graeme Brown for example, most of his sprints are regulation but any time he makes a mistake he gets reminded of it.

  5. This is a good analysis, Cav does get low and is small in height to enable this, much in the same as Robbie McEwen. However I’d like to add a couple of other things which Cav has hinted in his book. Aside from a low profile, Cav has a longer trunk, and smaller legs in proportion. Regarding aero, his smaller leg length helps lower his body and the longer body length enables him to propel forward more over the bike, missile like. Also, yes his W numbers are surprising considering his performance however his leg/calf size is interesting too. So I’m not convinced its all about aero, however certainly it helps.

    Bouhanni is losing drive traction too consider the angle of his bike. Romain Feillu is another sprinter to watch – it’s great both Romain and Brice are now back into pro/world teams, I think we will see a lot form these two, they both have balls, are not afraid to attack and they make it stick.

    It’s great for cycling to see Rabobank and hopefully FDJ at the fore again, well done to Bos!

  6. The first thought I had seeing Bouhanni was “Abdujaparov”. If Bou-yah is half as exciting as the great man I’ll be happy to see lots more of him.

    Speaking of poor bike handlers, I just can’t see any justification that Cav has much in the way of bike handling skills.

    All I can see are the crashes, so if he has skills then he’s the unluckiest guy in cycling. Admittedly the crash where he took down Haussler in the TdS was wheel failure, but spitting on HH later wasn’t exactly good form. The good bike handler was the other sprinter who swerved and avoided that stack (Boonan?). His crash recently in Qatar was after bunny hopping and losing control, again he’d have to be the unluckiest guy in cycling if his subsequent wheel collapse was just another fluke. Last year he crashed 8kms from the finish in the Tirreno-Adriatico, ran up the back of someone. In the TDU and TDF though I’ve seen him crash a couple of bends before the sprint even opened up, both times it seems was when his train wasn’t hand delivering him perfectly to the line. Poor positioning and an inability to handle out of the bump n’ barge maybe? Gutsy bloke to finish the TDU stage though, nasty grazing on the face and all, 99% of Euro’s would have squibbed it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the angry little guy. But I don’t agree that he’s much of a bike handler.

    PS. Is that a Kingsmen rider finishing second to Bou-yeh? Hehe

  7. So Theo seems to be the only one wearing shoe covers – is that rule about non essential items of clothing designed to reduce air resistance still in force, I would have thought the weather conditions in Oman are pretty dry?
    With regards to Mark Cavendish’s bike handling skills, being a world champ in the madison would seem to be a good indicator of better than average bike handling skills, surely his willingness to take greater risks brings more wins but also more crashes?

  8. You wrote about Nacer Bouhanni: “but look again at his position on the bike. His shoulders are lower than Danilo Hondo’s hips.” Are you sure that isn’t just from the angle of the shot + Bouhanni being infront of Hondo a little?

  9. on tv I heard only comments on cav quasi-victory, on how little he finished behind bos. but nothing about his sprint, I think incredible, he moved on not less than 200m to the finish (cfr. he’s the record man of the distance on track). for a really fearness sprint look to gossy in the second stage. I hoped this season to see cav with an other jersey, eventhough the australian htcs are shining as well. let’s see in sanremo…

  10. MikeyMikeyMotorcycle: yes a picture is just a snapshot and he’s not always so low. But he is very small, look at the head tube in his bike.

    Gilbert: yes, that was quite a switch, the only saving grace was that it was gradual rather than a real flick.

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