no one line

Three-up Underdog Sprinting
January 6, 2009, 3:09 pm
Filed under: Kissena, sprints, tactics, track racing

A curiousity in track racing is the 3-person or 4-person match sprint. Elite level match sprints have only two riders – that’s the point. One of the best match sprints I’ve seen while sitting in front of a computer is Huebner vs. Golinelli in the 1990 World Champsionships. In a match sprint, two riders will stalk each other slowly, using track stands and feints in order to gain what seem like slight advantages – being behind the other at walking speed. Getting to jump from a preferred spot on the banking. But these slight advantages are huge where the entire race takes place at top speed in the last 200m. Take a look:

At Kissena we occasionally ride in 3- or 4-up match sprints. When you jam an unexpectedly large number of racers into a tight omnium, the official’s task is to make everything proceed as smoothly and quickly as possible, and so 3- or 4-up match sprints are organized during elimination rounds. They are undeniably amateur. And they are fascinating, because they introduce some unforseen elements into the racing.

I was reminded of it while watching the finish to the 2008 Paris-Roubaix. Cancellara, Boonen, and Ballan were alone at the front with plenty of room. The commentators told us that Ballan was the underdog, Cancellara was the strong man, and Boonen is the big sprinter. As they got within a few kilometers I kept waiting for attacks that would pit Boonen and Cancellara against each other and leave Ballan struggling to hold on. Nothing.

As they passed under the 1K to go banner, I knew something was about to happen… but it didn’t.

If I were Ballan I would have attacked just before entering the Roubaix Velodrome. The best way to defeat two stronger riders is to pit them against each other, and if they’re in the position where they are threatened with dragging the other up to the leader, then that favors the attacking underdog. Sure, they might be fresher, stronger, and faster, but if they both hesitate for a second, waiting for the other to carry them up – well, a second or two is all you’d need. And you might be lucky enough to get three or four seconds.

I learned this by getting absolutely hosed by an avowed nonsprinter in a 4-up match sprint this past summer. We were cruising, watching and waiting, and Niki broke from high on the banking in Turn 3. None of us wanted to burn for 300 meters to give the race to the people on our wheel, and by the time we realized that, Niki had 50 meters on us. And then 75.

Other useful reading material on this subject: Sprinter Della Casa’s How To Beat A Sprinter.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go do some squats.

EDIT: So, apparently Sprinting for Signs removed the post with the video in it; it was taken off of Youtube. However, at Belgium Knee Warmers (on the same day!) is video of the 2008 World Champsionship Road Race, featuring Alessandro Ballan going on the attack with 2K to go. What an attack! Wow!

6 Comments so far
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I watched Huebler’s faint in the first lap three separate times and still couldn’t grasp the whole thing. Astounding. Never saw match sprints before. It’s bizarre, scary, fascinating. Like watching two warring insects creep and crawl around each other — and then devastate each other in one flurry of motion.Dude, I’m a roadie. What makes you think I could even begin to do those moves?

Comment by Velosopher

I’m always amazed by the fluidity of Golinelli’s move, and then the incredible speed and power with which Huebner recovers.But this is WC-level stuff. Our amateur grassroots racing pales in comparison… and yet, it still feels amazing to come around somebody in turn four. Or to jump first, high on the banking, and be the one controlling the race, forcing others to go, too, and you look under your arm quickly to see if they’re on to your wheel, pushing your bike faster, hoping your rear wheel doesn’t hop in turn four at 35mph…I hear nice things about the Londonderry Velodrome – that it’s a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere (I read some good reports on, another favorite rider/racer blog). I figure balancing road stuff and track stuff will indeed be tricky, like you mentioned in your comment on my last post. I’m planning to take a short break in late May or early June so as not to get burnt out. After the big road races and before most of the track season.

Comment by No One Line

Really enjoyed the video and am looking forward to following your blog!

Comment by suitcaseofcourage

Thank SOC! Looking forward to following yours, too.

Comment by No One Line

I hear you, NOL. Your description of the local races did make my heart start pounding. I’ll try to stop by Londonderry this summer just to watch, and maybe hop on a loaner for fun, but real track racing this year — even for fun — is prob. not on the menu. I had to have a heart-to-heart with my wife just to get the okay on my first season of road racing!

Comment by Velosopher

[…] break trying to hold off a chase that’s visible coming around corners behind them; excellent three-up tactics in the long, final drag; Tom Boonen’s head-bobbing sea-monster sprint; and a lone chaser […]

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