Stages 5 and 6: Ric Stern’s analysis

The anatomy of a sprint

Mark Cavendish after his second stage win

The last two stages have been wins for Mark Cavendish. Cav has had a pretty unfortunate year compared to last year, and so, there was a ton of pressure on him to do well at this year’s Tour to make up for that.


The last three stages have resulted in sprints and in the first one Cav clearly didn’t have the legs/head/leadout quite correct. This led Chris Boardman to speculate that Cav’s fitness wasn’t right for the Tour. While that certainly seemed like a possibility, it’s also likely that Cav was suffering huge pressure demands that were either coming from himself, or from his team. Ultimately, I think this was a major cause of him not doing well in that first sprint. At the end of that stage we saw Cav throw his crash helmet out of the team bus. He was clearly frustrated.

24 hours later, Cav and his leadout man Mark Renshaw got things spot on and Cav took his 11th stage victory in the Tour. Bravo. We could clearly see both his relief and happiness on the podium at the presentation as he had (and with good reason) a good old cry. He was now back on track and the pressure was off.

The following day, in a slightly tighter finish (with the curving left and right handers inside the final 1000 metres) saw Cav dominating again. Two in a row for Cav. Chapeau.

In the first of Cav’s victories this year we saw a fantastic leadout by Mark Renshaw. Here, Renshaw kept Cav in the place he wanted to be and lent on other riders who were trying to take Cav’s place. He even bumped out Hushovd. This enabled Renshaw to lead Cav out perfectly and help him to his win.

Many of the Tour sprinters will practice sprint finishes. For most riders it’s an important aspect of their preparation to make sure they can do well in races. A skills based session can be used where team mates lead out a nominated sprinter, while other riders try to break into the leadout train. Riders can also practice going for a long sprint, or leaving it until late, and seeing what effect it’ll have on the outcome of the practice. Once you’ve practiced this you’ll have a better idea of where to be in a sprint finish in a race yourself. You shouldn’t leave this down to race day to practice sprint finishes.

I’ve previously mentioned what sort of powers can be achieved during sprints, and there are several on the bike sessions that can be used to increase maximal sprint powers. These would include seated sprints from (almost) stationary in a low gear (e.g. 39 x 17); rolling sprints in a medium sized gear (e.g. 53 x 16) and flying sprints from high speed in a big gear (e.g. 53 x 13). Sprinting all-out for 10 seconds in these various scenarios and repeating for 4-10 sprints per session will help increase your sprinting power. Don’t forget to include the skills based work as well.

Today will be the first day in the mountains, and here we move from the sprint riders to the general classification and climbing riders.  As the first day is ‘only’ in the medium mountains it’s possible that the group could be quite large at the finish. One thing is certain though, and that is, riders with a higher power to mass ratio will do better than riders with a lower power to mass ratio.

Various people (Aldo Sassi, who coaches Basso and Evans) will be suggesting that people with a specific power to mass ratio are likely “superhuman” and thus doping. But, if you flick from my blog to Alex’s blog here, you’ll see that this isn’t easy to determine.



Ric Stern ( is a full time British ABCC coach. During this year’s Tour de France, he will be providing a physiological insight into the challenges that face the riders in each stage.