The Trouble With Sprinting

Feb 21 2011

Theo Bos Waves by EdnlIt’s a complicated thing to be a sprinter in this sport. Riders without that taste for risk and a talent for velocity, especially at the lower levels of the sport, seem perpetually envious of the speed merchants.

But a strong finishing kick is not the blessing that it seems. There are many factors that play into success in the closing kilometers; a few you can control, many you can’t. And there never seems to be a consensus on exactly which matter most.

But the really tough thing for sprinters has got to be specializing in such a volatile currency. Halfway through a stage race, your career can be all but over, but a single win on the final day can suddenly restore the world’s faith. Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, a separate group of riders can be contesting a sprint in a similarly difficult (UCI 2.1) event, and yet hardly a career inference is drawn.

A week from now, the sprints of Paris-Nice will render the previous two months’ flat finishes almost meaningless, and—disregarding the classics, where sprints are a different sort of animal—the Giro will do the same three months. Later. But will Tony Martin’s or Robert Gesink’s victories this past week be discounted in a similarly brusk fashion? It doesn’t feel that way to me.

For GC riders, things are more stable. A win in Oman or Algarve—or even a second-place—doesn’t seem to have the same short shelf-life as a sprint. Even for riders who’ve ridden well on tough stages but missed out on the final GC, there seems to be more to carry around in terms of reputation. Certainly, even in the early season, fifth on a tough mountain stage carries more weight at contract time than fifth in similar bunch sprint.

It seems like a strange dualism for a sport that tends to group any victory, regardless of prestige or circumstance, into a faceless tally called “wins”. Even the points system finally established with the WorldTour does little to unravel the curious differences in win value. There’s no question that a win atop Ventoux in the Tour is worth far more than sprinting to second at Vattenfalls, but in fact, the later rated three times as heavily as the former.

Call it a fact of economics, I suppose. A glut of winning opportunities makes success an ever-present possibility, but simultaneously undermines its value when luck, fitness, and skill bring you across the line first.

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5 Responses to “The Trouble With Sprinting”

  1. Skippy February 22, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Winning seems to be the thing that the journos are looking for regardless of what has taken place earlier in the race !

    UCI awards points to the final line up and who remembers Freire hopping his bike up onto the pavement so as to get away from Rogers,White and Comezzo at the TDS some years ago ? Comezzo got in 7th so scored points but what did the Aussies get? Four away on a long exciting stage and who remembers their contribution to that day’s entertainment ?

    Standing on the side of the road North of Bellinzona i felt certain that they were away for a sprint amongs themselves but Freire was having none of that.

    UCI currently are deciding the status of Vaconsoleil as they will strip points awarded to two racers last year that put their team in the Pro Tour and at least one was hospitalized recently ! Least said about “Sporting Fraud” and the suspensions that should be at least Life this time , the better on this post !

    Could not points be awarded for exceptional performance during the races in addition to Sprint and GPM points ? UCI wants to encourage more viewer interest so awarding these “bonus points” will encourage the punter to find out the “Why” and the racers will be more motivated for “solos” when they benefit in their point ranking and thus the pocket .

  2. Touriste-Routier February 22, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Except for the riders & teams who need points to get contracts & help determine their team’s status/division, does anyone else really care about a season long competition? My guess would be relatively few do.

    Wins are worth more to sponsors, as they gather more headlines than placings. Long breaks are good for TV coverage. Sponsorships are tied more to getting the brand in front of casual fans than die hard fans/riders. Only a serious fan is going to care about the big picture; for most it is being entertained by the spectacle immediately in front of you.

    There is no way for the UCI to reconcile these 2 divergent issues with any relevant or balanced scheme.

  3. Osteo July 8, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    More sprinters I say. They’re a lot cleaner!

  4. cycling clothing September 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    fifth on a tough mountain stage carries more weight at contract time than fifth in similar bunch sprint

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