The Sprinter's Guide to Cycling Volume 3: Sign Sprints

INTRO: Sprinters are the pariahs of the peleton, despised and verbally abused as “wheelsuckers,” “peleton trollers,” or worse:   Deep down though is the unspoken truth: jealousy is at the heart of the contempt.... But, being a sprinter is more than fast twitch muscles, podiums, and podium girls – it is a lifestyle, with a clear set of unspoken rules and traditions – most of which are in direct contrast to the majority roadie rule. In these next few volumes I’ll attempt capture some of them.

Volume 3: The Sprinter’s Guide to Sign Sprints

Sign sprints are a common element of group rides that create a love/hate relationship with roadies. On one hand roadies design the routes for most group rides, and attend them religiously – hence they have insider knowledge of where and when the key sign sprints  are. If you see a roadie suddenly pop out of his saddle and accelerate out of the peleton in the middle of nowhere (when it is not a hill or false flat)– then you can be assured a sign sprint is in the making.

That said, sign sprints are… sprints.  And hence, in the absence of an element of surprise, will ultimately lend themselves to the fast-twitch group.

Rules: The rules of sign sprints are fairly simple: group rides will abandon the traditional rules of steady pacelines, pulling through, accelerating only on inclines, if, and only if certain street signs are within a reasonable distance on low traffic roads with ample time to slow & regroup.

Typical Sign sprints – in order of ‘importance’:

“Yellow signs” – any yellow sign is potentially fair game, though it is usually specific to the ride and sprinting for an “undesignated” yellow sign can look foolish.

“Stop Ahead” – these signs, depending on locale, are ubiquitous, and are generally “legitimate” as long as there is ample distance before the actual stop sign. They are convenient in that the looming Stop sign also creates the natural opportunity for the group to re-form

“Tractor crossing” – in the Midwest these are premo destinations. Rare, usually very rural, and typically requiring insider knowledge, these signs will tend to have a ¾ mile ramp up.

“Town line” – these are the kings of sign sprints – these matter most as they indicate a true change of venue.

“The final sign” – at best a “town line” sign, but perhaps merely a “stop ahead" sign, the final sign of the day features the greatest effort, and the most glory. Win this one, and you’ve won them all…

Below is a great set of posts I found on a forum from a “Newbie” rider who is clearly a sprinter and feeling some guilt about it. He was getting hassled for not pulling enough for some sign sprints. I love his final post – no way to argue with that...


Newbie Sprinter: Is the cyclist wrong by sprinting at the end if he did not pull "during" the sprint? In most cases during these sprints, several strong riders try to up the pace as much as possible, but these same riders usually do not engage in the final sprint. But often times I hear riders condemn the rider who did not pull "during" the sprint, with comments like " he was never in the wind" etc. And if it matters, the prize is just a beer for the winner of the zone. My feeling is someone who doesn't work with the group or do his/her share during the ride shouldn't sprint, but in the actual sprint zone it's every man for himself and no one's forcing anyone to push the pace at the front. For instance I've not seen Cavendish "take a turn at the front" before he sprints to the finish.

Roadie Response: In my experience, the guys who sprint for county line signs, etc., are usually the ones who do the least pulling during the actual rides. The same guys tend to crank it up in the last mile or so of a long recreational ride -- like they are actually proving something by "winning" the sprint or being the first one back to the parking lot after sitting in at the back of the paceline for most of the ride.

Newbie Sprinter: I'm willing to pull, just can't sustain a long (mile or more) pull at the speed of the best pullers. Is that my fault?

Roadie1 Response: Yes! You should be working on your weaknesses rather than showboating your "talent".

Roadie2 Response: If you're this concerned about sprinting, you should save it for an actual race.

Newbie Sprinter: I have… and I won the race…


Next up: The Sprinter’s Guide to cold weather riding