Sprinting with Style

by John Eustice

Sprinters in stage 9

One of my main interests in cycling comes from the concept of form and style. This was ingrained in both me and my friend Tim Maloney through the C.O.N.I. book, which was the official Italian Olympic Committee book on how to prepare a racing cyclist. As juniors we’d pour over the iconic book with its blue cover and tortured English translation, pulling out nuggets of wisdom. The section on masturbation and how to avoid its temptations was of particular fascination: “In the case of nocturnal emissions the athlete must take care to avoid…”

The “Bible”, as everyone called it, was in fact an excellent resource and the section on style as a determining factor in the success or not of a cyclist rings true to this day.

My father was a government man stationed in post-war Tokyo, where I was born, and as part of his training earned a Brown Belt in Judo from the Kodokan, the spiritual home of the sport. I did a fair bit as a young boy and then went back to martial arts after ending my racing career to help me climb out of the Black Hole – which is the place ex pros often go when they wake up that first January morning without having to go ride 100-miles and don’t know what to do instead. Aikido – an internal and choreographed martial art that involves aspects of Judo, such as falling and throws (Steven Segal is Hollywood Aikido), but with fun stuff such a swords and submission techniques – or any martial art, teaches a student how, in fact, the body actually works. If I were ever to really prepare a rider for racing, I’d insist on Aikido in the winters so that they’d learn to fall correctly, that and rollers. Rollers are key and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Look at the infield of any velodrome, rollers are everywhere.

The main principle that you learn in Aikido is that of the supreme importance of focus on one’s core as the center from which all effort extends. Of creating a fulcrum from the head to a point just below the belly button that serves as the backstop for any effort. You also learn that without perfect technique (or the eternal search for it) strength is always limited. The proper use of the above is the same for any sport or performing art: boxers, golfers, ballet dancers, fencers, on and on, the great ones all have mastered creating fluidity in and out of their cores.

Andre Greipel is the most perfect sprinter today, a beautiful stylist. There’s a helicopter shot of his jump on Stage 4 into Sarzeau when he went early in the sprint. His head and core are immovable yet his hips and shoulders explode into motion, rotating in perfect harmony around that fulcrum. The finishing shot represents a master class in sprinting: Greipel, Sagan and Gaviria all coming straight at the camera, all three with perfectly aligned and almost immovable heads and cores, but with hips, shoulders and arms working in perfect harmony to put out those wild levels of wattage.

Compare that shot with the ones of the sprint between Sonny Cobrelli and Sagan on Stage 2. Cobrelli is leaking effort through bad form with his head bopping up and down and his core twisting left and right. You see that his power is being dissipated instead of focused on making his body go forward. Watch him, then Sagan. The difference between a World Champion and a good bike rider is clear.

John EusticeJohn Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.