Posted in: Paddy Doran
By Paddy Doran
Jan 18, 2012 - 11:23:00 AM

Have you the ability to really excel in some other discipline than you already compete in? With the racing season just around the corner, now is a good time to decide where you can get most success by identifying your strongest talents.

Many sports experts say ďif you want to be a champion chose your parents very carefullyĒ so your genetic makeup will determine to a large extent which cycling disciplines you can excel in. Then to make the most of your genetics you must train specifically for the best events for you.

For example no matter how well Chris Hoy the Olympic and World Champion sprint specialist trained for the Tour De France he is highly unlikely to reach Paris in the yellow jersey. Its also just as unlikely that Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck will win the Track sprint event in London in 2012

So what kind of rider are you? Are you more of a Chris Hoy or Contador, or might you be more like a combination of both of them, and have good endurance with good sprint abilities. Answering these questions might increase your possibility of success.

What are the main differences between the extreme endurance athlete who wins the Tour De France and the pure sprint athletes who win the Keirin or track sprint medals?

If you do a search of some of the sports medicine and physiology books you will see that the percentage of slow twitch versus fast twitch muscle fibre differs greatly between elite sprint and endurance athletes.

Ciara Mc Manus Newly Crowned Irish Cyclo cross Champion. Excellent endurance qualities, Most likely a high Percentage of slow Twitch muscle fibres.


Elite endurance athletes having up to 80% slow twitch fibres which allows them to cycle for a long time at medium speeds. These athletes usually are quite light and donít have much of a sprint.


Elite track sprinters can have up to 70% fast twitch muscle fibres and this enables them to accelerate really fast and reach very high maximum speed but they can only hold the speed for a short period of time. They are usually heavier and very muscular


We can also see the athletes who have a reasonable mix of the two. The pointís winners in the big Tours are probably the best examples of this. They are usually in between the size of the tour winners and track sprint athletes and they have good endurance and good sprint abilities.

Kieran Leahy - 2007 Irish Sprint Champion

The the genetic makeup determines the fibre distribution, and the different type of fibres will respond to specific training. So to put it at itís simplest, if someone who is genetically suited to sprint events trains to win Tour De France mountain stages they are unlikely to be very successful and vice versa for an athlete genetically suited to endurance events. Can you ever imagine a grand tour winner beating Chris Hoy in a track sprint?


If you have only started your competitive cycling recently you may be getting some idea of where your strengths are.


Did you attack and ride away from other riders on hills, or raced very good time trials or mountain bike cross country or endurance events, but were not be so successful in sprint finishes. This suggests that you should focus on the endurance events.

If you found that you couldnít attack too much or move out of the bunch without getting really tired dropped etc, but could sprint very fast if you get to the finish after a comfortable race that may indicate that your talents lie in sprint events.


For example if you played soccer, were you a midfielder that could run all day (endurance) or the striker who didnít have great endurance but could accelerate like a bullet over a short distance (sprinter).

School athletics were you better at the sprint or endurance events?

When you are out training with your club or local groups are you really fast when doing sprints?


Whichever you are genetically suited to will be enhanced by training specifically for the most suitable events. Fast twitch fibres will improve dramatically with sprint/ power training and endurance training will greatly improve slow twitch fibres. So not much benefit to be had in trying to train to win the An Post Ras if you are genetically suited to track sprinting.


There are also many riders who are not at the extreme end of either sprint or endurance abilities. These riders can influence their ability in either direction by focussed training. As well as the Fast twitch and slow twitch muscles there are also intermediate muscle fibres, which can be developed to be more efficient for endurance or sprint sport according to whether emphasis on endurance or sprint training takes precedence.

Nicolas Roche may be a good example of this. with a capacity to improve his sprint abilities to some extent and clearly the ability to improve his endurance ability as his results this season show. And his sprint may have lessened a bit this year because of the big emphasis on endurance training for the Major Tours.

Nicolas Roche

So if you are reasonable at endurance and sprint events you could steer your training in the direction of whichever component is strongest.


I think there are probably people in clubs throughout Ireland who could be very good at sprint events but are racing in road or MTB races where their talents donít shine.

So if you have determined that your talents are strongest for either endurance or sprint how can you make the most of that talent? Train specifically for the event! Itís amazing how much improvements you can make if you target the right components and train them really well.

Is it worth concentrating on specific events? Yes! particularly if you have a good talent for either sprint or endurance events.

Note: This article is aimed at senior cyclists, or cyclistís just leaving junior ranks to become senior.