QUESTION: What’s a good cycling sprint power number? I finally got a power meter, but I don’t know what’s a good wattage number for sprinting. What should I aim for and how do I know if mine is any good, other than beating most of the guys on my local club rides at the city limit sign? – Henry W
ANSWER: With cycling, a wattage number by itself unfortunately does not necessarily tell you as much as you’d think. How much does the rider weigh, for example? Because a 200 pound cyclist might put out significantly more pure wattage during a sprint than a 150 pound cyclist, but his watts per kilogram (w/kg) might actually be lower. So even though the 200 pound guy’s 5 second wattage number might look impressive, it wouldn’t even necessarily mean that he’d win the sprint. The extra wattage might not make up for his higher weight that he has to propel forwards on the bike.
We’ve discussed the importance of considering watts per kilogram instead of just wattage by itself in this article if you aren’t already familiar with this concept.
If you look at the pure wattage numbers of some of cycling’s best pro sprinters, they are very high. This Cycling Weekly article describes some exact numbers from pro sprinters a few years ago, including the recently retired André Greipel. In the 2018 Tour Down Under, Greipel hit an incredible 1,903 peak watts as he reached his peak speed of 76.8 kilometers per hour, averaging in 1,326 watts in the entire sprint. In the 2018 Giro d’Italia, Irishman Sam Bennett hit 1,480 peak watts on his way to a stage victory, averaging 1,070 watts over a 17 second sprint.
Cycling Analytics has a great chart of that will rank you by your top 5 second pure wattage number if you scroll down a bit on the page. But more importantly, it also puts those numbers in context by additionally giving you the information in the form of watts per kilogram.
According to their chart, if you can hit 1,136 watts for 5 seconds, that puts you in the top 20 percent of male cyclists. If you want more of an apples to apples comparison, you’ll need to be able to hold 15.3 watts per kilogram for 5 seconds to be in the top 20 percent of male sprinters.
Keep in mind that your power numbers are going to drop significantly when you go from your peak 5 second power to your peak 1 minute power, so the time period matters. As an example, that number of 1,136 watts we mentioned earlier that puts you in the top 20 percent of male cyclists falls down to 582 watts and 7.8 watts per kilogram if you are as pedaling as hard as you can for a full minute.
A high peak wattage number over 1,000 is terrific and looks impressive, but you’ll definitely need a sprint that will last long enough to get you to the finish line. Some sprints last longer than others because of the nature of the course, or how early or late in the race the sprint begins.
And just so we’re clear, there’s a whole lot more to winning a sprint than just the amount of wattage you can generate. Things like positioning in the pack, bike handling, drafting, knowing when to attack are just a few of the skills you’ll need to win a bunch sprint.