Journals Riders

Rider journals 2021: introducing Abi Smith

18-year-old GB Cycling Team Senior Academy is the first of ten riders keeping a journal for The British Continental in 2021

We are lucky enough to be welcoming a new batch of riders to our rider journal series in 2021. We have picked ten riders to give us an insight into life at the Continental and elite-levels of racing, both at home and abroad. We’ll be introducing each rider through December. First up is Abi Smith from the GB Cycling Team’s Senior Academy…

She was born on 1 April but 18-year-old Abi Smith is no fool. She steps up to the elite cycling ranks next season as one of the newest members of Great Britain Cycling Team’s Senior Academy.

One of the country’s most promising youngsters, Abi won the women’s Junior National Road Series in 2019 in her first year as a junior. She also showed she was no slouch on the international scene that year, finishing sixth overall at the Watersley Challenge Juniors, a UCI stage race, and rounding out the season with 34th in the junior women’s road race at the Road World Championships in Yorkshire.

Like most Brits, her road season was mostly a write-off in 2020 but that didn’t stop Abi using her talents to seek out success, refocusing her goals to win both the junior National Hill Climb Championship and the junior National 10 mile Championship.

I have a confidence on the road that I haven’t found on the track as yet

Next season, the self-confessed roadie will combine road and track duties, although she admits her goals will be road-focused, aiming to develop herself as a rider, maintain her health and well-being, and pick up results at some of the biggest races at home and abroad.

We can’t wait to follow her progress.

Abi Smith, 2018 Great Britain Cycling Team. Velodrome, Manchester. Photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

Tell us how you got into cycling…

My parents have always been pretty active and so kept myself and my brother busy doing loads of outdoors activities. I got my first little bike at about age four. When my brother started doing triathlons, obviously I was keen to join in too, and so did the Yorkshire Regional Triathlon series for about eight years, only ever finding a podium spot in the final few of those!

‘Why am I always catching everyone else up on the bike after coming from the back on the swim and drifting back again on the run?’, I thought

It was in these final years that a realisation came to me. ‘Why am I always catching everyone else up on the bike, after coming from the back on the swim and drifting back again on the run?’, I thought. After putting two and two together it was clear that cycling was my strongest discipline of the three. I tried doing a few local bike races on the side, and in 2018 did my first National Youth Road Series event, the Youth Tour of London. I think it’s fair to say I surprised myself and everyone else. I placed top 10 on all four stages and initiated the two-rider breakaway on the final stage to claim second place. One of the coaches from British Cycling was there watching. I got talking to him and was subsequently selected for the junior academy programme. I guess the rest is history.

How would you describe yourself as a rider?

The first thing that comes to mind is a ‘diesel engine’. I think I am an all-rounder, although my sustainable power is definitely one of my strengths. This could potentially lend itself to time trialling in the future… Need a leadout? I’m your (wo)man. Stick me on a 5% Alpine Pass for an hour any day.

Are you a trackie or a roadie?

I’m probably going to get some abuse for this being on a ‘track and road’ programme, but: 100% a roadie. In training, I love being outside in the hills, exploring new roads, having a sense of freedom and nothing to stress me out. The track is certainly growing on me the more I do it but in races I have a confidence on the road that I haven’t found on the track as yet, having not done it for all that long. On the road, there’s certainly a sort of craziness that unleashes in me to which I’m sure many of my competitors can vouch for. I have a habit, for example, of attacking at every single race, ever. A good way to learn but I wouldn’t recommend doing it every five minutes…

What is the achievement you’re most proud of in cycling so far?

It’s not actually a result, but being selected for the 2019 junior women’s race at the Road World Championships in Harrogate, only 11 months after I’d actually started cycling properly. It was a difficult decision, choosing between GB mountain running, GB triathlon and GB cycling, but having this opportunity in my first cycling season cemented to me that I’d chosen well!

2019 UCI Road World Championships – Women’s Junior Road Race – Yorkshire, England – Abi Smith of Great Britain. Photo: Pauline Ballet/SWpix.com

Being in my home county, only 10 miles from Ripon where I was going to 6th Form, it was something pretty special to just be there. The selection was extremely competitive and I felt privileged to be able to ride my home roads with my friends and family all along the route – even if I can’t forgive the race organisers for not putting a single hill in my race…

How would you rate your 2020 season out of 10? And why?

I mean I can’t complain with being on the podium at every race I’ve done this year can I! However the flip side of the coin is that I, like many others this year, didn’t have many races in the first place. The biggest disappointment was certainly the Road World Championships being cancelled for the juniors (and under-23 men), particularly as I was going to go for the time trial as well as the road race, which would have been an absolute dream to do.

GB also didn’t take a team to Road Euros or Track Euros, and with no National Road Series in the UK there wasn’t a great deal left. But hey ho, I have got time on my side and we move on. I turned my attention to time trials and hill climbs and made big progress with those this year. Loads of new power and time PBs which will set me up well for next year. Not forgetting two national jerseys at the 10 mile TT and Hill Climb Championships. So I guess a 3/10 for racing opportunities and a 9/10 for results probably averages out at about a 6/10 for this season.

What led to joining the GB Cycling Team Senior Academy this year?

I had hoped to try and get some international results on the road, to try and get onto a road team this year. But as that was not going to be possible, it made sense to stick in the UK for this year whatever it was I was going to do. I was, and still am, wanting to go to university to get a degree, but that also seemed like a bit of an unknown. I was extremely grateful to be selected off the back of my 2019 results for the GB Senior Academy, as it will give me time to learn and develop both my track and road skills fully with the support of the best coaches around. Also, without having any schoolwork or anything else to juggle, as I have in the last few years, it means I can put all my energy into developing as a bike rider. I think I am definitely in the right place this year to catch up on missing valuable time this season to learn race craft and tactics.

2019 Women’s CiCLE Classic – Leicestershire, England – Abi Smith, RFDA. Photo: James York/SWpix.com

Any idea what your first race will be?

How long is a piece of string? Only time will tell I think. We may get a few track races over the winter but I would really hope that next spring and summer the road races will start to kick back in again. It was a real shame to hear about the Tour de Yorkshire cancellation as it was one of my main goals. However, I am hopeful there will be plenty more to look forward to!

Ultimately I would like to look back at the end of the year and be proud of what I have achieved and, most of all, know that I have been happy and healthy

What would a successful 2021 look like for you?

I have many goals for next year. One is to potentially find a place on a road team, although that is not an essential one as I am still young. Some goals are focused around results, such as the road race and the time trial at the under-23 Euros, as well as some of the international stage races and the National Road Series. Many are also focused around self-development, however, with my aero position, physical progression, race tactics and skills.

I suppose ultimately I would like to look back at the end of the year and be proud of what I have achieved and, most of all, know that I have been happy and healthy. 

Featured photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com. 2019 UCI Road World Championships – Women’s Junior Road Race – Yorkshire, England – Abi Smith of Great Britain warms up.

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