Abi Smith and nine other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental in 2021. First-year senior Abi rides for Great Britain Cycling Team’s Senior Academy this season. A lot has happened since Abi’s third journal entry in April, including victory at the CiCLE Classic. Abi fills us in…
Part 1. Postponed track Euros and a return to crit racing
I was fairly certain that when I was told: ‘Go get your track legs out, you’re going to the Senior Track European Championships in a month’, somebody either (a) thought it would be a (very un-)funny joke or (b) misheard and delivered the message to the wrong person. Apparently neither – what a dream!
But, oh hello, more spilled salt and broken mirrors – Track Euros postponed until October. You almost have to laugh that it wasn’t COVID this time but the Belarussian plane hijack in Minsk. Cor somebody give me a break.
There’s nothing more important than enjoying life and the euphoric feeling of not quite (but very nearly) getting spat up the Chevin on the Leeds chainy
But, oh hello, more silver linings – what an awesome time for some group rides, chaingangs and local crit races. Not quite the same feeling as pulling on a GB skinsuit with those sparkly Euro stars up for grabs, but also not the same pressure. There’s nothing more important than enjoying life and the euphoric feeling of not quite (but very nearly) getting spat up the Chevin on the Leeds chainy. Friends, if you know you know.
So yes, after the news broke, all us riders headed home for some head space and time to refresh mentally and physically, which was just what was needed. We’d all been looking forward to the event and things were really coming together, so it was the sensible thing to do to have some time to ‘reset’ and chill out after this little setback.
Fortunately, we got out to Belgium during May to get a race in there, and now, since being back, the UK scene has slowly been grinding up into second gear. One of the great things is that the circuit races are all getting up and running again. It’s awesome there are so many mid-week crits being put on now all over the country to cater for all of us speed-freaks. Got to love a frantic 50 minute hit out, smashing it out of (and into) every corner with your friends, enemies and also those that might as well have blacked-out shades on… all I’ll say is it’s good practice for bunch handling!
The simple things such as having a catch up together in the evening sunshine, and finding out what’s new in the world is a happy happy feeling
Bar the extra restrictions still in place, it almost feels normal. Some people we haven’t managed to see for well over a year now, so the simple things such as having a catch up together in the evening sunshine, and finding out what’s new in the world is a happy happy feeling. But as always, time is not my friend and it feels as though there are never enough hours in the day to chat to everyone and do everything. But it’s certainly better than nothing. Despite ‘only riding a bike’ for a living, life still seems awfully busy at times!
Part 2. CiCLE success
In June, the first of the National Road Series event took place, the CiCLE Classic around Melton Mowbray. 105km of rolling, narrow lanes combined with gravel tracks and off-road sectors throughout. On paper, I’m a smooth tarmac kinda gal, but hey, it was a more than successful trip to say the least! I most certainly wasn’t expecting to come home as a race winner, National Road Series leader and team prize winner, surrounded by about 20 bottles of fizz and tucking into a big fat slice of pork pie. What a day. What an amazing feeling to be sat there afterwards in the van, bathing in a pool of joy and disbelief at what I’d just done, and the manner in which I had accomplished it.
So to run through the race: a huge field of around 140 women took to the start line, which in itself is an awesome feat, both in terms of having so many top level female racers present, and the excellent management of COVID regulations by the event organisers.
Unfortunately, however, this also meant there was a fair old fight for position at the beginning of the race, which is and will always be a very stressful and an absolutely terrifying experience! Everyone went off like the clappers, and it was pretty much full gas from the word go. I tried to move myself up and stay out of trouble where I could. There were some attacks, intermediate sprints and pretty grippy sectors which naturally split the group up for the first hour and a half or so, down to maybe 40 riders.
It was when the pace came off a little bit, and everyone was feeling a bit done in, when I decided to launch … my attack
There was a natural lull at this point, around 60 km in… the lull I’d been waiting for. Granted, it was a bit sooner in the race than I’d have hoped, but the time was right. I was feeling good. I had tried to sit in and save where I could so far, which I won’t lie, was testing my patience! It was when the pace came off a little bit, and everyone was feeling a bit done in, when I decided to launch (launch being a relative term to my slightly wanting peak power) my attack on a small rise. I was hoping maybe two or three strong riders would join me, to get a breakaway going that would work together, but nobody fully committed to follow, and so solo it was. Only 45 km to go – easy right?!
In all seriousness though, I didn’t think I was going to stay away. I didn’t know what was going on behind and time splits were fairly infrequent, so all there was to do was settle into TT mode, hold my power, and hope for the best. Over the off-road sectors I wasn’t going absolutely full gas, and I think I was very nearly caught with only a seven second gap at one point. But by being able to just ride my own pace, I could keep a sustained and efficient power across the road and off-road equally, rather than having to deal with damaging small accelerations, concentrating in the bunch, or thinking about a sprint finish at the end. Once the gap opened up again to a minute with about 25 km to go, I felt more comfortable and things were fairly straightforward from there on. Not easy by any means, but making it was becoming more and more realistic – bar mishaps.
The final gravel sector was the last hurdle to get over on the finishing lap. In my head I was thinking ‘please don’t puncture now, anything but a puncture’ which fortunately, was avoided. I did, however, get cramp which was my own fault for not taking on enough liquid. A slightly panicking moment when I physically couldn’t pedal for a few seconds and the fear of the bunch coming back, looming in the back of my mind, but I managed to sort myself out and get back up to pace. It was only with five kilometres to go that I knew that I had it in the bag, when the gap stretched to nearly three minutes.
In my first proper season as a junior rider, back in 2019, I was looking up to those riders at the front of the National Road Series races, trying to hang on for dear life and aiming simply to hold their wheel. Now I was one of them. This was really happening. All that was left to do was cross the line without falling off when I took my hands off the bars, which thankfully was also a success.
I must thank all that have sent such lovely and kind messages of support and encouragement, which give me further belief for the future (yes in reference to taking my hands off the bars, but not exclusively). It’s nice to see that all the work I’ve been putting into my time trialling is showing its worth. A real confidence boost knowing that the legs are strong and the tactical head is getting there too. Even if I had been caught, I’d have been really pleased with the timing of the attack and the power that I was able to hold, which shows the benefit of the training I’ve been putting in.
The rest of July and most of August looks mostly UK-based road and crit racing, which is great to get stuck into as well. Hopefully we will be able to get to some of the major international competitions after that, but time will tell. Fingers crossed I will also be able to make the start line for the other events in the National Road Series too, and wear the leader’s jersey with pride at my local event the Ryedale Grand Prix, which is five minutes from my doorstep! But again, events may clash and so I will have to wait and see if that is going to be possible. Nonetheless, what a ‘start’ to the season and long may it hopefully continue!
Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com – 27/06/2021 – British Cycling – HSBC UK National Women’s Road Series – Women’s CiCLE Classic – Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England – Abi Smith of Team Breeze wins the Women’s CiCLE Classic.
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