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Abi Smith journal: track success and a WorldTour debut

Rider journals 2021: Abi Smith #05/September

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. Abi has enjoyed track success and a stint with pro team Team TIBCO – SVB of late. Here’s how it went…

And so, after a scattered March, April, May, June and July, finally the bike racing ‘began’ for real!

After impatiently waiting on the doorstep, ringing the bell, rapping the knock and shouting ‘ding dong’ for all it was worth, Europe finally let us in to get some bike racing underway. 

First up, the under-23 (and junior) European track championships. Earlier in the year, when the senior track Euros were postponed until October, our squad took a little break away from the track, before now returning to pick up where we left off to really target the under-23 Euros. We, and all of the other GB squads, travelled out to Apeldoorn in the Netherlands together in the middle of August for a packed ten days of racing around in circles. 

At this point in time, I was finding things quite difficult. I had a lot going on all at once and unfortunately, being a natural overthinker, things were pretty stressful to say the least! You know when it’s not one thing in particular but about a million little things to do that all build up and get bottled up inside all at once? So when shaken slightly, when something goes slightly wrong or changes, it throws everything else off balance, the lid pops off, the walls start crumbling around you, the ground caves in and the world explodes. Well, maybe not quite that dramatic, but the point being: mind = overdrive.

Obviously I wanted to focus 100% on my races, these were a really big goal of the year. But I had other things on my mind such as the road races I had lined up next, their COVID protocols, flights, contracts, logistics, getting bikes, sorting insurance, tax, blah-dee-blah… being an adult is hard. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to put my all into doing a good performance here, especially in the team event, if my mind was elsewhere. Thankfully though, through talking to the support staff around me, phoning home, making lists, and sorting through everything logically, by the time I got to my races my head was in order and I was ready to go…

I would have been over the moon to come away with one European medal – let alone two!

Safe to say I was pretty shocked with how things turned out; I would have been over the moon to come away with one European medal – let alone two! To podium in both of my events, bronze in the individual pursuit and silver in the team pursuit, was more than I could have hoped for or expected. No gold stars this time but got to leave room for improvement, right?

It’s been a bit of a rocky road for our team pursuit squad in particular over the past few months, and although not the time we hoped to get, we should be very proud of what we achieved. Especially when you throw in a big fat crash in the first round. I thought the team pursuit was one of the supposedly ‘safer’ events, but after the experience we had, I might have to re-evaluate that. A touch of wheels brought two of us down; we are thankfully OK but it was another little speed bump on the road to the final, in which the Italians were just the better team at the end of the day. And the bronze in the IP was just an added bonus really with two PBs in both the qualifying and the 3rd place final. Again, things to work on going forward, but a really nice confidence boost for me and an indication of what I can and might be able to achieve on the track someday.

Abi on a descent at the Ceratizit Challenge. Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

But for now, the road. Underneath all of this, the cogs have been turning away throughout the year to get me out onto the road and riding for women’s UCI Continental Team TIBCO – Silicon Valley Bank for the remainder of this year, in the biggest races of my career to date. I owe this to working with bespoke M to get me sorted with this spot on the team, so a massive thank you for their continued belief in me and for this incredibly exciting opportunity. And, as always, thanks to friends, family and everyone who messaged from back home and kept me going when things were tough. Unfortunately, as much as I would have liked to have borrowed some of my friends’ legs, they could not help me with this part, and so, to my debut WorldTour races we go… 

Only 20-odd brave souls left at the end of four hours of relentless hills, heat and hurt

30 August, GP de Plouay (16th place). Some would say, the deep end. I would politely correct them and say, the very deep, dark, shark-infested, bottomless pool of pain. Absolutely no clue what I was doing going into this race, but also with no pressure or expectations from anyone. It was a new level of racing that I’d never had the chance to experience before. I was there to learn and feel what it was like in the WorldTour peloton for the first time. I’ve always said I like an attritional race and an attritional race it certainly was! Only 20-odd brave souls left at the end of four hours of relentless hills, heat and hurt. I was absolutely chuffed to be there in that group at the end, and also have a little dig in a break partway through. My well-renowned appalling sprint ability let me down a little on the final straight, but a really nice bit of confidence and knowledge in the bank to take forward. It was a privilege, and I feel very honoured to have been able to brush shoulders with some of the best riders of all time at the end of their careers, whilst I am at the beginning of mine. 

2-5 September, Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta (17th overall). Some would say, madness. I would agree. I would have loved to dawdle around and enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery a little more, but bashing around the incredible mountain passes in the north of Spain at a hundred miles an hour was certainly an experience not to forget. It really highlighted to me how much I need to learn, and that it doesn’t matter how strong you are if you can’t position well or ride well in the bunch. For example, losing two minutes on the descent before the 14-kilometre climb isn’t exactly an ideal situation to find oneself in…

The uphill time trial at the Ceratizit Challenge. Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

The highlight for me was certainly stage two – the uphill ITT. As if the organisers had called me up and asked me what my perfect course would be – they didn’t FYI – a 5% 20-minute hill climb pretty much hit the spot. Doing it, I felt a bit rubbish and weak, and I knew I could have done a much better job if I had only paced it better and saved a bit more energy on the first stage so my legs had a bit more to give. However, I still finished 15th and I was the first U23 rider which was a very welcome surprise indeed. After the 4 days of racing, I finished 17th overall, the second-best U23 rider, which still feels pretty crazy considering these are some of the biggest races in the world and I was able to be at the sharp end of the racing each day.  

It’s really nice to know that physically I am in the ballpark, but the technical aspects are certainly in need of practice

It’s a big step up and a step that will no doubt take time and experience to master. It’s really nice to know that physically I am in the ballpark, but the technical aspects are certainly in need of practice! Particularly at La Vuelta, it was so noticeable how my lack of confidence, experience and efficiency in the bunch meant that often I would miss splits, be in the wrong position into technical sections, get dropped on descents… the list goes on. But it will get shorter. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly pleased and super happy with how I have done in all of these races so far, but I want to keep improving and becoming a better rider one step at a time. I have got the time and people around me to help me learn the ropes and I look forward to whatever comes next this year and the years to come!

Featured photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Find out more

Abi Smith journal: crème de la crit and CiCLE success

Abi Smith journal: return of the time trial

Abi Smith journal #2: the art of rest and recuperation

Abi Smith journal #1: new starts

Rider journals 2021: introducing Abi Smith

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