'I like to attack and find out what works. Why wait for the sprint? – that’s boring!': A week in the life of Abi Smith

Two races in two different countries and 15 hours of training – it's just another week for Abi Smith

Abi Smith racing
(Image credit: Getty)

Want to know how the best riders in the world train? For each article in this long-running MY WEEK IN TRAINING series from Cycling Weekly's print edition, we sit down with an elite rider who talks us through a recent week of training in granular detail. This time it's the turn of EF Education-Tibco-SVB's Abi Smith...

Former triathlete Abi Smith was awarded CW’s 2021 Domestic Rider of the Year, an acknowledgment of how, in her first year as a senior, she propelled herself from the novice ranks to taking top-20 results in the WorldTour. She turned 20 on April 1 and, now riding for EF Education-Tibco-SVB, has been focusing on the big Spring Classics – on the day we spoke to her, she had just completed her recon ride ahead of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. Below, Smith talks us through an intense week of riding that included the Flanders Classic Scheldeprijs. 

You got into cycling via triathlon? 

Yeah, I really loved triathlon – apart from the early morning swims! In races, I’d be mid-pack in the swim, work my way to the front on the bike, dragging everyone with me, before trying to hold on in the run. So I thought why not try a bike race. I did a youth national circuit series race in 2018, came second, and got spotted by Ben Greenwood [British Cycling coach] for the junior academy. 

Have you changed physically as a result of the different training? 

I’ve still got swimmer’s shoulders, but yes, I’ve lost a lot of arm strength and have bigger quads now. I’m about the same weight, but the muscle has been redistributed to my legs. I already had good endurance from the triathlon, especially for threshold type work. 

What type of race suits you best? 

Definitely an attritional race where the group is whittled down – finding out who can survive the longest. I also like shorter, more attacking races like a crit where I can experiment and find out what works. I don’t want to sit there and wait for the sprint – that’s boring! 

Profile: Abi Smith

Age: 20

Height: 5ft 9in

FTP: 300W (estimated)

Lives: Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Rides for: EF Education-Tibco-SVB

Best results: GC 16th – Women’s Tour, 2021; 1st – Women’s CiCLE Classic, 2021

Twitter: @abijesmith

Instagram: abijesmith

Your older brother Nathan is a full-time rider too – has it helped having a cyclist sibling?

Yes. When we were both doing triathlon, he’d go on rides with his friends and I’d be on the back hanging on for dear life. That was good training in itself – hanging on and watching how he was doing. He’s switched to cycling too [riding for Team Novo Nordisk], so it’s nice that we’ve got each other to spur each other on.

Has your training changed much with the step up to WorldTour level?

I still have the same coach [Chris Newton] – we’ve built a good relationship over the past few years – and generally things haven’t changed too much, partly because of Covid and not having much racing until this year. I just like riding my bike!

Do you still have time to pursue your other passion, painting?

At the moment, no, but I did a bit of drawing on the team camp in February. I’m missing it a little bit but there’s just no time. The chance will come!

The week

Monday: Travel day

It was a slow start to the week: a day of travel en route to Scheldeprijs [in Flanders]. There was no time to ride, so I did some stretching and foam rolling.

Tuesday: Pre-race ride – 2hr

Out in Belgium now, I rode along the canal with a team-mate. Because I hadn’t ridden the day before, I did two hours – half an hour longer than I’d usually do the day before a race. It was an hour of spinning at about 150W – nice and easy. In the second hour, I did a ramped warm-up: 10 minutes at Zone 2 and ramped it up to 400W by the end of the 10 minutes. After a break, I did a 15-second sprint, trying to hit a high power – not that I’m very good at that [laughs]. Then I did a lead-out simulation: a minute at 400W, and finally two more sprints of 20 and 30 seconds, aiming to hit at least 800W.

Wednesday: Race day, Scheldeprijs Vrouwen Elite – 3hr 30min 

I had a horrible, hard day – though I brought it on myself! I put myself in the breakaway with two others and we stayed away for 100km. To accelerate away, I did 803W, and then set some peak powers: nearly three hours averaging 250W, my best ever for that duration. At 8km to go, I attacked the other two but then I was caught with 5km to go – I’d hoped the peloton might forget about me! I was really happy overall, having tried my best, and our sprinter Letizia Borghesi finished eighth.

Facts and figures

The week: 4-10th April 2022 

Location: North Yorkshire & Flanders

Training for: Spring Classics 

Total riding: 15hr

Z3+ effort: 5hr 50min

Thursday: Long ride with paceline section – 4hr 15min

I was tired today but had four hours to do. We travelled back to the UK in the morning, and although I didn’t want to, I knew it would be good training to do a long ride off the back of the hard race. It was mostly Zone 2 endurance pace but I joined a group in the middle for a bit of chaingang riding for an hour and a half at about 230W, and rolled through when I could manage it. I was really tired after that.

Friday: Endurance ride – 2hr 30min

Knowing I had a time trial on Sunday, we shortened today’s ride to two and a half hours. It was just a steady effort at high Zone 1/low Zone 2, averaging 168W. It was sunny, so a nice chilled day on the bike – a good chance to get some headspace.

Saturday: Pre-TT ride – 1hr 30min

Basically a rest day but I wanted to test out some equipment: I wore my new TT helmet and rode my TT bike with the wheels I was intending to use in the race. It was an hour and a half, just an easy spin with one progressive warm-up: 10 minutes ramping it up, similar to Tuesday’s ride. Other than that, it was just practising holding my TT position.

Sunday: Race day, VTTA 25-mile TT (V236/1)

The TT went really well, and the kit did me well. It was a flat 25-mile course, and my aim was to ride a controlled effort before ramping it up at the end. I followed the plan, and I got a really good time, averaging 267W for 53:50 [first female and fifth overall], which was a PB for me – slightly lower power than we expected, but given the hard week I’d had, I was pleased.

This article was originally published in the 28 April 2022 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.   (opens in new tab)

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David Bradford is fitness editor of Cycling Weekly (print edition). He has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and has published work in national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Irish Times, Vice.com and Runner’s World. Alongside his love of cycling, David is a long-distance runner with a marathon PB of two hours 28 minutes. Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2006, he also writes about sight loss, equality and social affairs.