In one short season our Domestic Rider of the Year, Abi Smith has domestic victories and notable international results, taking her from a novice to top 20 results in the WorldTour. All in her first year as a senior.
After a pandemic enforced gap of 13 months without racing Smith’s first race of the year was also her first senior UCI event. She finished 17th at the GP Eco-Struct in Belgium, the race won by the world’s best sprinter Lorena Wiebes (DSM).
After such a long time without racing the result was a good one, though made exceptional by the fact 2021 was only her third full season of racing, aged 19.
Smith began her sporting life as a triathlete, but was picked up by the GB Academy soon after. There Monica Greenwood, now GB Podium Women’s coach, was her coach.
“She’s the only person I’ve ever had come to a selection camp who had never ridden on the track,” Greenwood told CW. “It’s really difficult the way she came into the sport at 16 years old. A lot of riders have ridden together from a young age, but Abi’s really quick at learning, good at asking questions and fundamentally really determined.”
That determination shone through as she raced through 2018, graduating the Junior GB team in Nations Cup events in Europe the next season. But, like all her contemporaries, development was abruptly halted by COVID, and she raced only four times on the track and twice on the road in 2020.
After her Belgian outing in May Smith took on a few lower level domestic races before heading to Leicestershire for the first National Road Series event, the CiCLE Classic. She dominated, winning by more than two minutes, and in September proved she was no one trick pony, winning the Curlew Cup with a long sprint, thus taking the series overall.
Her best performances came earlier though after she caught the eye of Rachel Hedderman, DS at Continental team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank. After winning Individual Pursuit bronze at the Under 23 European track championships, the American team threw her into the WorldTour deep end at GP Plouay. She was 16th.
More impressively she followed that with 16th and 17th at the four day Ceratizit Challenge and AJ Bell Women’s Tour respectively. Both those placings coming on the back of excellent time trials, especially in Spain where finished 1.33 behind Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in the mountain test.
“She’s super determined to become a WorldTour rider and I think it was inevitable that as long as she kept progressing she would see the sort of results she’s being this year,” says Greenwood. “Obviously with COVID she missed out on some development riding in big groups on the road and that’s a challenge.
“But she's got a massive engine, she can she can climb, and she can sprint pretty well. I think once she develops tactically and technically she'll be a real strength.”
We think she already is.
- 5. Hayley Simmonds
- 4. Jacob Scott
- 3. Illi Gardner
- 2. James Shaw
Read more about the amazing stories of the runner's up, in Cycling Weekly magazine, in stores from Thursday, December 9. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week. (opens in new tab)
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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.
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