After eight years as a competitive triathlete, in addition to forays into netball, field hockey, and as Smith puts it, “every sport known to man,” the 19-year-old has exchanged her goggles and tri suit for a set of road wheels…and track wheels. Did we say she’s picked one sport? Well, it seems she’s settled on just one sport, but two disciplines: road and track.
When she noticed that her performance at triathlons seemed to follow a consistent pattern — have a passable swim, easily get to the front of the field on the bike, then fade on the run — Smith decided she should “try the cycling part of this. I entered a few youth events. I quite like to spice the race up. I don’t like a boring race. I got in a few breakaways. I got spotted by a national coach who put me on the national program. At that point, at age 16, I had to learn track and how to ride in the bunch properly and things like that. It was fairly sudden, really.”
From being invited to join the national team in 2018 to signing with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB for 2022, life has certainly moved quickly for the young Brit. “It’s just gone from there really. A few national successes and being able to stagiaire for Team TIBCO Silicon Valley Bank in 2021 was just amazing. It’s all come quite quickly, even having missed a year for Covid, without any races. I think I used that time well in the sense that I trained hard and just used it to get stronger and faster and focused on that quite a lot.”
While Smith already had a degree of road experience, adding the track to her repertoire has taken some serious work. “I’m not near a track. I live two hours from a track. There’s been a lot of commuting to work on the track stuff. I’m still working on it, put it that way. It’s still very new to me but I’ve been enjoying the team pursuit. I’m slowly getting better and learning more through it. That wasn’t a choice. I had to learn track because it was a combined program but I really feel I’ve progressed with that.”
Though Smith favors road over track, she’s grown to appreciate the track and what it has taught her. “In terms of position, there’s a lot of crossover with time trial position and the low pro position which is obviously where I spend most of my time on the track. That has helped a lot with aerodynamics because I’m not naturally an aerodynamic person it seems. Also riding close to people, because I started at 16 and am still slightly nervous in the bunch. I’m still working on it. Just being able to ride in a bunch because you can’t really do that out on the road because the roads are not closed. Being able to do that on the track helps me gain confidence for the road and probably pedaling at the higher cadence is a good thing for me. I grind a lot.”
In 2022, Smith will juggle a full road season with a handful of the races on the track. “That’s going to be the challenge. I’ll be doing a little bit of track, just the major events like the Under 23 Euros and maybe the Commonwealth Games. Road will come first but also the major events on the track when and if they fit the road calendar. It will take some figuring out but road is top priority. The plan is ultimately to race on the road completely unless I suddenly get miraculously Olympics-bound on the track.”
Smith realizes there is still much for her to learn on the road, which is precisely why she decided to sign with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB. “I knew that coming here, they’d give me time to learn, rather than saying, ‘You did this wrong, you did that wrong, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ Because I don’t know what I’m doing but I think I’ve got the time to learn here. And there are older athletes and loads of experience to be able to sponge off of.”
Being the only teenager on the team, her age does come up from time to time. “When people are talking about starting families and things, I’m just thinking, “Ummmm!” Smith laughs. “Just little moments like that but otherwise it just seems perfectly normal that I’m younger. Nobody cares. Lauren Stephens, for example. She’s got so much more experience but she’s there to talk to so I will keep learning as long as she’s there.”
Despite racing at the highest level in two disciplines, Smith still makes time for painting and drawing. “Rest days, off season, I always go back to doing some drawings. It’s just such a relaxing thing to do where I’m not thinking, ‘What’s my next session?’ or what I’m doing next on the bike or when’s my next race. It just takes you away completely. If I’m ever bored, I just draw a picture.”
She finds inspiration in her surroundings, particularly the landscapes she rides through. “I’ve ridden quite a lot in the Lake District. It’s a national park in the UK and it’s got beautiful mountains and things and I always make a mental note, ‘I must paint this at some point,’ wherever I am.”
During her days as a student, she had to make a choice between pursuing art or cycling. “I went with sport and it’s turned out very well,” she says, but she still harbors ambitions for her artwork. “I’d really like to do something with it. I’ll do a few commissions for friends or family or people who’ve seen me and ask for something. At the moment I’m just enjoying it but it would be a good thing to do on the side definitely. Maybe at some point in the future, set something up on the side or when they do official artworks for say, the Tour de Yorkshire, and have an official artist. I thought it would be quite cool if one of the riders did it. Get myself into something like that. We’ll see where it goes.”
We can’t wait to see where Abi will go in 2022 on the bike, and with her sketchbook.