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

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Want to know how the best runners in the world train? For each article in this column MY WEEK IN TRAINING series of The print edition of Cycling Weekly, we sit down with an elite runner who tells us about a recent week of training in detail. This time it’s the turn of Abi Smith from EF Education-Tibco-SVB…

Former triathlete Abi Smith received the CW’s 2021 National Runner of the Year award, a recognition of how, in her first year as a senior, she rocketed from the novice ranks to the Top 20 WorldTour results. She turned 20 on April 1 and, who now rides for EF Education-Tibco-SVB, focused on the big spring classics – on the day we spoke to her she had just finished her recce ahead of Paris-Roubaix Women. Below, Smith tells us about an intense week of riding that included the Flanders Classic Scheldeprijs.

Did you come to cycling via triathlon?

Yeah, I absolutely loved the triathlon – aside from the morning swims! In the races, I would be in the middle of the pack in the swim, going forward on the bike, dragging everyone with me, before trying to hold on during the race. So I thought why not try a bike race. Did a national youth circuit series race in 2018, finished second and got scouted by Ben Greenwood [British Cycling coach] for the junior academy.

Have you changed physically following the different workouts?

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

What type of running suits you best?

Definitely an attritional race where the party is reduced – finding out who can survive the longest. I also like shorter, more offensive runs like a crit where I can experiment and find out what works. I don’t want to sit there and wait for the sprint – it’s boring!

Profile: Abi Smith

Age: 20

Height: 5 feet 9 inches

FTP: 300W (estimated)

Lives: Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Races for: EF Education-Tibco-SVB

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

Twitter: @abijesmith

Instagram: abijesmith

Your older brother, Nathan, is also a full-time cyclist. Did it help you to have a cycling brother?

Yes. When we were both doing triathlons, he would go for walks with his friends and I was in the back, hanging on to my life. It was a good workout in itself – hang in there and watch how he was doing. He got on his bike too [riding for Team Novo Nordisk]so it’s good that we encouraged each other.

Has your training changed a lot with the move 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 due to Covid and the lack of racing until this year. I just like to ride a bike!

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

For the moment, no, but I did a little drawing on the team camp in February. I miss it a little but I don’t have time. The opportunity 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]. I didn’t have time to ride, so I did stretches and foam rollers.

Tuesday: Pre-race walk – 2 hours

Out in Belgium now, I rode along the canal with a teammate. As I had not ridden the day before, I did two hours – half an hour more than usual the day before a race. It was an hour of spinning at around 150W – nice and easy. During the second hour, I did a gradual warm-up: 10 minutes in zone 2 and increased it to 400 W at the end of the 10 minutes. After a break I did a 15 second sprint, trying to get high power – not that I’m very good at it [laughs]. Then I did a starting simulation: one minute at 400 W, and finally two more sprints of 20 and 30 seconds, aiming to reach at least 800 W.

Wednesday: Race day, Scheldeprijs Vrouwen Elite – 3:30 a.m.

I had a horrible, difficult day – even though I caused it myself! I got into the breakaway with two others and we stayed away for 100km. To speed up, I did 803 W, then I set peak powers: almost three hours with an average of 250 W, my best for this duration. 8 km from the finish, I attacked the other two but was caught 5 km from the finish – I was hoping the peloton would forget about me! I was really happy overall, after giving my best, and our sprinter Letizia Borghesi finished eighth.

Facts and figures

The week: April 4-10, 2022

Location: North Yorkshire and Flanders

Train for: Spring Classics

Total drive: 3 p.m.

Z3+ stress: 5:50

Thursday: Long hike with rhythm section – 4h15

I was tired today but I had four hours to do. We headed back to the UK in the morning, and although I didn’t want to, I knew it would be good practice to do a long drive after the tough run. It was mostly zone 2 endurance pace, but I joined a group in the middle for a bit of chaingang for an hour and a half at around 230W, and rode when I could handle it. I was really tired after that.

Friday: Endurance hike – 2h30

Knowing that I had a time trial on Sunday, we shortened today’s ride to two and a half hours. It was just a consistent effort in Zone 1 High / Zone 2 Low, averaging 168W. The weather was nice, so a nice cool day on the bike – a good chance to get some head space.

Saturday: Pre-TT walk – 1h30

Basically a rest day, but I wanted to test some gear: I wore my new TT helmet and rode my TT bike with the wheels I intended to use during the race. It was an hour and a half, just an easy ride with a gradual warm-up: 10 minutes of acceleration, like Tuesday’s ride. Other than that, I was just training to hold my TT position.

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

The TT went very well and the kit fit me well. It was a flat 25 mile course, and my goal was to put in a controlled effort before accelerating it at the end. I followed the plan and had a great time, averaging 267W for 53:50 [first female and fifth overall]which was a PB for me – slightly less power than we expected, but considering the tough week I’d had, I was happy.

This article originally appeared in the April 28, 2022 print edition of weekly cycling magazine. Subscribe online and receive the magazine at your doorstep every week. (opens in a new tab)

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