JUST a year into her cycling career, Yorkshire rider Abi Smith is ready to take on the world today.
Smith, a talented sporting all-rounder, is one of five riders in the Great Britain squad for the junior women’s race at the UCI Road World Championships.
But the Ripon Grammar School sixth former – who is from Oswaldkirk, near Helmsley – will have to pinch herself when she lines up at the start in Doncaster this morning.
Smith’s main sport was triathlon before she decided to concentrate on cycling exactly 12 months ago so, in a race of relative novices, she will be one of the rookies.
“Last September I was picked for GB mountain running, GB triathlon and GB cycling,” explained the 17-year-old.
“I had to pick one of those three and I thought cycling had the most potential so I have been doing that for a year now.
The atmosphere will be absolutely insane, Yorkshire will put on a show.Abi Smith
“If you had told me last year at this time I would be riding the world champs in Yorkshire, I would not have believed a word.
“I am really proud of myself, to be honest, because it really wasn’t expected that I would progress so quickly, but if you put the training in things can progress.”
That pride is shared by staff and pupils at Ripon Grammar.
“Abi works incredibly hard in both her sporting and academic endeavours,” said Smith’s form tutor Rebecca Stevenson.
“She manages to maintain strong training alongside fantastic ‘A’ level achievements, which is a true testament to her commitment and intellect.
“She has a positive outlook and high level of humility and I have no doubt, with her level of determination, Abi will continue to go on to great things.”
Smith is learning on and off the bike. As part of the Great Britain academy, she rides track as well as on the road, but hopes eventually to specialise in today’s discipline.
“I am more of a road rider and, hopefully, I’d like to have a career on a professional team in the future,” she said.
“That would be ideal.”
As a young cyclist growing up in Yorkshire, Otley’s Lizzie Deignan – who will aim to regain her elite road race world title tomorrow – proved an inspiration for Smith.
She said: “She is one of my role models.
“I ride with the Otley team a bit, as well as Harrogate and all over the shop in Yorkshire, so we all know each other.
“Just knowing Lizzie has come from the same place, in pretty much the same circumstances, is such an inspiration.
“It shows it can be done.”
Most riders go through their career without riding in a world championships, especially on their doorstep, so Smith is determined to make the most of the experience, whatever the outcome of her race.
“It is brilliant,” she enthused.
“Not many people get the chance to ride in their homeworld championships, so it’s amazing.”
Smith, who is studying for ‘A’ levels in PE, geography and biology, endured an anxious wait before seeing her name confirmed on the team list.
“I think I’ve done well this season, so I was hopeful,” she recalled.
“But I wasn’t thinking I should definitely be in because there were so many good people on the long list.”
This morning’s race is due to start at 8.40am and covers 86km (53.4 miles) to the finish line on Parliament Street in Harrogate, where the leading rider is expected at around 11.11am.
Assessing her prospects, Smith admitted: “It is a bit of a shame it’s a flat course, because I am a bit of a hill climber really, but it should be quite good, with the kick into Harrogate.
“It’s not an ideal course for me, but you make the most of it.
“It’s okay, but I would prefer more hills.”
Only the winner receives a gold medal, but road races are a team effort.
“I think I will be working for the team leader,” said Smith.
“I will probably be doing a leadout at the end, or covering attacks from other teams, making sure the team leader’s safe and that sort of thing.
“I am just happy to be in it.”
Though the course profile suggests a bunch sprint at the finish, Smith noted: “It is uphill so that might suit us better in some ways.
“We have got some powerful people in the team so it could work in our favour. I doubt a breakaway will win it.”
Whatever happens this morning, Smith is relishing the opportunity simply to race on home roads against the best riders of her age group.
“It is going to be incredible to ride on roads I know and see people I know,” she said.
“The atmosphere will be absolutely insane, Yorkshire will put on a show.”