WORLD championship cyclist Abi Smith confessed she has arrived at a crossroads as she picked up top A-level grades at Ripon Grammar School.
Having enjoyed devoting more time to her cycling during lockdown, the 18-year-old Team GB cyclist is now considering focusing on her professional sporting career full-time after being awarded A* grades in geography and PE and an A in biology.
She is thinking of deferring her offer of a place to study biological sciences, along with a coveted sports scholarship, at Loughborough University in order to concentrate on her sport.
“I would love to go to university at some point, but I don't think it matters if it takes me ten years or more if I am going to try and have a career in cycling first.”
Abi, currently recovering after suffering concussion in a crash during training camp, explained: “I think I am going to try to become a full-time cyclist while I have the opportunity. I may as well give it a shot now. How many people have the chance to be a professional athlete?”
The teenager, from outside Helmsley, described her cycling as being like a ‘fourth A-level’ while she juggled her sport with her studies during her two years as a sixth form boarding student in Ripon.
‘When I first joined sixth form at RGS, I honestly didn't think I'd be going from a 16-year-old half-average triathlete schoolgirl to an elite GB cyclist by the end of it,” says Abi.
“I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have had the opportunities to excel both academically and in sport over this time - but I don't think I could cope with another year of juggling it all.”
With time trials starting again, Abi is hoping to compete in international races in September: “During lockdown, it's been nice having the life of a 'pro' cyclist, without having stress about anything else, and being able to focus properly.”
Although she can’t cycle in large groups, she has enjoyed ramping up her training, while learning Spanish and doing lots of painting to relax on rest days: “I'm really pleased with where my form is at the moment,” she says.
One of the highlights of the last year was her toughest competition to date, when she competed in the UCI Road World Championships,riding into Harrogate from Doncaster as part of the GB Junior Women’s team.
Throughout sixth form, Abi’s hectic cycling schedule meant she missed around a quarter of her time at school, training roughly 12 to 18 hours every week, on top of regular monthly training camps and events.
“It was incredibly difficult balancing school and cycling. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and like to feel I have put 100 per cent effort into everything. Often my weekends were twice as busy as any school day, trying to stay on top of things.
“There were certainly some low points and many difficult times. But I am glad I managed it. It taught me valuable skills such as organisation, time-keeping and independence.”
She says cycling has been an ‘absolute dream’ in recent months: “Having time to de-stress, not thinking about schoolwork or results and generally having time to actually enjoy myself for once has been lovely, although it makes me feel quite guilty thinking about all the people who are working so hard to keep the world on its feet.”
*Following the publication of this article, the government's change of policy resulted in amended A-level results for RGS students