Advertisement

Katie Archibald is ready to take on cycling's centre stage - after years of being Dame Laura Kenny's understudy

It is something Katie Archibald happily admits – that she’s been an understudy for an awfully long time.

But since Dame Laura Kenny, Britain's most decorated female Olympian, announced her retirement from cycling on Monday, it is clear the 30-year-old will happily take centre stage.

"I have been Laura's understudy for a treat of a career... for the privilege that it is, to say that we've got this history and this standard within the building [the Manchester Velodrome]," she says.

"It's the end of our relationship as teammates, but not the end of our relationship as friends and it's presented the chance to reflect and celebrate what she's done."

But in reality there's little time for looking back because Archibald has a packed schedule to look forward to.

She's aiming to ride in the team pursuit, the Madison, which she rode to victory with Kenny in Tokyo, and the Omnium, the six-event discipline, at the Paris Olympics and she has the CV to back up her ambition.

"The dream is to ride the team pursuit, the Madison and the Omnium. I was part of the Olympic champion team in 2016 for [the] team pursuit, Olympic champion team in 2020 for the Madison, and so this is the progression... into the three event target," says Archibald.

"I think it is a realistic expectation. I'm the only person to have been world champion in all three of those disciplines. I have to try and say that to myself of these black and white facts, that you try and steady your nerves with."

'I get nervous'

As we sit trackside at the Manchester Velodrome, British Cycling's base, it would be easy to think that nerves have been drilled out of these athletes, with GB cycling so ruthless that only the steeliest survive the programme.

Archibald laughs at the suggestion, asking: "What would you think of me if I said I wasn't going to be nervous?"

Jokingly I reply: "I'd call you a liar."

"Yeah, a liar or a sociopath," says Archibald. "I get nervous for tough training sessions. It's a cut-throat environment and I'm used to it.

"But it is the kind of thing that puts a knot in your chest and I think that's healthy."

She added: "I think the trick of handling those nerves is recognising that there's not actually anything to lose, there's only an opportunity that someone will get to become Olympic champion.

"So if I'm second, third or 12th I haven't had anything taken away from me, there's only that opportunity to gain something."

Read more:
Condoms for athletes, but no champagne
Paris Olympic medals feature chunks of Eiffel Tower

British Cycling has not made its selections yet for Paris and I wonder if it's a particularly brutal lifestyle with close teammates missing the cut despite putting in all the work.

"I wouldn't know. I've been here so long perhaps I'm like the frog that's been boiled in the water," Archibald tells me.

"It's an effective system and we've been on a high since the Beijing Games. Every time I sit down for one of these interviews people ask me, 'So has it run out now, is the medal-winning streak at its end?'

"I've seen the evolution in this building of what was and what is now and it's still producing stripy jerseys and gold medals."

Cycling helped with tragic loss

Her partner Rab Wardell, a fellow Scottish cyclist, died tragically in his sleep less than two years ago.

Cycling and training have been a big part of her healing process, but she hesitates for a long time before answering a question about this, the emotion still raw.

"The parts of your identity that you can lean on - I've ended up leaning really heavily on cycling and my career, and what that means about who I am today and who I am in the future.

"Because a lot of who I was, was Rab's partner, and a huge amount of who I was in the future was [being] Rab's partner.

"So I guess being able to steady that with this outlet, and the fact this is so important to me, and it's not a false driver, it's not something I'm pretending to push myself through the day. I really love being here."

She added: "Following through on these processes and feeling like you're building something is really steadying and really motivating. I don't know why I gave that such a long-winded answer but yes it has helped."

Three-time Olympic champion?

Away from the track, Archibald admits she's a "terrible cook" but apart from that her goals consume her.

"When I'm not cycling I'm doing a lot of video analysis, talking to coaches saying, 'Can you help me with this or maybe there's a nut to crack here.'

"I'm pretty much down the rabbit hole of this three-time Olympic champion thing. It consumes a lot of my waking thoughts and my sleeping thoughts and what to do on the other side is TBC."

A career in law, or nursing, or firefighting, are among the many things she's considered.

But getting back on the bike after Paris is most likely because the pull isn't over yet.