Pedal to the medal: Full-throt­tle Archibald on thrills and spills . . .

Rio podium hope lifts lid on a lit­tle white lie and the 70mph mo­tor­bike crash nearly ended her Olympics

The Herald - Herald Sport - - INTERVIEW: CYCLING - DOUG GIL­LON

IT’S less than three years since Katie Archibald aban­doned a te­le­sales job – sell­ing mat­tresses and beds for the fam­ily com­pany – and shelved univer­sity plans to pur­sue a cy­cling ca­reer. Within weeks she was in Bri­tain’s gold medal pur­suit team at the 2013 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships, and within a year had be­come Scot­land’s first fe­male world cham­pion and Com­mon­wealth bronze medal­list. She has since won five more Euro­pean golds, and the Olympic podium beck­ons.

But she has har­boured a se­cret while bat­tling in­jury which threat­ened to keep her from com­pet­ing in Rio. She rup­tured a pos­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in a bike ac­ci­dent, cor­ner­ing too fast on a Cheshire lane. Yet that’s only half the story. She came off her mo­tor­bike at 70mph. So con­fir­ma­tion this week of World Cham­pi­onship se­lec­tion is enor­mous re­lief.

“Pre­vi­ously, I thought I’d at least be on the plane to Rio, but then I crashed my mo­tor­bike. I just said I’d crashed my bike. It was not quite a lie, but I didn’t just come of at 30mph. I also frac­tured the head of ra­dius in my el­bow. The bike has now gone. The girls voted as a team that we’d use more stan­dard­ised trans­port un­til Au­gust.

“It was stupid, but I did not put any­one else in dan­ger. I went slam­ming into a cor­ner as fast as I pos­si­bly could. I just en­joy rid­ing the bike. I’m more of a racer than trainer. Some girls in the squad are just ded­i­cated at rid­ing a bike, but I’m ded­i­cated to get­ting to the fin­ish line first. It in­volves a lot of train­ing, but if I could, I’d just race.”

Her father, Ian, was among Scot­land’s bright­est young ath­let­ics prospects, but lost in­ter­est af­ter break­ing the 1500 me­tres equiv­a­lent of the four-minute mile. Ranked se­cond to Gra­ham Wil­liamson in 1983, Archibald twice won the Scot­tish 1500m ti­tle, out-sprint­ing Nat Muir for the se­cond – no mean feat. Wil­liamson and Muir still hold the na­tional best at the mile and 5000m.

“The sport was more fun on the way up than when I got there,” said Ian.

“I re­ally didn’t en­joy ath­let­ics and much pre­fer cy­cling – more ap­pli­ca­tion of in­tel­lect.”

Of­fi­cials once ran the sport as their own fief­dom, seem­ing to re­gard com­peti­tors as an in­fe­rior species. “I’d won the na­tional ti­tle, but they would not pick me for Scot­land. If I wouldn’t help them, they wouldn’t help me.”

He be­came ab­sorbed by cy­cling, so when he took Katie up Mont Ven­toux when she was 14, he’d al­ready rid­den the no­to­ri­ous Tour de France climb “loads of times”. “I was the father from hell,” he con­fides.

Katie con­firms her com­pet­i­tive streak comes from her father. “He never let us win at any­thing in life, whether it was a game of chess or climb­ing a hill,” she says.

Com­pet­i­tive juices also flow in her sis­ter, cross-coun­try in­ter­na­tion­al­ist Rosie Smith. With the na­tional cham­pi­onships sched­uled for Falkirk a week to­day, she hopes to break her duck. Thrice in the past four years Rosie has been run­ner-up for the se­nior ti­tle. She has twice been third, but has led Hun­ters Bog Trot­ters to team gold, sil­ver and bronze.

At 5ft 10ins, Katie has per­fect levers for cy­cling, but she dis­misses early sport suc­cess. “I won a few West District swim­ming medals, a cou­ple of them gold, and bronze at the Scot­tish schools – I was big for my age, clas­sic story. There was never any ex­pec­ta­tion I’d make it big in swim­ming.”

She cy­cled grass track at High­land Games, col­lect­ing as much as £70 for a day’s sport un­til hand­i­cap­pers caught on. “What did I spend it on? Not petrol money, as mum al­ways re­minds me. I’d like to say I spent it on bike parts, but it went in a piggy bank and I squan­dered it on jelly beans and Coke.”

She was ad­vised to try hard track. At the Bri­tish ju­nior cham­pi­onships, wear­ing a se­cond-hand skin suit and cheap wee hel­met, on a stan­dard bike with­out disc wheels, she lapped the field three times. “Hugh Porter [doyen of com­men­ta­tors] went wild, said it was the best race he’d ever seen,” re­calls her father.

Katie joined City of Ed­in­burgh Rac­ing Club: “I thought they were the coolest peo­ple in the world and wanted noth­ing more than to go away with them, prove I could win races, and fol­low the train­ing.”

Life af­ter cy­cling? “I’ve not thought about a lot un­til af­ter the Olympics. Jour­nal­ism and coach­ing are big in­ter­ests. I write in Cy­cling Weekly [and our Sun­day Her­ald sis­ter] and re­ceive a lot of coach­ing, but in terms of worldly ex­pe­ri­ence ... I don’t know.”

Dad, who has a physics de­gree and Phd, jokes that he is keep­ing her seat warm at Archers Sleep­cen­tre, and hopes the Olympics do not be­come what de­fines her life.

“They are the most im­por­tant thing in the world to me right now,” she coun­ters, but ques­tions whether this is “ra­tio­nal or jus­ti­fied”, adding: “I don’t know. I don’t try to put too much sense into it. It’s hard to do and keeps you from look­ing at a gas stove too much.

“You can now earn money from spon­sor­ship, fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests. I put ev­ery­thing into it, be­cause you know the guy across the ocean is putting ev­ery­thing into it as well.

“I guess it’s about your wider pic­ture of life. I do know peo­ple for whom it’s about build­ing up a nest egg, and then sur­viv­ing, just do­ing what makes them happy. You need the con­cept of en­joy­ing be­ing what you are, I sup­pose. Can you just seek hap­pi­ness, and is that a con­tra­dic­tory life pur­suit? I think it’s prob­a­bly the pur­suit and not the at­tain­ment.

“There’s this big ap­peal: to live a moral life and a good life. As a bal­ance that seems to give hap­pi­ness. I don’t think any­body re­ally thinks that go­ing plea­sure-seek­ing’s a good life. That’s tricky. I don’t en­joy it when I try and jus­tify why I do what I do. When you start think­ing that you don’t en­joy it, the ob­vi­ous ques­tion is: ‘Why don’t you change it?’

“I’m in the very for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion of do­ing ex­actly what I like, and I’m funded to do it, to in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion as it were. I run th­ese things through my head, pre­pared for an ar­gu­ment that I never have. No­body has ever said what I do is dis­gust­ing, and that there’s no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for mak­ing a liv­ing by rid­ing a bike. I al­most wish some­body would, so that I can have this out­ra­geous de­bate. But I would not have th­ese thoughts with­out won­der­ing if I am jus­ti­fied in what I’m do­ing.”

I thought I’d at least be on the plane to Rio, but then I crashed my mo­tor­bike. I just said I’d crashed my bike. It was not quite a lie . . .

Pic­ture: Getty

FLY­ING THE FLAG: Katie Archibald, pic­tured af­ter win­ning Com­mon­wealth bronze at Glas­gow 2014, has pulled through an el­bow in­jury on the road to Rio.

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