ON THE day we meet Scotland’s newest star of the velodrome, her hair is coloured bright pink. A while ago it was green. Katie Archibald is giving serious thought to dyeing her hair blue for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, to match the colour she will wear on her kit as a member of the home team. It has been blue before.
If we are drawn by her appearance to wonder if there is a frivolity in the way Archibald goes about her sport, her astonishing progress in the two years since she first raced a bike proves that there is a very serious competitor beneath the punk facade.
Before the summer of 2011, the Milngavie teenager was a schoolgirl and a sports nut but she was channeling her energy into swimming. Her father was a Highland Games fell-runner and thought of Katie when he noticed keenly-contested bike races going on beside him. Soon the young lady was competing, and winning, as much as £70 on one occasion.
She looks back on that time as a nice initiation on the journey she had planned. Before long the road led her to the velodrome, and she has fitted in so well there that, last week, she signed professional terms with GB Cycling, one of the most prolific and powerful teams in world sport.
“To be honest I don’t have a lot of details yet – I have to go down to Manchester to have a meeting with them,” she said on Monday at the West of Scotland Indoor Bowls Centre, where Scottish Cycling’s elite unit had decamped for a team-building day. “Sorry to disappoint but I don’t know anything! I just got a phone call in the middle of last week and I essentially just sat there and said ‘OK, got it’, and then realised: ‘God, I’ve got so many questions’.
“I’d been waiting quite a while to get an answer back from them, so I was starting to question it and think they were just putting me off and putting me off. So it was good news. A huge benefit [of going full-time] isn’t just the extra time to train, but the extra time you get to recover.”
Archibald had a bit of recovering to do this week. She raced in a Revolution event on Saturday night at the Manchester Velodrome that she will heneceforth call home, and fell, leaving about half of her torso grazed. Rather than put in a call to Glasgow and say that it might be advisable for her to sit out the individual pursuit at the Scottish Championships the next day, she stuck to her guns.
“Revolution was on Saturday night in Manchester; I had a bit of a tumble. Luckily my parents were driving me so I just kind of slept in the back of the car on the way home,” she says. “I knew that I definitely needed the experience from the Revolution but I could hardly not do the Scottish Champs, so I just had to hope that I would have enough on the day.”
She did, indeed, have enough to become Scottish champion for a second time, even if she had to wince her way through it.
“It was both elbows, hip, knees – all my own fault,” she says of the crash. “It was just a racing incident. Somebody came down on top of me and I just clipped the wheel in front. Luckily no-one else came down so I don’t feel guilty, at least – just sore.”
Twelve days ago, Archibald became a champion of Europe, way ahead of her own or anybody else’s schedule. She rode the final of the European Championships team pursuit with Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell and Dani King, three women who became household names when they won gold at the London Olympics. Did she never wonder if she belonged in this company?
“British Cycling tend to make everything so easy that you can kind of wander around and it doesn’t hit you until you are on the start line and think: ‘My god, what is happening here?’ I think I found the training more panicking than the actual racing, because it’s just meeting new people and settling into the environment. The girls are so nice that it made it so easy racing with them. There are mechanics and coaches that are helping at every stage,” she said.
“It’s quite hard to [reconcile] myself with the expectations I had two months ago because it really is developing by the week at the moment. When you see what kind of doors could possibly open you really just want to grab them, don’t you? So, no, I definitely wouldn’t have expected to be here.
“I had set the European Under-23 Championships as a goal, which was a few months before. They didn’t send a team pursuit in the end and I didn’t do any impressive performances that meant they could send me as an individual. So I kind of took a step back after that and thought ‘Oh, what am I going to do?’ I didn’t want to dangle the goal of elite Europeans after I didn’t make U23s, so it was quite a turnaround.”
Now that she is fully acquainted with the likes of Trott and King and has a glittering prize to show for her progress, Archibald need have no qualms, surely, about competing with them in front of a home crowd at the Commonwealth Games, right? The reality is that she has a bit of ground to make up on her English and Welsh rivals and, with no women’s team pursuit on the programme, her only chances to compete will come in the individual pursuit and the road race.
“It will definitely be interesting,” she says, outlining that her goal at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome will be to be among the top eight qualifiers.
“You can base goals on past Commonwealth Games or you can try to predict who is going to be riding at the next one but, until that is confirmed, all I want is a second ride and the chance to contest for a medal. I don’t want to say anything that makes me sound ridiculous if I get nowhere near it.”