WHEN Katie Archibald was starting out as a track cyclist, two short years ago, she entered the madison at the Scottish championships. The madison is a two-person race, like a relay on bikes, with one rider racing hard around the base of the track while the other takes it easy, rolling around the top of the banking.
Instead of a baton, a hand-sling brings the inactive rider back into the fray. The madison is hectic, chaotic and dangerous, and it appealed enormously to Archibald, so she entered the “junior (men’s) madison” when the national championships were first held at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in late 2012.
“There wasn’t a girls’ madison so I thought, ‘I’ll have to get into a boys’ one’,” she recalls. “I entered with a lad from a team in Peebles, turned up, and the commissaire [referee] said, ‘You can’t do that.’ Then the field had to take a vote about whether they were OK with me riding. They all said, ‘Of course we don’t mind!’
“We were sitting third when my partner pulled out. He quit the race with a stitch! After all the arguments about me riding in the first place! It was horrible. I had to carry on on my own, just drifting down the field. His dad apologised to me afterwards.”
Now Archibald is a full-time member of the British set-up, a world champion in the team pursuit and bronze medallist in the points race at the Commonwealth Games. But an old problem persists. The opportunity to ride her beloved madison – at least at world and Olympic level – is denied her.
“I’d love there to be a madison at the world championships,” she says. “There’s a national one, and I’m doing that with [fellow Scot] Charline Joiner. I think it’d be cool to have one at the worlds and Olympics. They’re interesting to watch. You don’t get a bigger show than the madison. But I don’t know who I should speak to.”
Archibald, the 20-year-old from Milngavie, was recovering this week after a busy time at Glasgow 2014. Nobody, perhaps with the exception of Clyde, the official mascot, had a busier Games than Archibald. But her body had its revenge this week, in the form of a hacking cough. She also had a wisdom tooth removed on Tuesday, a procedure she “under-estimated”, which meant she didn’t ride last night’s Prudential RideLondon women’s GP in London.
But no wonder, given her schedule in Glasgow. From day two, when she was fourth in the individual pursuit, to day 12, when she was seventh in the road race, she remained in racing mode even as some of her erstwhile team-mates switched to party mode.
That was the mental challenge. The physical one was having the versatility to switch from 3,000m individual pursuit, to scratch and points races on the track, to the time trial, to the road race.
Her all-round strength, consistency and versatility is borne out by her results: Fourth; fifth; third; fifth; seventh. It seems an injustice that she “only” ended up with a solitary bronze medal, and it meant she perhaps didn’t get the recognition she deserved.
Take the road race. “It was my lowest placing, yet it was the one I was most surprised about and pleased with,” she says.
“When I bridged to the break, and realised it was going to stick, at that moment I thought, even if I come seventh, it was an achievement.”
For the first time in a road race she found herself in the company of world-class riders – eventual winner Lizzie Armitstead and runner-up Emma Pooley of England and the Australians Gracie Elvin and Tiffany Cromwell. “Yeah, it was cool,” says Archibald.
Plans for a World Cup road race in Scotland in 2015, as part of the Glasgow 2014 legacy, excite her, because she wants to give road racing a proper go next year. Although the team pursuit is her main focus – and best chance of a gold medal at the Rio Olympics – she loves bunch racing, on track or road.
She came to cycling late, from swimming, which means “I might be aerobically trained but, in bunch racing skills I’m lagging about five years behind the others.”
But, tactically, Archibald is improving fast, as she showed in the Commonwealth Games points race.
“I used to go in trying to mould the race to the way I wanted it to go. Now I mould myself to the race. My training and tactics are coming togeth
“I enjoy bunch racing,” Archibald continues. “I like the team pursuit, training with the girls, being part of a team. If was 16 and just racing at weekends for fun I’d do everything, but at elite level specialisation is pretty important. And the big dream is Rio.
“But road racing is something I’m really interested in next year in particular. There’s no Olympics, no Commonwealth Games, so I want to do a full road programme.”
Armitstead, Elvin and co might have been unfamiliar with the tall girl in their midst last Sunday, her hair dyed blue and white to match her Scotland kit. But, if she progresses on the road as rapidly as she has done on the track, they will know exactly who Katie Archibald is by this time next year.