When Katie Archibald calls from the home she shares in Manchester with British team-mate Elinor Barker and a powerlifter (“We found her on Gumtree”) the line is echoey. She sounds like she’s in a tunnel. “Um, no,” she says. “I’m in the bath.”
A splash confirms it. But this is typical Archibald. Not that she is having a bath, but that if she had to do an interview at 3pm and also needed a bath, having just returned from a cold training ride, she would kill two birds with one stone. “The hot water in our shower only lasts a minute and a half,” she explains.
It’s the kind of rational thinking that makes Archibald not quite the square peg in the round hole that she might initially have seemed as part of the British Cycling set-up. When she moved south from Glasgow to Manchester to become a full-time member of the team pursuit squad it was intriguing to speculate how she might get on.
Her trajectory was so steep, from grass track racing to the Highland Games to Olympic squad in a hop, step and jump. But Archibald has thrived, winning two individual European pursuit titles and becoming, alongside Laura Trott, the mainstay in a team pursuit quartet that should go to the Rio Olympics as favourites.
Or will they? That is the big question. It is Archibald herself who brings it up, when talking about the recent European track championships, where she won three gold medals. Which was a relief, she says, “after [the team pursuit squad’s] failure at the worlds last year… why did I bring that up?” After four straight successes they were beaten in Paris by Australia. “It did take the wind out of our sails a bit,” says Archibald. “But I think it’s turned into quite a useful motivator. Everyone feels really confident that we’ll be on top of our game when it’s most important. That sounds like a cop out – at the big event, we’ll be ready! But we will be.”
Archibald is always correcting herself, as though she is reading her quotes and rolling her eyes. “If I can call it a career,” she says of her life as a full-time athlete. Asked if she has improved since she moved to Manchester, she says: “If I say I’m pleased with my performances it doesn’t sound big-headed, does it?”
She admits that she’s lucky. “It would sound awful if I said I was living the dream, but if you’d told me I’d be doing this I’d have said no way. There are one or two days a week when I can’t really believe I am doing it.”
Archibald might seem eccentric, but there is a compelling argument that she is merely more honest than most people – certainly elite athletes. Her blog offers an offbeat, often hilarious insight into the workings of her mind. A recent entry, headlined “Official Neanderthal”, revealed that she had been contacted by Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show and asked to submit her three favourite songs. She picked tracks by Ed Sheeran, Kanye West and Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. They replied asking for more “indie” songs. “I [stupidly] decided not to back down on my list in the hope that I’d get to go on the radio anyway and defend it,” she wrote. They didn’t get back to her but the rejection at least spawned an amusing blog post.
This Saturday Archibald is competing in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow – a rare home appearance. Freed from the shackles of the team pursuit, she has star billing with Trott – rivals rather than team-mates for once. The next major stepping stone before Rio is the world championships in London in March. “Oh yeah, London,” she says. “I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be pushing that. So get your tickets now!”
She is serious when she needs to be. She doesn’t allow herself to think about an Olympic gold medal and takes nothing for granted. “It’s really hard to get five people going really well on the same day. Really hard. I can think of one occasion when we’ve managed it. Actually, no, we’ve never managed it.”
That’s why, she says, “Everything we do is towards the ultimate aim of making us go as fast as possible in Rio. That’s not starting now – it started a year and a half ago.”