Katie Archibald column: The pursuit of perfection

"For much of my career, specifically the big chunk of time leading up to the Rio Olympics, I saw myself not as a professional cyclist but as a professional team pursuiter"

I’m a professional cyclist — unless someone I don’t expect to ever see again is asking, in which case I’m whatever lie seems the least hassle.

But for much of my career, specifically the big chunk of time leading up to the Rio Olympics, I saw myself not as a professional cyclist but as a professional team pursuiter. Or maybe professional team pursuitist? I’ve only ever had to think it and grammar doesn’t exist in the language of thought.

It was such an all-consuming goal, the team pursuit in Rio, that although I was racing on the road and competing in various track events beyond pursuiting, every decision I made ultimately funnelled towards making me a better team pursuit rider.

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I was technically the squad’s omnium reserve, but that was really a ceremonial role. I held the vice presidency to Laura’s commander in chief, if you will — someone who has to be assigned in case the thing we all hope never happens to the chief, happens.

Everything I was, was team pursuit. Which makes me sound very dedicated but just means there was nothing I was more focused on. I was a very slovenly athlete at times, but I was far more slovenly in every other aspect of my life. Thankfully we (me, Elinor Barker, Laura Kenny and Joanna Rowsell Shand) did become Olympic team pursuit champions in 2016.

Not long after this I heard a family member explaining that teams put their strongest rider as ‘rider one’ in a team pursuit line-up.

They were referring to the order you start in: rider one takes the lead, then two and so on. I told them, no, the order you start in isn’t in order of strength; it’s about maximising individuals from wherever they are in the line so as to mould the strongest performance as a team. “Plus,” I hinted, “don’t you remember I started in four at the Olympics?”

They tried to avoid eye contact, unconvinced and clearly embarrassed on my behalf. There was an awkward moment, until I remembered to point out that Bradley Wiggins had started in four for the men’s team at the Olympics. “Oh!” exclaimed
my (shall remain anonymous) family member, “so rider four is the strongest!”

I put my head in my hands and walked away.

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