‘Mine isn’t the story of an Olympic champion, but of a vain teenager who liked racing with people I wanted to be like’: Katie Archibald column

'I was engaged by a social scene rather than a sport'

Age 13 I got my first proper road bike, a hand-me-down from my dad. He’d had a crash with
a car and the frame sustained enough damage to justify buying a new bike, but not so much as to send the old one to its grave, and so it fell into my possession.

A year later a massive crack appeared in the seat tube. How long had it been there? How much had it grown? I had no idea. That’s the kind of thing you notice while cleaning a bike, which wasn’t really my bag. I liked riding the thing, but rarely looked down at it while doing so…

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Times change. I would like to say that it’s because a poorly maintained bicycle soon chastises your negligence with squeaks and squeals, but in truth I eventually realised it wasn’t cool to have a dirty bike.

What was cool had a big impact on the decisions I made as a teenager. Fixies were cool. Edinburgh was cool. Travelling to Edinburgh to ride a fixie on a velodrome and make friends with other cool people who thought fixies were cool, was cool. I got lucky that I was talented at this cool thing, but I realised that talent because I wanted to hang, not because I wanted to be the best.

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Cycling took my heart at the age you typically see girls dropping out of sport (there’s a huge female participation dip around age 14) and that isn’t because I was an outlier, it’s because I was engaged by a social scene rather than a sport. I’d been a competitive swimmer as a youngster and quit exactly when you expect girls to quit (age 15) but my bike survived the cull because it was cool. Which embarrasses me greatly.

Mine isn’t the story of an Olympic champion driven to be the best by something intrinsic and great. It’s the story of a vain teenager who liked racing because it was a weekend away in the van with people I wanted to be like. It’s a much bigger story, but I feel this mucky teenage period is an important part of it that at times I’ve tried to hide. So there’s the first part of the truth, the rest is to be continued.

This Katie Archibald column originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.

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