With her distinctive look – the ever-changing hair colour, the tattoos, the piercings – and her sharp observations, whether in print, on social media or in person, Katie Archibald has long been one of the most interesting riders in the British set-up. She is rapidly becoming one of its most brilliant.
The 23-year-old from Milngavie won a superb gold in the omnium at the Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong on Friday, at the same time putting her friend Laura Kenny on notice that she is going to have a hell of a fight on her hands if she wants to go for a hat-trick of Olympic omnium titles at Tokyo 2020.
Kenny, the four-time Olympic champion, is absent from these championships pending the arrival of her first child in August. But she was watching on from the BBC studio back in Manchester and professed herself delighted for her team-mate. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of that. Great Britain have been blessed with female endurance riders for some time now and they are an extremely tight-knit group.
Archibald has been quietly growing in stature for some time now. A late developer, she only took up the sport competitively in 2011 and was only recruited on to British Cycling’s development academy midway through the last Olympic cycle. On seeing her, head coach Shane Sutton was apparently taken aback by this scruffy thing with the dyed hair and the lip piercing.
“The first time I met Shane he comes up to me and says 'you look f****** terrifying' and just walks away,” Archibald recalled, laughing, during her warm-down. “And I don't think he meant it as a compliment! I don't know what he thinks now, probably still look terrifying.”
She was always quick, though. And powerful. Archibald rose rapidly through the system, rapidly establishing herself as part of Team GB’s all-conquering pursuit team which smashed the world record en route to gold in Rio last summer.
And she always maintained her individual streak. The hair kept changing colour, she kept writing columns for newspapers and magazines, and even crashed her motorbike last winter, eight months before the Olympics, earning her a stiff rebuke from Sutton.
Until now, though, Archibald’s opportunities as an individual at world and Olympic level have been limited. The absence from these championships of some of her erstwhile team-mates – Joanna Rowsell-Shand has retired, Kenny is pregnant – meant Britain's selectors decided to go with an extremely young pursuit team, giving Archibald and Elinor Barker the chance to focus on individual events.
Barker repaid that by taking silver in the scratch race on Wednesday. Now Archibald has gold. “Totally,” she replied when asked whether coaches had been vindicated, although she admitted she was almost left kicking herself after putting “way too much” into chasing her nearest rival, the Australian Amy Cure, and forgetting her tactics in the process, giving Holland’s third placed Kirsten Wild a free ride and knackering herself in the process.
“I thought it was home time,” she admitted. "I kept burning matches unnecessarily. I was sprinting for fifth at one point."
In the end, she managed to get back on, refocus and summon one final push in the final sprint, claiming fourth place, ahead of her two rivals. She was so exhausted she could barely celebrate.
“I thought I'd lost my moment,” she smiled. “The crowd goes [wild] and I couldn't breathe! I did a lap and I thought 'oh no, they're not cheering anymore'. I was like 'I'm ready now. I'm ready to celebrate'...”
With luck Archibald will recover in time for Saturday’s individual pursuit. And Britain's young team may have further chances of medals with Ryan Owens qualifying for the sprint quarter-finals, Chris Latham going in the men’s omnium, and Barker and Emily Nelson riding the Madison.