THIS time last year, Katie Archibald had two constants in her life: cycling and her partner, Rab Wardell. Both had been major parts of her existence for a long, long time.

She’d started becoming somewhat unclear, however, about the role one of these two would play in her future.

The uncertainty was not about Wardell.

They had met through cycling: Wardell was a mountain biker who was a regular fixture within the Scottish cycling scene well before Archibald was anything close to the household name she is now.

Her future with him was, she believed, set in stone.

It was the part cycling would play that she was less sure about.

It’s a surprising admission from Archibald. After all, she was, by every estimation, one of the very best track endurance cyclists in the world. Her second Olympic gold medal remained fresh in the memory and few had any doubt she was capable of completing the hat-trick in 2024.

But Archibald wasn’t so sure. She’d reached that point, one every elite athlete reaches, when they wonder about giving it all up.

But then, literally overnight, everything Archibald knew was pulled from under her.

At her home in the south side of Glasgow last August, her long-term partner Wardell went into cardiac arrest beside her as she slept.

Archibald did everything she could to save him. But her attempts were in vain.

At the age of just 37, Wardell died.

And at the same time Archibald’s life was thrown into utter turmoil.

In that moment, all thoughts of giving up her life as an elite cyclist were discarded.

“All of last year, I’d been on and off the bike a lot and I was at a point where I didn’t feel as certain about my career and my future,” Archibald says. “Whether or not my bike was going to take me into the future, that was totally grey for me.

“The one thing that was clear was that I had this person in my future.

“But then, after what happened, I knew it would have been too much to have neither of those things.”

And so Archibald, within days, was back on the bike.

Much of her anxiety over cycling last year was in no small part down to the fact that she was hit by a car in May, causing her serious injury and forcing her out of last summer’s Commonwealth Games.

But as soon as she mounted her bike following Wardell’s death, everything felt different.

“I’d been having problems with panicking on the bike – it was probably an accumulation of things but it started when I got hit by a car in May, and then I was anxious on the bike a lot,” the 29-year-old says.

“And then I got on the bike about three days after Rab died and there was nothing. Suddenly, I realised there was nothing available to be scared about. The worst had happened, so what was there to be scared about?”

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What’s been particularly traumatic for Archibald since that tragic nightof August 23 last year, she admits, is that she’s not only having to deal with the loss of Wardell, she’s also having to deal with the loss of the future she’d imagined for herself.

Everything of which she was certain disappeared in an instant.

When Archibald recalls the hours after Wardell’s death, it’s clear that, even a year on, she’s still deeply affected by the feelings that overwhelmed her in the early hours of that fateful Tuesday morning.

“I was just terrified,” she says.

“On the morning that it happened, because he was young and it was an unusual death, I don’t fully know why but they didn’t take him straight away so I stayed with him for hours. I was so scared of him being by himself. There were stupid things like they wouldn’t allow him to take his glasses because the crematorium wouldn’t let him have them and I was freaking out because how was he going to be able to see?

“I was just so scared.”

The early days of life without Wardell were equally hard for Archibald. She would be out on her bike and would be certain she’d see him in the distance. Until she realised that was impossible.

“For a long time, anybody who was riding in all black [as Wardell did], if I saw them from far away, I’d think it was him,” she says.

“I’d try to stop myself from staring because I knew it wasn’t him, but I couldn’t. Then they’d ride past me and it’d be some old guy.”

But there have been glimmers of hope for Archibald that she’s beginning to manage her grief better than she could in the very early days.

“I’ve thought ‘What if’ almost every second of every day since it happened,” she says. “But there are a few things I have managed to get over a little bit.

“The thing that actually helped me a lot, and I have had a bit of a breakthrough, was that I realised that Rab did get scared sometimes.

“The recurring thoughts for me are all the things I did wrong in the moment. And I know that Rab would have coped better. But I try to remind myself that he would have been scared too because I was just terrified. Obviously it doesn’t get rid of the guilt but it helps me understand it – that he would have been scared as well.

“I’ve had help – I’ve spoken to people with the intention of not being so overcome and not having it there all the time. But the biggest day-to-day help for me is Rab’s mum.

“We chat over text most days and even early on, she was already thinking about other people who needed help and she had this wider awareness of other people’s pain about different things and other people’s needs. I’ve taken a lot from witnessing that. And although she has this hole in her chest, she has that strength to still go about her life; that it’s not closed off and she can still help others. That’s been my biggest inspiration.”

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It’s almost impossible to have the water-tight relationship Archibald had with Wardell and not have the traits of the other person seep into you.

Wardell, who was part of the furniture on the Scottish cycling scene, was renowned for being the most fun guy in the sport.

Archibald’s attitude to cycling was, perhaps unsurprisingly considering she was battling for major championship medals year in, year out, somewhat more serious.

But his girlfriend’s more austere approach had started to rub off on Wardell. He was, says Archibald, in the shape of his life.

Only two days before his death, he’d become Scottish cross-country mountain bike champion. He had won his first GB selection for almost two decades the previous year. But Archibald admits that for all of his knuckling down, the feeling nags at her that maybe if he’d continued prioritising fun over all else, things may have been different.

“I know that I take my career very seriously, and I have done for a long time. And Rab didn’t – he took having fun very seriously,” she says.

“He’d go to the pub after the Chain Gang and I would be annoyed if people weren’t riding at the pace I wanted. And neither of those attitudes are ideal.

“He was emotionally all over the place and never had any consistency in his training or racing, but he was definitely the guy you wanted to go to the skate park with because he was lot of fun, right?

“And I was in a different place where I didn’t put enough time into my relationships or my bigger sense of purpose outside of just winning bike races. But then, he’d just become Scottish champion, he’d gone full-time with his riding, he was functioning as a professional cyclist and he was riding incredibly well.

“He was only 37 with heart hypertrophy, they call it athlete’s heart, but he’d never been fitter than he was. So as much as it sounds silly, what if he’d just stayed going for a pint after the Chain Gang?”

If anything positive can be taken from the past year, it’s the lesson Archibald is trying to learn from the time she spent with Wardell, particularly as she heads into one of the biggest competitions of her life: the Cycling World Championships, which will begin in her home city of Glasgow on Thursday.

And it’s in the moment, in the heat of a race, that Archibald can, temporarily, block out the heartbreak of the past year.

“The message of Rab Wardell is chill out and have fun. That’s how you ultimately get top results, because locking yourself in your room every night doesn’t get you to the top step of any podium,” she says. “Cycling has been a good driver for me over the last year, so there’s something to be grateful for having that.

“I’ve actually always known that because at the Glasgow Nations Cup last year, I had some family stuff going on and when I came off after the team pursuit qualifying, I got on my bike to warm-down and I had this really clear moment when the world came back to me.

“Suddenly, I realised that I hadn’t thought about this thing for an entire 15 minutes.

“And that’s what you chase.

“That’s probably why people get into ultra distance racing – you can have that for 24 hours whereas with me and with cycling, it’s about 25 minutes max. But it’s a delight to have it at all.”