Every World Championship matters to elite athletes.  

But never has a World Championships mattered more to an individual than this one does to Katie Archibald. 

On Thursday, the Cycling World Championships begin in Glasgow. 

Even in normal times, this would be a big deal for Archibald. Already a four-time world champion and two-time Olympic champion, she has more than a realistic chance of winning world gold on home soil, in the velodrome in which she learned her trade. 

But this event means far more to Archibald than mere gold medals. 

Last year, Archibald’s partner, Rab Wardell, died at the age of only 37. 

He went into cardiac arrest in bed beside her at their home in the south side of Glasgow. 

The eleven months since have seen Archibald excel professionally – she’s confirmed herself as one of the world’s very best track endurance riders by winning World Championships silver last November and then three European Championships golds in February, making her the most successful rider ever in the history of the event with 20 golds in total – yet, unsurprisingly, struggle personally. 

But if there’s anything that’s helped her get out of bed in the morning, it’s her bike. 

Or more specifically, the thought that success at this World Championships might, just might, bring her a touch of solace. 

A year ago, Archibald was envisaging competing at these World Championships alongside Wardell in the GB team. 

She was a near certainty to be riding while Wardell, who’d long been a fixture on the Scottish cycling scene, was in the form of his life. 

He’d become a full-time bike rider, the previous year, he’d ridden for GB for the first time since 2003 and just two days before his death, he’d become Scottish Cross-Country Mountain Bike champion. All paths were leading to selection for these home World Championships. 

READ MORE: Katie Archibald on Rab Wardell tragedy, grief and decision to carry on

But when, suddenly and tragically, Wardell died on the 23rd of August last year, Archibald’s dream of her and Wardell being GB teammates in Glasgow died at the same time. 

He remains inextricably linked with these Championships - he helped design the mountain bike marathon course in Glentress Forrest - but for Archibald, the connection is far deeper. 

“A big part of why this World Championships means so much to me is that it’s so attached to Rab,” the 29-year-old says. 

“It was his dream and his big goal to ride in it and it had been for a long time. 

“He’d ridden in the World Marathon Mountain Bike Champs in 2021, he’d been selected for 2022 and it was all leading up to these Worlds in 2023 and that we’d be there together.  

“And also, just that cycling in Glasgow is so synonymous with Rab.  

“I don’t want to close off to that, I don’t want to pretend that’s not there because that’s part of why this event means so much to me.  

“But because it means so much, I really, really want to do well. 

“I can tell that if I pretended it was just any other race and I closed off my head to the fact it’s at home and I have this craving that he’ll be there in some way, I know that maybe I’ll perform a bit better.  

“But really, what’s the point in that? The two go hand in hand. 

“I’ve definitely found that a bit too overwhelming though, and so I’ve tried to be a bit stricter with myself to not think like that and I need to just think about it as a race.  

“Because I have this weird thing in my mind that if I can win this bike race, it means I get a part of him for a moment.  

“I won’t. I know that’s not true. And I can tell that I’m torturing myself by thinking that and having that as the goal.” 

Without Wardell, cycling has become Archibald’s primary, and perhaps sole, focus over the past year. 

Her results suggest she’s in good shape physically and has every chance of winning the three gold medals in the team pursuit, madison and omnium that she’s targeting. 

And she admits that it’s not purely the bike that’s helped her navigate the most tragic year of her life, but rather the act of focusing on a goal and specifically, the goal of becoming world champion in her home city. 

“Having not just my bike, because I don’t think that would really have been enough, but having the goals attached to it and having a feeling that there’s something I’m good at so I should probably do that, has been helpful. It feels a bit like a purpose – to have an ability and I should use it,” she says. 

“Also, it’s the environment that I feel most capable in. 

“To be talking about race analysis, to be on the track doing what I’m good at is a real stabilising force. Everyone should have something they feel like they’re expert in and it just makes you feel like you can walk a bit taller. 

“So I guess it means I get to bluff for a little while.” 

This, by no means, though, is to suggest that Archibald is coping with the heartbreak that’s beset her. 

She remains at the stage whereby she becomes visibly upset almost as soon as she begins talking about what she’s been through. 

And while there’s aspects of cycling that have helped her immensely, there’s also parts of it that make managing her feelings significantly harder. 

“What really got me through the World Championships last year was my housemate and teammate, Josie (Knight), I knew for sure she knew and she understood what was gone,” Archibald says.  

“I’m now living down in Manchester to prepare for the Paris Olympics and I feel a bit like I’m back on the British Cycling Academy set-up where you’re living with teammates, you’re close to the track and you’re in this controlled environment as you find your feet. 

“That usually happens when you’re 19 so for it to happen when you’re 29 is a bit different but Josie and I are an upgraded version of Academy riders in that we know how to cook vegetables. 

READ MORE: UCI World Championships 2023: Everything you need to know

“I’ve got a house in Cathcart (that she shared with Wardell in Glasgow’s southside) and I have to go back there sometimes. I did a bit of work with somebody just to make it manageable to go back and do the stuff you have to do, because it just wasn’t manageable. 

“Cycling has been a good driver for me but it leaves a cliff edge after big goals so for example, you can focus through to the Euros but then you do your last day and then….. what? 

“Rab’s still the first person I speak to in the morning and before I go to bed. It is constant. 

“The idea of going over things – they get worse with fatigue too. I go away on training camps and the whole idea of them is that you almost don’t have brain glycogen anymore.  

“And it takes a certain amount of energy to stop that day (when Wardell died) from just sitting constantly in me. When I’m fatigued, it pushes up and up. 

“Cycling is good for anything you need to process. 

“But it’s when I’m tired I get trapped in thoughts I don’t want to have.  

“I think about Rab and bikes, I think about places we wanted to go together.  

“Cycling is a sport that’s in your life well after your career ends. And the fact he could pick up any kind of bike and be good on it broadened my horizons, for sure. 

“But I haven’t touched a mountain bike over the past year. I actually need to clean my mountain bike, but I just can’t touch it. And I need to clean his road bike because it’s covered in energy drink and the tyres are flat but I just can’t touch that either. 

“But a bit of head space on a road ride is a good prescription for anybody.” 

That Archibald has so closely linked these World Championships, and her potential success at them, to Wardell, is quite a burden to bear. 

For many, the instinct would be to try to block out all but what’s happening on the track because, as elite athletes repeat time after time, focusing on the process rather than the outcome is the route to success. 

But Archibald, for all the obvious pain it causes her to speak about the loss of Wardell, she’s also cognisant of the fact that she wants to shout from the rooftops about the kind of person he was and why he mattered so much to her. 

And after all, there’s no better place to make a tribute than in the city and country in which Wardell was liked, respected and admired by everyone who knew him personally, and plenty who didn’t. 

“I’ve had this goal; I want to, in the way that other people are, make tributes,” she says.  

“Other people are able to dedicate things to Rab and other people are able to talk about what they’ve taken from him and how that’ll stay in their lives and they can share that.  

“I’d really like to be able to do the same thing and that’s tied in with these World Championships, and tied in with this conversation. 

“I find it hard when I wonder if people believe me when I talk about him. When something like this happens, of course you’re going to say that they were the brightest light in the room. And I have these pretend conversations in my head where I shake people and say but really, he was. 

“You just want the world to acknowledge what is true, sometimes it doesn’t feel enough to just have it in your chest.”