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Laura Kenny marvels at ‘phenomenal’ Katie Archibald amid personal grief

Dame Laura Kenny, right, called her Great Britain team-mate Katie Archibald “phenomenal” (Danny Lawson/PA)
Dame Laura Kenny, right, called her Great Britain team-mate Katie Archibald “phenomenal” (Danny Lawson/PA)

Dame Laura Kenny has called Katie Archibald “phenomenal” as her Great Britain team-mate goes into the final weekend of the UCI Track Champions League within touching distance of defending her title amid personal trauma.

Archibald, who won Olympic Madison gold alongside Kenny last summer, lost her partner in August when mountain biker Rab Wardell died suddenly at home at the age of 37.

Having already missed time through illness and injury this season, Archibald subsequently sat out October’s Track World Championships.

But she returned to competition for the Champions League three weeks ago and goes into this weekend’s deciding doubleheader in London one point behind American Jennifer Valente in the women’s endurance standings.

“She is one incredible human being,” Kenny told the PA news agency of Archibald. “If I lost Jase (husband Sir Jason Kenny) or my somebody, I don’t know how I would carry on.

“I know she says cycling is her carrying on, but if that happened to me I don’t know how I would get a leg over a bike, let alone be able to perform at the level she’s performing at.

“It’s like when I said that bike racing is a happy space, but still, to be able to commit to it, to train that hard and put yourself through that much pain to be going so well, I think she is phenomenal, I really do.

“I don’t think I could do that after everything she’s gone through.”

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Day Fourteen
Laura Kenny (right) and Katie Archibald embrace after their Olympic Madison victory last summer (Danny Lawson/PA)

Kenny has spoken openly of the heartbreak she experienced herself last winter when she suffered a miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, saying earlier this year it had led her to consider retirement.

After returning to competition and defying her own predictions to win Commonwealth gold at the London velodrome in July, Kenny again said she needed a break from the sport and hinted at missing the World Championships.

Instead, she chose to race in Paris, finishing fifth in the Madison alongside Neah Evans, then signed up to make her debut in this competition having worked at last year’s inaugural edition of the TV-friendly format as a commentator.

The Champions League has not gone to plan on the bike – after missing last week’s round in Paris due to a stomach bug Kenny goes into Friday’s racing joint last in the standings – but the familiar smile is back on the 30-year-old’s face after a tough year.

Kenny is working again with ex-British Cycling physiologist Len Parker Simpson, implementing a new training regime which she expects to take time to bear fruit, but with it has come a sense of freedom.

“I always knew it was going to take time,” she said of rediscovering her best form. “Did I know it was going to take this much time? No. But I trust the process.

“I don’t want to come last, I want to be winning bike races. But I’m having fun racing my bike. For me, that’s the biggest thing at the minute.

“The Commonwealths were fun because it was London and I love the track, but did I enjoy it? No, not really. But am I enjoying this? Yes, I am. I’m enjoying being around track centre, I’m enjoying getting up and racing and just feeling there’s no pressure.

“I’m just getting on a bike and feeling like whatever happens, happens. I’m enjoying it even though it’s going badly.”

And with her own hopes in this competition gone, Kenny said she would be happy to work on the track for Archibald, even though there are technically no team-mates in the Champions League.

“Is teamwork allowed?” she said. “As long as I don’t get in trouble I don’t mind being sacrificed for her. She can use me all she wants. As much as I respect Jennifer Valente, you always want your team-mate and friend to win.”

:: Laura Kenny was speaking ahead of the UCI Track Champions League on Eurosport and discovery+