The eyes of the sporting world will turn to Scotland in less than a month’s time as the Commonwealth Games get underway in Glasgow – and two Scots in particular are relishing the prospect of racing in their home country.
Charline Joiner, a silver medallist in Delhi four years ago, and rising star Katie Archibald, a world team pursuit champion, and runner-up at the British time trial championships, will be among the cyclists flying the flag for the host country.
And having spent the current season as team-mates on Dame Sarah Storey’s Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International team, the two will join forces on the track and road as Scotland bid for medal success in Glasgow.
For both, it is a remarkable story and one which may not have seemed likely at various points in the last 12 months.
On the one hand, Archibald has gone from grass track rider to bursting onto the track and road scene in the past year.
Joiner, meanwhile, could not walk after a bad training accident earlier in the year but has recovered in time to earn selection.
It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m only 20 – Katie Archibald
“It’s going to be huge,” Archibald told RCUK. “It’s slowly consuming my entire life, if it wasn’t before.
“A home Games – you can’t really explain just how important it is. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m only 20 years old, so it’s going to be something very special.”
Both enjoyed a successful last run-out on the road at the Curlew Cup, part of the Virgin Money Cyclone Festival of Cycling in Northumberland.
As Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International showcased their strength on the domestic scene, Joiner – in her first road race back after injury – took all three primes to earn the sprint prize while Archibald won overall.
It followed earlier success in the Matrix Fitness GP Series, where Joiner finished second overall behind fellow Scottish Commonwealth Games rider Eileen Roe (Starley Primal).
The team, meanwhile, took the overall prize – thanks in no small part to two individual victories for Archibald, who has taken to domestic road racing as successfully as she did international track racing.
And speaking separately to RCUK post-race, both agreed being part of the Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International team had made for a hugely enjoyable year to date.
“The team’s had a storming year,” Joiner said. “And everyone is riding really well – it’s not as though we’re always riding for one rider.
The team’s had a storming year. It’s good that we’re all up there and we’re all strong – Charline Joiner
“It’s good that we’re all up there and we’re all strong. The Tour Series was so much fun, it’s good to have the big crowds and have everyone cheering.
“Being out in the town centre it gets people watching so it’s really good. That area of the sport will bring more support into it.
“The Curlew Cup was a pretty crucial race actually too. After the nationals, that’s it for road racing ahead of the Commonwealth Games so getting a road race in before just gets me a little bit of confidence.
“We did everything we wanted to do. I did my job – and that’s what I need to practice. It was good the fact I was always there at the front, covering moves.”
Archibald echoed those sentiments, adding: “[The Curlew Cup] is the best race we’ve had so far in terms of sticking to the team plan, ticking all the boxes in terms of what we want to achieve and covering what other teams were trying to impose on the race.
“We’re really happy. Sarah Storey and Charline Joiner are obviously big names when it comes to the UK scene, they are people you will have seen at Commonwealth Games and things like that.
“Myself and Charline are team-mates on the track and it’s really nice we can have that crossover. It makes it really easy to work with somebody.”
Now, however, both will swap the purple jerseys of their road team for the blue of Scotland, with a big block of track training to come.
I guess when you put the hard work in, it just sort of see-saws: reward, hard work, reward, hard work – KA
It is familiar territory for both, with Archibald in particular having excelled in the past year.
A strong showing at the national championships was followed by European success for Great Britain, World Cup medals for the Scotland Braveheart trade team in Manchester and then a vital role in the women’s world team pursuit triumph.
Only just 20, that she has now gone on to earn big success on the road too – Milk Race victory also on her packed palmares for the season – is simply the product of putting the hours in, she claims.
“I guess when you put the hard work in, it just sort of see-saws – reward, hard work, reward, hard work – and they just complement each other,” she explained.
“Britain has a really good structure in place for developing talent so I’ve maybe got it a bit easier than some of the other nations, but it’s just testament to the systems they have in place for capturing talent and making sure it progresses.”
Archibald’s selection for the Games has been inevitable for some time – the lone Scottish representative at the Manchester round of the World Cup in November, the team still managed to finish the weekend ranked joint seventh thanks to her two medals.
Joiner, however, was a huge doubt after suffering serious injuries in a training crash – landing heavily on a bike and rendering her unable to walk.
But after a strong showing in the Tour Series, and her success in Northumberland, Joiner believes she has come back stronger as she bids to repeat her medal success of four years ago, where she earned silver in the team sprint with Jenny Davis.
I couldn’t have imagined this happening a few months ago. I’ve come back stronger, I think mentally too, since my accident – CJ
“I couldn’t have imagined this happening a few months ago. I’ve come back stronger, I think mentally too, since my accident,” she explained.
“I didn’t know how I would be going into this road race, I knew I was strong but I didn’t know how I’d feel being in a bunch and going up the hills but I felt OK.
“It’s good ahead of next week’s nationals. I’ve just come off the back of a really hard training block so my legs are tired, now I’ve got an easy week ahead of the nationals before hitting it hard again for the Commonwealth Games. I’m looking forward to it all.”
Hitting it hard may be an understatement as the Scottish team look to hone their skills on the boards of the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, before competing with the likes of England’s Laura Trott, Dani King, Jo Rowsell and Lizzie Armitstead.
“For me, I’m just going to be going round in circles for next month,” Archibald admitted as she signed off from domestic road racing for the time being.
As any British athlete who competed at the London 2012 Olympic Games will testify, however, the hard work will be more than worth it.
With Glasgow set to welcome some of the world’s best, the atmosphere is likely to rival that of the English capital two years ago.
It’s getting closer every day. It’s just going to be amazing. It’s so exciting! – CJ
And Joiner admitted she can not help but count the days until the Games.
She concluded: “It’s getting closer every day. It’s just going to be amazing.
“Being in that track, it’s going to be so loud and having the streets of Glasgow lined with the kind of people there, they’re going to be so loud and rowdy which is exactly what I want.
“People chanting the national anthem and shouting Scotland will just really help the Scottish athletes – it’s so exciting!”