I can remember distinctly where I was; riding past the site of the old tannery at Kinghorn Loch on Tuesday night when, for some reason, the thought came into my head that I should give Rab Wardell a shout; we hadn’t spoken for ages but his win in the Scottish Cross Country MTB Champs then subsequent appearance on TV had me thinking that it had been too long since last we chatted.
After my shower and dinner I sat down to have a look at the cycling results of the day and check social media.
When I saw the post about Rab’s passing it rendered me shocked and speechless.
So, so sad.
What’s special about Rab’s cycling career is the sheer length and variety of it.
He rode the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 2006 but by then had already been a Scottish Champion on the MTB having started riding the fat tyred machines in 1999.
VeloVeritas first engaged with Rob in 2009 when he told us he was making a serious fist of the road rather than the MTB, riding for the Kinesis team.
That season saw him ride the legendary Rás stage race in Ireland against riders like Czech hard man, Jan Barta and World Points Champion on the track, Chris Newton.
And there was Canada’s biggest stage race too – the brutally hard, Tour de Beauce against riders like Bjorn Selander who went on to ride for Radio Shack and Team SKY stalwart, Sergio Henao.
We spoke with Rab again in 2010 as he carried on with his road career riding for the Kinesis-Morevelo team but was riding a dual programme – road and MTB.
Next up he was back fully on his first love, the MTB with Trek then Orange Monkey but also winning the Scottish ‘cross championship.
He took himself over to Belgium the winters of 2014 and 2015 to ride ‘cross in the Heartland of the sport, competing against some of the sport’s greatest names, Sven Nys, Wout Van Aert and Mathieu Van Der Poel.
In 2019 he was second in the Scottish criterium championship and then in 2020 there he was setting the MTB record for the West Highland Way.
And Harry Tweed reminded me that Rab rode the track too – competing in a Madison at Glasgow with Martin Lonie a year or two ago.
And all the while he was running his coaching business, freely giving advice to anyone who asked for it, having previously worked with Scottish Cycling.
MTB, ‘cross, stage races, track, one day races, criteriums, endurance record breaking – the man was nothing if not versatile.
And of course, this year, turning professional in the colours of Wahoo aboard his beloved Santa Cruz, which he did so much to promote, he won the Scottish Mountain Bike Championship at the age of 37 – an excellent performance.
It’s hard to take in that a man so lean and fit should be taken at that age.
We’ve chosen just a couple of the tributes to the man which have particularly touched us over the last few days…
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Chips Chippendale – Singletrack Magazine Editor at Large
“So sorry to have just heard the news about Rab Wardell’s death.
“He’d just won the Scottish Cross Country Championships on the back of an impressive comeback to racing and apparently passed away in his sleep.
“Rab was a true all-rounder, racing XC, cross and Enduro with equal flair (and whipping an XC bike in my photo from ten years ago, or setting the Fastest Known Time for the West Highland Way) all while being humble and cheerful – and very, very fast.
“Just as he had it all to look forward to, with us along for the ride, he was taken away.
“My love and sympathy goes out to his many friends, peers and his family.
“A true champ has left us.”
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Katie Archibald – Rab’s partner
“I think you’ve heard that Rab died yesterday morning.
“I still don’t understand what’s happened; if this is real; why he’d be taken now – so healthy and happy.
“He went into cardiac arrest while we were lying in bed.
“I tried and tried, and the paramedics arrived within minutes, but his heart stopped and they couldn’t bring him back.
“Mine stopped with it.
“I love him so much and need him here with me.
“I need him here so badly, but he’s gone.
“I can’t describe this pain.
“Thank you to those making tributes.
“I can’t bear to talk about him in the past tense to say anything myself.
“You mean everything to me, Rab.
“I love you.”
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Rab Wardell, born Dunfermline 15th June 1985, passed away 23rd August 2022, versatile bike rider of quality, friendly, genuine and much loved human being, rest in peace, Sir.
VeloVeritas offers sympathies and condolences to Rab’s family and many, many friends.