British track cycling star Victoria Pendleton has confirmed she will retire after next year’s London Olympics, where she is targeting winning three gold medals. The 31-year-old from Bedfordshire revealed the news in an interview with The Sunday Mirror.
Pendleton won the individual sprint at Beijing in 2008, the only event she entered, but changes to the Olympic programme mean that in 2012 she also has the opportunity to race in the team sprint and the keirin, both events in which she has previously been world champion.
At this year’s UCI World Track Championships in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, she lost her individual sprint world title to Australia’s Anna Meares, who is likely to be her biggest rival at the Olympic Velodrome next August.
Pendleton had to settle for bronze in that event, and also took silver in the team sprint alongside Jess Varnish, with gold going to Meares and her Australia team mate, Kaarle McCulloch.
In the 18 months preceding the 2008 Olympics, Pendleton won five world titles, with two following since then – she won the individual sprint in 2009 and successfully defended that title in 2010 – plus five silver or bronze medals.
That’s an impressive haul by anyone’s standards, but Pendleton insists that her experience after clinching that Olympic gold in Beijing is one of the main reasons behind her decision to retire after London 2012.
“After Beijing I felt really flat,” she explained. “You don’t plan for the day after. It took me months to get over it. I should have gone on a big holiday and just relaxed. Instead, I kept training – I just felt a bit lost, so just carried on doing what I was comfortable doing.
She said: “I’m retiring after the Olympics, I think I’m going to call it a day. In terms of the injuries from the weight training, it’s just getting a bit tedious. Everyone says it’s just wear and tear, but that’s a bit tragic when you’re only 31.
“I spend a lot of time with the physio these days, which annoys me because you don’t want to be there – you want to be training and doing everything you want to do.”
Winning that gold medal in Beijing raised Pendleton’s profile well beyond the world of cycling, resulting in a range of sponsorship opportunities from brands such as Hovis and Gatorade, and she also became the face of Team Green Britain Bike Week.
However, the cyclist, originally from Bedfordshire but now living in Cheshire, reveals that she was reluctant at first about whether to pursue a career in the sport.
“I was doubtful when I was 16 and talent spotted whether there was even a career in this. It wasn’t until I saw Jason Queally win a gold in the kilo (1km time trial) at the Sydney Olympics that I thought there may be something in it.
“Back then, you were expected to train, give up your life, be poor – because you would have to try and work part-time alongside your full-time training. To be honest, it didn’t really seem like a good idea.
“It was only when lottery funding began and you were supported as an athlete and you could train full-time, it was a very different scenario because you could commit yourself 100 per cent to one goal.
“If I hadn’t done it I would probably have worked in a gym,” she added.
The health and fitness industry’s loss has been British cycling’s gain, of course, but giving her thoughts on the controversy surrounding whether Great Britain should field a united football team at next year’s games, Pendleton revealed that it was a household name in that sport who quite literally almost swept her off her feet in Beijing.
“As a sportsperson the Olympics are so important,” she insisted. “They’re a sacred thing, so it’s only right that you give it the respect that it needs and the dedication. It should be taken seriously, and although it’s different for footballers it would be good to have the right people there. There were some great footballers in the Olympic village back in 2008.
“In fact, I nearly got ploughed down by Ronaldinho and his posse coming out of the dining hall. I was trying to balance my tray and he came steaming past me.”
Besides London 2012, one other key date in Pendleton’s future will be her wedding to Australian sports scientist Scott Gardner. The pair announced their engagement last year, but have said they won’t name the day until after next year’s Olympics.
In the meantime, however, she is helping other brides-to-be get ready for their own big day, with her website revealing that she put 16 of them get in shape for their big day by putting them through a ‘Bridal Bootcamp.’
That ties in with an initiative by the Bahamas Tourist Office called the Bahamas16 Islands Wedding Invitation, a competition which will see the 16 winning couples get married simultaneously on 16 different islands at 4pm on 16 May 2012.
The dates that Pendleton will be circling in red on next year’s calendar, however, will be 2, 3 and 7 August – the finals of, respectively, the team sprint, keirin and individual sprint.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.