Track Worlds Day 3: Sprint crown for Victoria Pendleton after thrilling semi-final earlier

Briton overcomes crash in first race of semi against Anna Meares to beat Australian rival by a whisker

by Simon_MacMichael   April 6, 2012  

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Victoria Pendleton has today claimed Great Britain’s fourth gold medal of the 2012 UCI World Track Championships at the Hisense Arena in Melbourne after beating Lithuania’s Simona Krupeckaite in the final. That followed an enthralling and incident-packed semi-final between Pendleton and her great rival and home favourite Anna Meares that was perhaps the highlight of the championships so far. Meanwhile, Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny had been set to ride in separate semi-finals in the men’s event tomorrow, but will now face each other after Mickael Bourgain of France was relegated in the quarter finals.

Pendleton’s final against over Krupeckaite – she won 2-0 following the Lithuanian being relegated in the second race after she had crossed the line ahead of the Briton and looked to have levelled at 1-1 – was always going to be hard-pressed to live up to the excitement of the earlier semi-final.

The rivalry between Pendleton, the reigning Olympic champion in the individual sprint, and the defending World Champion Meares is set to be one of the most compelling on the track at the Olympic Velodrome this summer as each chases her dream of winning three golds in the individual and team sprints and the keirin. Today’s race – you can watch BBC highlights here – was absolutely gripping.

While less than a tyre’s width separated the two riders as they crossed the line in the third and deciding race – there was a short delay while officials studied the photograph before declaring Pendleton the winner – in prevailing over her rival today, Pendleton has secured a psychological victory ahead of London 2012, and also fired her a warning that she is not going to be intimidated by the Australian this summer.

Pendleton had fallen heavily during the sprint in the opening race, after Meares came from behind the Briton off the final bend, her left elbow clipping her rival’s right one and sending her crashing to the ground. As she crossed the line, Meares raised her arm, perhaps in acknowledgment that she had been in the wrong, though the judges took no action.

They did, however, during the second heat. Meares won that convincingly, but another incident coming off the last bend in which she swung outside the sprinter’s line, her rear wheel almost touching Pendleton’s front one, causing her to swerve to avoid a collision, saw the Australian relegated and set up the third and deciding race.

That too proved to be a thrilling encounter. Pendleton led off, but with a lap and a half left went high on the boards, allowing Meares to swoop down and inside her. Entering the final lap, Pendleton feinted at the Australian, entering the final bend, reminding the Australian she had a fight on her hands, before coming round the outside of the final bend and winning by a whisker.

After that excitement, the medal races were always going to be something of an anti-climax. Meares beat Ukraine’s Lyubov Shulika 2-0 to win bronze, then Pendleton, racing the final world championships of her career – she has announced that she will be retiring after the Olympics – lined up to attempt to beat Krupeckaite by a similar margin and take the sixth rainbow jersey in this event.

Again, Pendleton came off the final bend and seemed set to beat the Lithuanian to the line, but Krupeckaite just held her off. However, like Meares earlier in that earlier evening, she was relegated after being adjudged not to have held her line in the final sprint.