With the rivalry between Victoria Pendleton and Australia’s Anna Meares set to be at the centre of some of the most compelling track action of London 2012, British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford believes that the British rider, who is targeting three gold medals in London next month, will end her career on a high. Pendleton, who will be defending the individual sprint title she won in Beijing four years ago, is also likely to ride in the keirin and will partner Jess Varnish in the team sprint, the latter two events included in women’s track programme at the Olympics for the first time.
Varnish and Pendleton missed out on a team sprint medal at April’s UCI Track World Championships in Melbourne, finishing behind China in the bronze medal race, with Germany beating Australia in the final. However, the pair will be expected to challenge for gold in front of a home crowd at the Olympic Park’s Velodrome next month, where in February they beat Meares and Kaarle McCulloch in the London round of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup Classics.
At Melbourne, Pendleton beat Meares in a thrilling best-of-three individual sprint semi-final before going on to beat Lithuania’s Simona Krupeckaitė in the final, but the British rider missed out on a place in the keirin final, which was won by Meares.
Speaking to British Cycling, Brailsford said: “It’s likely to be Vicky’s last competitive outing which is a real end of an era. She has flown the flag fantastically. She’s been a credit obviously to herself but what she’s done for British cycling really is amazing.
“It’ll be exciting to go to the Games for Vicky, she’s in great form and she’s building all the time,” he continued. “But there will also be a twinge of sadness, I must admit, because if it is her last competitive outing it will be a sad moment I think. Hopefully she can end it on a high – I’m sure she can – she’s an unbelievable competitor, unbelievable.
Referring to the determination the 31-year-old Pendleton showed when coming back from a crash in the first of those world championship sprint semi-final heats against Meares to beat the Australian, Brailsford said: “When everybody else has written her off, when the chips are down and her back is against the wall, she comes out and that’s when she’s at her most dangerous.
“She’s trained phenomenally hard over the last period building up to the Games and she’s stuck to a plan. She hasn’t been put off by maybe a dip in performance in order to get to her training right and competing when fatigued, which is never easy. Athletes don’t like doing that, but she’s stuck to the plan and it really seems to be paying dividends and I hope she goes out with a bang because she really deserves it.”
Brailsford also reflected on the progress made by the 21-year-old Varnish, who together with Pendleton set a new world record of 32.754 seconds when winning in London in February, although that time was eclipsed by the German pair of Kristina Vogel and Miriam Welte when they won the world championship in Melbourne.
“Jess has done fantastically well, she deserves a lot of credit but they’re both at different ends of the spectrum as it were,” said Brailsford. “Vicky is coming to the end of her career and Jess is just starting off in hers.
“She really has moved on again and she’s been working very hard and they make a great team and I think they bounce off one another. I think when they won the world cup in London and broke the world record, at the time it was a real morale booster for both of them. That gave them real belief that they could go on and win in London and I know they’re doing everything that they can. It’s fantastic to be competitive in two events," he concluded.
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.