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Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain) waves to the crowd
Briton denied fairytale ending by Aussie rival Meares
There was to be no fairytale ending to Victoria Pendleton's cycling career as she was beaten by Anna Meares in the final of the women's sprint. Pendleton came into the event as defending Olympic champion and after winning the women's keirin looked odds on favourite to close out her career with a final gold in London. However, in a best of three final, the British rider found herself up against a hungrier, and possibly more determined rider in Meares.
The Australian already had a disappointing team sprint and then after being beaten by Pendleton in the keirin it looked as though the British rider had the measure of her old foe. Neither rider had been troubled during their heats to set up a dramatic final to close out the women's track competition in this year's Games.
In the first heat Meares used her aggressive style and tactic to good effect, forcing Pendleton into deviating from her race line as the pair approached the line. Although the British rider crossed the line first the race commissaires relegated her to give Meares a one to nil lead. Meares, with only a bronze in the team sprint thus far at the Games, could sense weakness in the British camp and there was no answer from Pendleton in the second heat with the Australian showing a clear pair of heels on the final straight.
An emotional Pendleton ground to a halt and although she had missed out on gold she still leaves the Games with gold and silver to her name. But the relief to have finally brought the curtain down on her racing career was palpable.
"I wasn't really aware I had come out of the sprinters lane. When you're going as hard as that, it's not something you can see easily. Of course you have to abide by the decision. It might look easy, but its' tough at those speeds to keep the bike in the lane. I knew it was going to be tough…I'm incredibly relieved it's over. To come away with two medals I'm relieved. I just hope people are not disappointed," she said.
Meares and Pendleton have enjoyed one of the most competitive rivalries in women's cycling over recent years. Their duels have entertained and helped the development of the women's professional track scene, both nationally and internationally, and Pendleton's retirement from international sport will undoubtedly leave a hole.
"We had a good solid hug downstairs waiting for our medal ceremony. We had a good chat. It's been a rare thing to have two female athletes really compete and mean it, on so many occasions and at such a high level. I don't think there are two others quite like us in the wings either. It's been an epic rivalry, and I hope it's been entertaining. I hope you've enjoyed it," the British rider said.
"We just happened to have reached the peak in the same point in our careers and have met each other on numerous occasions. It's been good. Racing against Anna Meares and being pushed that way has made me a better cyclist, and has made our racing more exciting and more interesting."
Pendleton will now turn to new pastures with a career in modelling rumoured to be in the works, as well as marriage and the chance to enjoy life outside of the track programme.
"I'm never doing that again. I'll never don a skinsuit again. I won't miss it entirely. I'll continue cycling to keep fit and that's it.
"I've been lucky to have so many opportunities from being a successful cyclist."