Pendleton prepared to make a difference

You wouldn't guess it from her relaxed, chatty manner, but world champion track cyclist Victoria...

You wouldn't guess it from her relaxed, chatty manner, but world champion track cyclist Victoria Pendleton admits to feeling a bit of pressure as she prepares to peddle for Commonwealth gold in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old from Hitchin in Hertfordshire, became world sprint champion in Los Angeles last year and competes in Melbourne as one of the favourites for a medal in the women's sprint and 500m time trial events. She'll be going for a medal in the time trial on Thursday (16 March) and in the sprint two days later.

"This is my first major championships as a world champion so there is a bit of weight on my shoulders," said the 12-time national champion. "People expect results here. The world title was a confidence booster really though. The sprint is like one-to-one combat on the track so you have to be confident going in. Without that you've got no chance."

Pendleton will need all the confidence she can get as she comes up against the Australian sisters - Anna and Kerry Meares. Anna is world record holder and Kerry Commonwealth champion. But Pendleton feels she's ready for the challenge.

In Manchester four years ago she finished fourth in the sprint and fifth in the time trial but says the Games came too soon in her young career. "I didn't really know what I was doing there," she said.

It was a similar story in the 2004 Olympics in Athens where Pendleton finished sixth in the time trial, well below her own expectations. "I was disappointed," she said. "But I learned a lot from Athens. I do know what I'm doing now."

Her victory at the World Championships and at a World Cup event in her home town of Manchester in December has made all the difference, and now Pendleton has became a figurehead for Team England's women cyclists.

"There hasn't been much focus on the women before," she says. "There are few more coming through in the Olympic development programme and the talent team. I think I've opened the doors a bit."

It's a position Pendleton finds "kind of weird". As a teenager she never even imagined she could be a full-time athlete, never mind a world champion and emerging role model for women cyclists. "I never thought I was athlete material," she said.

Pendleton started cycling as a hobby with her twin brother, Alexis, and by 16 had been identified as a talented prospect. "I didn't take it seriously even then," she says. "I just hadn't thought of being an athlete, I thought I might be a veterinary nurse. I enjoyed sport but I never thought I had enough talent to be elite.

"Maybe that was because there were no female role models. I'm sure there are a lot of girls out there now who are the same."

Pendleton's inspiration came from two sources, four years apart. In 2000 she watched her Team England team-mate Jason Queally win the men's 1k time trial gold medal at the Sydney Olympics from a motorway service station. She'd stopped to buy a hot chocolate while driving from her home to Newcastle where she was studying sport and exercise science.

Four years later she was in the Olympic stadium in Athens when Kelly Holmes won one of her two historic track golds. "It was just electric," she says. "Things like that give you goose bumps. It's inspiring because you think, I want to feel like that.

"Role models are important. People like Kelly Holmes can make all the difference."

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