By Karen Forman in Sydney
What had happened with the World Champion? That was the question on a lot of lips around the track when Great Britain's sprint, team sprint and keirin 2007 World Champion Victoria Pendleton was knocked out in the quarter final of the sprint after qualifying second, on the first day of this weekend's Sydney Track World Cup.
Eyebrows were raised again on day two, when the SIS Scienceinsport.com rider, who won her first world title in the sprint in 2005, didn't show up at all for the 500 metre time trial. But then she appeared on the final day today to not only qualify for the semi final in the keirin after finishing second to Lithuanian Simona Krupeckaite (and in front of third placed Kanis) in the first round, but to win the final with a dazzling display of sprinting in the final straight.
Taking first position behind the derny, the World Champion looked very determined to right the wrongs of the past couple of days. Constantly looking over her shoulder and alert to any moves behind her, she still wasn't quite ready when the bike pulled up and Belarane rider Natallia Tsylinskaya went around her; and fell back to second last wheel…momentarily. In the finish straight Pendleton suddenly found the legs to sprint around the outside of the group to win the race. It was a fantastic end to a rather disappointing weekend.
But what had happened to the rider cited as a potential Olympic medalist in Beijing next year earlier during the weekend? According to her coach of one year, British coach Jan van Eijden, it was a case of "trying something different which didn't work" in the first instance; and having an upset stomach in the second.
Pendleton had started well with her second place qualification (11.02.04) behind eventual gold medalist Willy Kanis (Netherlands) in Friday's sprint and van Eijden said they had been happy with that effort. Pitted against eventual bronze medalist Natallia Tsylinskaya (Belarus) in the quarter final, she then, according to van Eijden, "tried something different", which didn't succeed.
"She tried to go from the back rather than the front," her coach told Cyclingnews. "It was just to try to get a bigger perspective of what she can do. But it didn't work."
It was somewhat ironic that Kanis and Tsylinkskaya both went on to win medals in the event, while the World Champion in the event finished back in eighth spot. It wasn't the result the team had hoped for when they arrived in Australia for the opening round of the 2007 Track World Cup. "We had been hoping for top four," van Eijden said. "It was disappointing."
The next day, Pendleton was ill with stomach problems of unknown cause ("who knows, a change of food, racing for the first time since October") and decided not to contest the time trial. Prior to this weekend, her most recent racing was back at the beginning of October, when she won the sprint, keirin and time trial in the British nationals.
Sunday's keirin qualifier showed that she's not going to let a stomach ache – or a tactical mistake – get her down and that she is well on track to Beijing.
For full coverage of the Sydney Track World Cup, click here.