Victoria Pendleton's long road to Beijing

An interview with Victoria Pendleton, March 13, 2007

With one rainbow jersey in her wardrobe, 2005 World Sprint Champion Victoria Pendleton feels she is destined for more, and at her home World Cup event in Manchester last month, the young woman from the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire border emphatically won all the women's sprint events, breaking her own national and track records on the way. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins caught up with Pendleton to talk about her long road to Beijing.

Talent spotted by British Cycling at the age of just sixteen, and having spent time at the UCI's School in Lausanne, Vicky Pendleton - at twenty six - is steadily becoming the woman to beat in track sprinting. In Manchester, she had already won gold in the sprint and 500m time trial, but gave a typically understated assessment of the weekend's progress. "Very good so far! Better than expected really."

In those events, Pendleton had come close to her own 200m record (set in the Moscow round of the World Cup last year), and broken her own 500m time trial record, set at last year's World Championships in Bordeaux. The 500 is no longer an Olympic discipline, but Pendleton's 200m qualifier was promising. "I didn't expect to go 11.0, I was thinking maybe 11.2 for my qualification, so that's by far the best time I've ever done on this track."

The next target on the long road to Beijing will be the World Championships in Mallorca at the end of March, so the next few weeks will be spent honing her speed and attending to all the important details. Surprisingly, given her performances on this weekend, Pendleton hadn't done much of this yet; "I haven't actually done that much race preparation yet, so I'm really looking forward to improving those times by the time I get there."

Specific preparation notwithstanding, she was definitely reaping the benefits of a very good winter programme, and her form appeared to be coming on nicely for Mallorca. Pendleton is looking to at least reclaim the World Sprint Championship that she won in 2005. "I'm probably in the best condition of my life so far, so I'm really looking forward to trying to get some of those stripy jerseys back. Once you've had one, you've got to get more!"

For most track riders, their targets run in four year cycles, always building towards the next Olympic Games. And for a match sprinter, the Olympic Games could last for just twelve seconds, so preparation is key. Their qualification sprint could be the only action they get if things don't go right on the day, so Pendleton is determined that everything she does now counts towards that first ride in Beijing.

"Next year the qualification for the Olympics takes place at the World Cups and World's, so it's very important to stamp your authority on it now. That time's going to disappear very quickly, you know, and you want to be at the front line, especially with sprinting being such a psychological thing. If you can come across in a different league to some of the riders - maybe not all of them - is perfect for getting that advantage in a match sprint scenario."

If Pendleton does bring home a medal from the Beijing Games, it will not only be a great personal achievement, but also a true breakthrough for women's cycling in Britain - a country that's become accustomed to winning multiple medals in the men's events, but very few in the women's. So what is a nice girl like her doing in a male dominated sport like this?

"My Dad was a cyclist. He wasn't international level, but nationally he's done really well. He rode grass, he's still organising grass events - grass track - and that's where I got started really, as a hobby with my brother, to give us something to do in the summer."

Nicole Cooke has been leading the charge on the road for Great Britain for a few years, and now Pendleton is helping to lead it on the track. There are quite a few British women coming up through the ranks. On the track, performances from young women like Anna Blyth and Shanaze Reade - both still only 18 - in the sprint events, and a growing pool of riders in the endurance events, indicate that the Great Britain women's track team has become a genuine force with the potential to dominate a medals table.

In a nation with a rich tradition of pursuiters, Pendleton, as a sprinter, was a pioneer in British women's track cycling. "To be honest, when I was given the option to take up Track Cycling - at age sixteen I was talent spotted - I didn't really know much about it, and there weren't really many women.

"I mean, there was Yvonne MacGregor, but in my lifetime I hadn't really come across any girls - especially not in the Sprint, because I'm the first [British] woman to win a sprint medal. So it was really difficult to imagine myself doing this job as a career, and so I was going into the unknown, and with no real idea and no role models there really, immediately before, so I've just been feeling the way."

This has all changed now for any up and coming riders. Any young girls thinking of taking their track cycling seriously, now have an ideal role model to look to for inspiration. Despite being only twenty-six years old, the Pendleton effect already seems to be working; "I hope I've inspired a few girls to follow in my footsteps, I'd be well chuffed with that to be honest!"

But with mentorship comes competition, and the performances already being delivered by the likes of Blyth and Reade will prevent Pendleton from getting at all complacent in her position as Britain's number one female track sprinter, and - as the men's team has found - should help to spur them all on to faster and better performances.

Back to the business in hand, Pendleton had just one more event to do in the Manchester World Cup; "The Keirin tomorrow [Sunday], I'm going to be staying out of trouble though, I don't want to take any risks this close to the World's. You've seen what happens in the Men's races! I'm going to try and keep all my skin."

As the results show, she went on to take gold in the Keirin, to add the her sprint and 500m wins. There's more than one way to stay out of trouble in a bike race, and Victoria Pendleton is finding that the place to be is at the front.

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