Just as the thunder rolled around outside the Hisense Arena in the thick Melbourne air, the rivalry between Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton reached fever pitch on Friday evening with the pair clashing in the semi finals of the women's sprint of the 2012 UCI Track World Championships.
Despite Meares' pleas to the contrary, both the crowd and the media highly anticipated the showdown between the Australian defending champion in the event, and the reigning Olympic champion. This was the battle of the 2012 world championships.
In the end, Pendleton walked away with her sixth world title in the sprint, her first being in 2005, after defeating Simona Krupeckaite in the final and just like in the semi, it was far from satisfactory for much the same reason.
Relegation was the buzz word of the night with fast times on the track, and extremely close competition forcing riders to push themselves that little bit further than usual and deviate outside the sprinting line in the process of both the men's and women's competitions.
"It's a bit disappointing," Pendleton conceded. "I mean, I'm delighted, but it's nice to win by crossing the line first... It's a shame in some respect, but they're the rules."
But such decisions have ramifications, as both Meares and Pendleton explained.
Pendleton said that she had been embarrassed to fall in the opening heat.
"We were both pushing ourselves to the limit," she said. "With Anna's qualifying time being so exceptional yesterday I had to race a lot better than I ever have before."
When the Australian crossed the line first in the second heat, she did not know that the commissaries were scrutinizing her ride as she waved her arm in the air, confident that she'd just downed Pendleton 2-nil.
"I really did think that I'd won it," Meares said after earning world championship bronze. "The first ride Vicky came out of the red [sprinter's lane -ed.] and unfortunately caused herself to crash and had she had not crashed, I'm sure she would have been relegated the same as I was relegated in the second – and that's just racing."
In the decider, it took a photo finish to find a winner, with Pendleton awarded the chance to progress to the final by millimetres.
Pendleton had found herself in a titanic clash against an arch-rival in the form of her life – in a semi final, as unfortunate as the timing was. Getting through her heats in the final unscathed and confirmed as the 2012 world sprint champion, Pendleton was overcome with tears. There was no mistaking that the path to the top of the podium had been tough.
"This is probably the most significant; probably one of the most emotional world titles being the last time I'm going to do this," Pendleton reflected. "So obviously it means a lot to me. It probably means as much as the first one which is special because I'd never thought I'd have the ability to be a world champion."
If this world championship was a full dress rehearsal for London in a few month's time, make no mistake that the next round in this battle between two of the fastest women on two wheels will be just as, if not more fierce and intriguing to the very last.
"Winning is motivating enough. Losing is also motivating," said Meares.
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