Why the Olympics is everything to Wilmslow's Victoria Pendleton

PUBLISHED: 01:06 05 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:09 20 February 2013

Victoria celebrates third place during the medal ceremony after the women’s 500m time trial at the World Track Cycling Championships in Pruskow March 2009. REUTERS/Peter Andrews. Picture supplied by Action Images

Victoria celebrates third place during the medal ceremony after the women’s 500m time trial at the World Track Cycling Championships in Pruskow March 2009. REUTERS/Peter Andrews. Picture supplied by Action Images

Wilmslow-based Olympic hopeful Victoria Pendleton explains why Cheshire has such a part to play in her success WORDS BY DANNY BOWMAN

A world-class athlete will often diffuse the inquiry of whether the weight of a nations expectations will affect their performance at the Olympics with a simple, Im a professional, I dont feel the slightest amount of pressure. Victoria Pendleton gives no such response.

The refreshingly opinionated track cyclist, who took gold at Beijing four years ago in the Womens Sprint event, gives rehearsed self-deprecation a wide berth for a more human retort. Are you having a laugh? she cries at the suggestion. Ive been here before and with the fact that Ive already won gold, theres huge expectation for me to do it again. And its on home soil, the whole nation is watching.

Whoever can shrug that pressure off as nothing significant is lying. That said, you cant let it mess with your head, and you have to be your own worst critic. But I want to do well for me as well as for my country, especially when its the London Games.

Considering the negotiations Cheshire Life had to undertake to secure some time with the brilliant cyclist amidst the most regimental of training regimes, its difficult to imagine a result less than gold at the summer Games. And the pressure has surely hit boiling point for the 31-year-old who lives in Wilmslow with fianc Scott Gardner, an Australian sports scientist and consultant to Team GB given that she plans to retire from the track after the Olympics.

Thats why competing on home turf is so important. Its an amazing opportunity, and itd be hard to beat the achievement... if it comes off. Nothing will ever top whats about to happen this summer for most athletes on Team GB. So its for that reason that Ill be calling it a day afterwards.

For the most part, Pendleton - who was riding her first bike as soon as she could walk, encouraged by her father Max, a former British national grass-track cycling champion - has no post-retirement plan. I am unbelievably terrified about life after cycling because that is all I have ever done, she says.

Apart from a job over the Christmas holidays at my local pub years ago, I havent really had any employment. Its quite scary. What do I want to do? I think I am going to take a year out and try everything. I am going to take up as many opportunities as I can with people I have met along the way and see what suits me.

Will a change in career path, not to mention her upcoming nuptials next year, mean a move away from her Cheshire base for Pendleton, raised in Bedfordshire? No, no well, I dont think so, she hesitates slightly, before reaffirming her choice. I love Cheshire so much. I moved here initially because everyone on the national team moves here, or hereabouts, to train at the National Cycling Centre, which is based at the Manchester Velodrome.

But Im settled here now, and I cant imagine living anywhere else. Just because Im retiring, it doesnt mean I wont continue cycling, and Cheshire has some of the most perfectly challenging, forever changing terrain and conditions for the sport. Its flat for the most part, but the Peaks offer the ultimate challenge, and the buckets of rain provide an extra edge. Wait a minute, maybe there is a reason to move?!

Whats more, Im a country girl at heart, and the scenery and sheer beauty on the doorstep here just blows me away every time. Ill never stop appreciating it.

On a superficial level, I love heading to the Trafford Centre on a rainy afternoon to while away the hours. Its all contained together and you never have to walk far, seeing as I do enough exercise as it is. And if Im partial to a meal out, which has been a very rare occurrence over the last few months, there is an amazing restaurant in Wilmslow, Eastern Revive the best Indian ever. But most of the time, if Im not on the track or out on the road, Ill be at home with Scott and our two Dobermans, Stella and Mr Jonty. Theres nothing better.

Before she collects her sporting pension however, the former European and World Champion, whos currently spearheading the Hovis Wholemeal Gold Start Challenge, has the Olympics to train for... and train for them she is.

Im on the bike six days a week, twice a day. During a typical day, Ill be in the gym in the morning 10am until midday, and then for three hours from 2pm Ill be on the track. Then its home to eat, breathe and sleep cycling, and itll stay this way until the summer.

Actually, the only things Im doing away from cycling are the odd few interviews, plus my work with Hovis, which is all about helping women to realise their fitness and health goals. The Gold Start Challenge, which is building on the success of last years Stop Snacking campaign, encourages women to get moving and revel in that feeling of fitness, something Im so passionate about. Im delighted to be involved.
To realise your health goals, set definitive targets like an athlete would and never, ever skip breakfast, which is a very common mistake.

Everything should be built around those ideas.
I realise in a few months time the world will all seem like a different place for me given that Ill have retired from the sport, but Ill still be passionate about fitness and cycling, I know that much. Its a scary and exciting time, and Im desperate for my dreams to come true.

The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Cheshire Life

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