Victoria Pendleton: Cycling’s Golden Girl


In a BBC One documentary aired this week, we were given an incredibly honest look at the life of GB’s greatest female track cyclist, Victoria Pendleton as she prepares for the 2012 Olympic Games.


Victoria Pendleton


Sadly, it appears she is something of a victim of her own success, as the weight of expectation is now crushing.  "My success has got so great, it's like I'm trapped, almost, within it," said Victoria talking to the BBC.


The track cyclist who is now 31, announced some time ago that the London Games would be her swansong.  She has been cycling since the age of nine, starting with the grass track events that she attended with her father, but for the past 10 years, she has been training six days a week at the Manchester velodrome.   


Her achievements – one Olympic gold and nine world titles – put her unquestionably amongst the all-time greats, but her motivations are not so clear.   "I compete in a sport on an individual basis but I have never done it for me," she said. "I was always cycling for my dad. Then the coaches got bigger and my results got better.  Suddenly the responsibility grows and I'm doing it for somebody else, I'm doing it for a programme, I'm doing it for the country, I'm doing it for, like, everybody."


Victoria Pendleton green team


One of the stunning insights of the BBC documentary was that the day she won Olympic gold in Beijing was apparently the "saddest" of her life, because just hours after her victory, her relationship with Australian Scott Gardner, a key member of her support team, became public knowledge, causing huge upset and resentment amongst some members of British Cycling.


"Winning the gold medal should have been the happiest day of my entire life and it just wasn't," said Victoria. “It felt like the saddest day of my life. Everyone was so angry with us, that Scott and I had fallen in love, because it was so unprofessional and we were a disgrace and had betrayed everybody."


Given her lifestyle, is perhaps not a surprise that she fell for someone at British Cycling, where else was she going to meet anyone?  She is now engaged to Gardner, who was initially banished from British Cycling.  He moved to work with swimming – one of them had to go and it was never going to be Pendleton! – but as her form and results dropped off, he was reinstated to the team.


Victoria acknowledged his sacrifice.  "He has given up everything to be with me. That means a lot. That's why I need to do him proud at the London Olympics as well and prove it wasn't in vain or for no reason, just that it was all worth it."


Victoria Pendleton crashes at 2012 World Champs riding agains Anna Meares


Another key player in her support crew is British Cycling’s psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters who had helped her understand and deal with her emotions and issues with self-confidence.


After she dropped out of the UCI sprint school in Aigle, Switzerland and then had a very disappointing first Olympic games in Athens (she was sixth in the time trial and ninth in the sprint) Peters invested a great deal of time with her.  "Victoria had no self-confidence, she had no way of controlling impulsive thinking, she had no way of containing emotion, she didn't know how to deal with emotion, she couldn't communicate well with people, she wasn't assertive... the list went on and on."


Peters has been instrumental in the success of a number of the GB athletes and Victoria was no exception.  He has helped her deal with her weaknesses and she has gone on to win time and again.


Victoria Pendleton launching her range of bikes


Life after the London games is an unknown for Victoria, who has already launched a range of bikes and is the face of Hovis bread, Pantene shampoo and Cycletta women’s only bike rides. 


For now she is completely focussed on the Olympic Games and with one title to defend in the sprint, plus a further to events – Team Sprint and Keirin – to contest, it will be a busy time for her, but this is the last time she will perform on an international stage and she wants to go out with a bang.


"The only thing that really matters to me is going well in London," she said. "That's all that matters. That's all I'm trying to do. I want it to be the most amazing exit that I could possibly have from the sport."





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