Victoria Pendleton was one of the stars of the British track cycling programme that have dominated the velodrome in recent years. First coming to mainstream prominence during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing she rode through to London 2012 and delivered on the intense pressure from the home support.
2001 saw Victoria Pendleton take 3 silver medals and a bronze at the British National Track championships, whilst still studying at Northumbria University. Pendleton qualified for her first major championships in 2002, the Commonwealth Games based in Manchester. She finished 4th in the Sprint, a result she then matched at the 2003 and 2004 World Championships.
Then Pendleton finished 9th in the 2004 Olympics. She didn’t set a quick qualifying time and then was beaten by silver medallist Tamilla Abassova. Pendleton then finished last in her repechage heat but then won the 9-12th race. She also took part in the Time Trial, finishing 6th and the 200m Sprint, finishing 9th. By the end of that 2004 season, she was starting to become recognised as one of the top sprinters. Achieving 2nd place across the full track World Cup season.
By the time the 2005 World Championships came round, Pendleton was considered a favourite. She duly took the gold medal to become the first ever British woman track world champion. In the 2006 Commonwealth Games she exchanged victories with her rival Anna Meares. Meares on the 500m TT as Pendleton finished 2nd but Pendleton won the Sprint against Meares. Pendleton’s rise continued into 2007 where she won the Team Sprint and Sprint at the World Championships, with a 3rd place in the Keirin too. Her performances were recognised by becoming the first cyclist to become Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year.
2008 Beijing Olympics
The 2008 Beijing Olympics are where things changed massively for Victoria Pendleton. She won the women’s sprint, one of only 3 women’s track cycling events held at the 2008 Olympics. All-time legend Marianne Vos won the Points Race and fellow Brit Rebecca Romero won the individual pursuit. Pendleton set a new Olympic record in the preliminary round and made light work of the early stages of the competition. She beat Willy Kanis in 2 sprints, whereas rival Anna Meares took an extra race to beat Guo Shuang. The final between Pendleton and Meares saw the two strongest sprinters facing each other.
The first heat of the final saw Victoria Pendleton leading. When Anna Meares went high up the boards, Pendleton made sure Meares couldn’t swing down underneath. Pendleton accelerated as the bell was rung and after getting a small gap, kept up the pressure on the back straight. The gap started to increase and Meares was never able to get close enough to overtake. The second heat started slow and cagey with Meares in front. This time Pendleton went high but was able to come alongside and pass Meares before moving down. Despite having 3/4s of a lap to go, Pendleton smashed the sprint and Meares didn’t stand a chance.
Between the Olympics
Pendleton won her 4th and 5th Sprint World Championships in 2009 and 2010, beating Willy Kanis and Guo Shuang. 2011 saw a wobble in her form though. She was 3rd in the World Championships, losing out to Anna Meares in the semis but beating Olga Panarina to earn a bronze medal. Things were worse in the 2011 European Track Championships though. Despite qualifying well in 4th place, she lost to Simona Krupeckaitė in the 1/8 finals. She won in the repêchage against Miriam Welte and Jess Varnish but then surprisingly lost to Lyubov Shulika in the quarter-finals. Then Pendleton finished last in the 5th-8th place race for her worst result in the sprint for some time.
2012 London Olympics
Changes to the Olympic track cycling programme meant that there was 5 women’s events at London 2012. Victoria Pendleton entered 3 of them. Pendleton and her partner Jess Varnish briefly set a new world record in the qualification for the team sprint before China surpassed their efforts. In the next round, the GB pair were relegated after exchanging too early in their run. The margin was tiny, only half a wheel. Before their relegation, they’d set a time that would’ve put them in the race for the gold medal.
Victoria Pendleton had another chance for gold in the Keirin. She won her first heat against erstwhile rival Anna Meares before taking the second round one too. In the final, Pendleton fought her way to the front on the bell and led the whole final lap. Despite the attentions of Guo Shuang on her shoulder, Pendleton took the victory and her 2nd gold medal.
The final opportunity for a medal was in the individual sprint. For the 2nd Olympics in a row, Pendleton set a new record in qualification. The first and second rounds were negotiated easily enough. Pendleton beat Olga Panarina 2-0 in the quarters. She then beat the legendary Kristina Vogel 2-0 in the semi-finals to face-off against Anna Meares. In the first heat of the final, Pendleton initially looked to have just sneaked a win by 0.001 seconds.
It was quickly taken away from Pendleton. As it was apparent she’d crossed the red line and moved up out of her own sprinter lane. This impeded Meares in the process. The second heat saw lots of riding at the top of the boards. Pendleton ended up leading but Meares had a tonne of speed on the back straight. Pendleton wasn’t able to respond. She took silver in what was her last race. A decision confirmed immediately in the post-race interviews.
Victoria Pendleton’s Post-Cycling Career
Just before the London Olympics, Victoria Pendleton agreed to a deal with Halfords to give her name to a range of Pendleton bikes. A deal that dovetailed nicely with fellow British track star Chris Boardman’s range of bikes on sale at Halfords. Not long after the 2012 Olympics, Victoria Pendleton appeared on Strictly Come Dancing. She did quite well too. Finishing as the 7th contestant eliminated from the competition. An autobiography also came out around this time.
Starting in 2015, Victoria Pendleton turned her hand to a different type of racing – horse racing. She set a goal to take part in the Foxhunter Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. Pendleton was 2nd in her first race later on in 2015 and took her first win in March 2016. A couple of weeks later, she rode the same winner in the Foxhunter Chase and finished a creditable 5th place.
She joined make-up brand Clinique in 2016 as part of their Difference Makers Initiative. As one of the difference makers, Pendleton spoke about supporting education and healthcare provisions around the world. Also in 2016, Pendleton worked for BBC Sport covering track cycling at the Rio Olympics.
2018 saw Pendleton make an attempt to climb Mount Everest for charity. The attempt didn’t go well and led to Pendleton suffering from hypoxia at Base Camp 2. She took antibiotics for 3 weeks to clear infections from the trip.
In an honest interview in 2019, Pendleton admitted that the failed Everest attempt combined with her divorce shortly afterwards left her with severe depression. She was also open to saying that even during her successful cycling career, she suffered from self-doubt and mental pressure. She found relief by surfing in Costa Rica before taking up motorbiking, a far easier way to get around than a track bike!