London 2012: Rivals starting to close gap on Victoria Pendleton

THE photo shoots may be coming thicker and faster than ever but Victoria Pendleton knows London 2012 will arrive with her star on the wane.

The Mildenhall Cycling Club gold member has always been unapologetic about her girly-girl tendencies and with Olympic fever hitting the country Pendleton can be seen on advertising billboards and in men’s magazines galore.

But while her ability to strut her stuff in front of the camera lens is going from strength to strength, Pendleton admits she will arrive at the Games this month shorn of her untouchable status.

On paper, Pendleton’s ninth World Championship title – in the individual sprint – earlier this year should have been a shot in the arm but the victory needed a large slice of luck, most notably in the semi-final against in-form arch rival Anna Meares.

Despite insisting that victory was achieved without being at her peak, Pendleton, acknowledges she’s living on borrowed time.

Along with Lloyds TSB ambassador Chris Hoy, who carried the Olympic flame as part of the London 2012 countdown, Pendleton has become a face of British Olympic sport in the past four years.

And the 31-year-old will call time on her career post London 2012 but feels some of her rivals are already writing her off.

“There have been times in the past where I’ve met opponents and felt they had almost given the race to me before we’ve even started,” she said.

“But because the gap between my performance in Beijing has closed and everyone has closed in on me, I don’t think I carry the same kudos – strutting into the track centre – as I once did.

“The World Championships was very important.

“Physically I knew where I was at, in terms of my Beijing performance and the last few years, and it was closer than it’s been than in the last two years to be honest.”

“It was definitely a big confidence builder in terms of winning that sprint, despite not being anywhere near the fastest girl out there, which is reassuring as I’m hoping to go with a little bit more speed into the Olympics, which is a good thing.”

While her rivals may not be showing her the respect she once commanded, Pendleton can be sure of one thing in London – a better reception from the crowd.

At the World Championships, Pendleton’s battle with old foe and home favourite Meares ensured she was public enemy number one through the championships, guaranteeing a rough ride from the media and fans alike.

The shoe will be on the other foot in the capital and having collected her GB kit Pendleton is looking forward to some more friendly column inches and crowds.

“I Tweeted after I won the sprint semi-final in Australia, ‘not bad for a skinny bird’,” she said. “It was hard in Melbourne because of the media there, and I had a lot of negative press generally.

“They were really stirring up a rivalry and I didn’t get a great feeling, or great feedback from a lot of the press – not all of the press, some people said some really nice things, but it was quite uncomfortable to be honest, so that was a battle in itself really, trying to avoid all the things written in the papers and on the news.

“It’s something you have to contend with when you’re in competition, but it’s not necessarily something you want to do deal with – just let us get on with the race and cut all the B-S about this and let the legs do the talking.”

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