Olympic Countdown: Pendleton the wheel thing

GEARING UP: Victoria Pendleton
GEARING UP: Victoria Pendleton

SHE is the queen of speed and the undisputed golden girl of British Cycling.

But if having the Olympics on our own doorstep proves not to be the big advantage people are expecting it to be, there may be no-one who suffers more than ex-Mildenhall Cycling Club star Victoria Pendleton.

In adorning magazine covers, the side of SKY TV vans and our television screens in the build-up London 2012, in advertisements such as for Hovis bread and even training brides into fitness for their big day, the 31-year-old has become our beacon of hope.

To the rest of the world, the message is simple: ‘look at our girl and her glowing trophy cabinet, now let’s see you try and match her’.

But while her record on the track going into the Games is enviable to all her opponents — a gold medal from Beijing in the Women’s Individual Sprint the current cherry on the cake, she, more than any of GB’s athletes, is acutely aware everything she has ever done could fade from the canvas in a matter of seconds should London 2012 not become her colourful crowning glory.

A medal conveyor belt that began with a gold in the women’s sprint in the 2005 World Championships, taking in a Commonwealth gold and silver and five golds in the UCI Track World Championships as well as that gold in Beijing as British Cycling ruled the world, could all but effectively turn to dust.

But this is Victoria Pendleton. And despite admitting she feels the expectation on her shoulders, we can be sure she is going into every training session right now thriving on it to push herself harder and faster than ever before ahead of three cracks of the ultimate prize. And if that is not enough for the woman appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) back in 2009, as well as the first cyclist to take the crown of the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year in its 20 year history in 2007, nothing ever will be.

Her decision to announce she is considering retirement after the summer smacks of a woman hellbent on ensuring she writes her own sporting epitaph by going out on the ultimate high.

Many athletes currently sweating it out on the road to the Olympic Park will be highly focused right now, but everything we hear from Pendleton suggests she is taking it to another level. While others are trying to talk it down, she only talks it up, and in doing so cranks up the pressure she places herself under, something she seems to know she needs to succeed.

“At times I think, ‘How on earth am I going to do this?’ And with it being a home Games, it almost feels like everything I have ever done before counts for zero. ‘Wipe that slate clean, it counts for nothing.’ It feels quite harsh. I know it will set the tone for my entire career,” she told a national newspaper earlier this month. “There’s no escaping it, ultimately. It would be nice just to knuckle down and train, but nobody can forget what it’s about. Around you, everything is totally geared to 2012. ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘How many medals are you going to win?’ It will only increase.”

Emblazoned on her wrist is a constant reminder of what she has built her whole life upon, the here and now, the point at which she stands at a crossroads between the biggest high or the lowest low. ‘Today is the greatest day I have ever known’ reads a tattoo she had done as part of her 30th birthday celebrations. It also suggests her upcoming wedding to Team GB consultant sports scientists Scott Gardner, with the big day itself on hold until after the completion of her Olympic odyssey.

The Velodrome will be bubbling over with anticipiation and expectation as our golden girl steadies herself on the start line for one final time in a worldwide competition come July.

Right now, London is calling for Victoria, but for London, read destiny.