THE time has come for arguably the world’s greatest ever female cyclist to bow out of the sport.
The Mildenhall Cycling Club gold member dearly hopes she departs her profession in a blaze of glory, the sort of fairy-tale ending rarely seen outside of a Hollywood movie studio.
However, as so often before, standing in her way will be a woman determined to step out of the defending Olympic champion’s shadow and into the spotlight herself.
Australia’s Anna Meares could – and probably would – be considered the best female cyclist the world had ever seen, if only Pendleton had not emerged during the same era.
Most would be happy with three world titles, but Meares knows she could have won so many more without the Brit sprint ace in her way.
Their intense rivalry has been good for the sport, providing plenty of column inches for the national media both here and Down Under, but Pendleton was keen to play it down this week, despite acknowledging the biggest threat to her Olympic title is the Australian.
“When we step off the track it will be very different, but we only meet in such an intense environment,” said Team GB’s golden girl. “There isn’t any time to be social and think about anything like that – you have just got your eye on the goal.”
The final round of Pendleton versus Meares takes place at the Olympic Park’s London Velodrome on Sunday from 4pm in the women’s sprint.
The prelude having been Thursday’s women’s team sprint heat, where Pendleton and Jess Varnish set a new world-record against Australia before being disqualified for an illegal early change-over in the semi-final against the Ukraine.
Whatever happens in the individual events of the keirin and sprint, Pendleton will always be regarded highly by sports fans of Great Britain, but the 31-year-old – who is to marry Scott Gardner after the Games – refuses to rest on what she has already achieved.
“The only thing that matters to me is doing well in London,” she told a BBC documentary last month. “I want it to be the most amazing exit from the sport.”