Victoria Pendleton has won a record-equalling sixth sprint world championship.
Pendleton fell to her knees and covered her face when she was told that judges had relegated her opponent, former 500m time trial and keirin world champion, Simona Krupeckaitė of Lithuania, from the second race of the women’s sprint final, handing her a 2-0 victory.
The surprise decision (judges ruled that Krupeckaitė hadn’t held her line in the back straight, about 150m before the final sprint began) marked an unexpected denouement to what had been an emotional day for Pendleton, who came back from a crash in a closely contested semi-final with arch rival, Australia’s Anna Meares.
Pendleton, who will retire from track racing after this summer’s Olympics, said she was “absolutely delighted” to have finished her world championship career with a victory, and extended her thanks to her competitors for “all the great racing”.
“Obviously, I’m delighted,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be in this position tonight to be perfectly honest with you. Everyone has moved on so dramatically in the last three or four years it seemed impossible to win this title.”
Pendleton led out Krupeckaite in the opening race of the final, and delivered a second tenacious performance to find the extra burst of speed required to hold off her rival and win by half a wheel.
She started race two on the outside, forcing Krupeckaitė to lead out. But the Lithuanian had appeared to control the race, and held off Pendleton’s determined late surge to win by a narrow, but decisive margin.
The subsequent announcement of Krupeckaitė’s disqualification, and Pendleton’s triumph, was greeted by polite applause from a baffled crowd that had already witnessed Pendleton defeat their hope for the title, Meares, in a dramatic semi-final.
The verbal skirmishes between Pendleton and Meares that had preceded the seemingly inevitable confrontation between the pair were eclipsed by their wheel-to-wheel confrontation.
Pendleton’s crash in the opening race only increased the intensity. Slow motion television replays revealed that the Olympic champion had been the author of her own misfortune, moving outside the sprint line, and touching elbows with Meares, turning her handlebars, and sending her to the floor.
But Meares’ relegation for dangerous riding in race two presented Pendelton with the opportunity to win a deciding third race that saw the Britain produce a defiant performance to win by a tyre’s width.
The BBC’s Hugh Porter described Pendleton’s victory as “a massive psychological blow” to her biggest rival. Co-commentator, Chris Boardman, compared their rivalry to “a Rocky fight”.
In the men’s sprint, Great Britain’s Olympic champion, Sir Chris Hoy, will face teammate and world champion, Jason Kenny, in tomorrow’s semi-final. The pair only qualified after third round run-offs.
Kenny won the opening round of his match-up with Kevin Sireau, but the Frenchman won the second round comfortably, leading from the front and holding off the world champion as Kenny swooped down from the banking, to win in a very quick time of 10.228. But in the final round, Kenny dived beneath Sireau and sprinted clear, holding off the Frenchman and winning by a wheel.
Hoy needed a photo finish in the deciding third race of his quarter-final encounter with Germany’s Robert Forstemann. Hoy appeared to congratulate his opponent on victory, before the Scotsman’s win was confirmed by the race judges.
Ed Clancy finished fourth overall in the men’s omnium, an event won by Australia’s Glenn O’Shea. In the women’s omnium, Laura Trott won the final sprint of the points race, powering ahead of a field containing Tara Whitten (USA) and Sarah Hammer (Canada), before taking victory in the elimination race, and moving to second overall, in an event which continues tomorrow.