Victoria Pendleton Interview
We caught up with the Women’s World Track Sprint Champion at Manchester Velodrome as she prepared to defend her National sprint title.
Talking university life, rivals and the Olympics, Victoria recalls her impressive cycling career to date- and her ambitions for the future.
Have you goals changed since achieving your World title?
No, not really because I didn’t expect to win the world championships this year so it really hasn’t changed how I feel about it. I still want to win, I’d like to get a Commonwealth medal, I’d like to get maybe an Olympic medal and also I’d like to get more than one world’s jersey. So my goal hasn’t really changed yet because it was such an unexpected win, rather than a planned one.
Who’s your biggest rival- who’s worrying you?
Well obviously there’s the Russian, Natallia Tsylinskaya, she’s very good, she’s consistently good and when she goes to a competition she always gets medals and obviously Anna Meares and Kerry Meares, the Australians, they’re very good, they’re tactically good, so they’re the main two.
Are you looking forward to Revolution?
I’m excited, it’s good, It’s nice that I’m going to be able to ride my event at a Revolution because I’ve ridden a points race before but that’s not really my scene and it would be nice to do a bit of what I train for really. Also it’s an amazing event and it’s an amazing crowd and stuff so it’s a real buzz, even just being here and watching I’ve really enjoyed it. It gets a really good reception, it’s better than the world cup and it’s certainly better than the Nationals. Revolution’s action packed, you only get the best riders riding and the event is so well planned, and there aren’t any dull moments.
What do you think we can expect from the Dutch?
I imagine they’ll be in good form. They’re usually very consistent and they’ve been improving. Last year’s probably the best worlds they’ve had, over the last sort of year, year and a half they’ve been perhaps building the strongest team that they’ve ever had at the World’s, so they’re always in good shape.
How tough is training at the moment?
I’ve given myself a little gap to do a bit more specific work but obviously in the overall scale of things my goals are the commonwealths and the worlds so in the depths of doing solid base-work on my sprints it’s quite heavy. Fortunately it doesn’t take to long to sharpen up your skills so I’ve had three weeks of doing some faster work and I’ve had a little bit of help with the motorbike and stuff.
How important is motor-paced training for you?
Oh, very important. When I was in training in Switzerland, at least once a week we’d get out the bike, a motor bike, rather than a derny. Having the benefit of that acceleration is really important. It’s a real benefit for training really.
You achieved a 2:1 honours degree, how hard was it juggling studying with cycling?
Well to be honest, when I was at uni I was training in the gym and I rode my bike to and from uni and around it. In the final year I was spending 3 days every month training here (Manchester) but my degree came first and the cycling came second. And I waited until I’d finished my degree and then the last day after my hand in, I came down here and started training full time.
Is it possible to continue with higher education and pursue a cycling career?
It’s definitely possible to do both. Personally I have the thought of myself that if I didn’t do it now I know that it would be very hard to finish it or of if I did a part time course, knew that I’d get drawn into the cycling thing a bit more. So I made a commitment to myself to finish that off because being a track rider, you don’t really reach your peak until maybe mid to late twenties, early thirties so I’ve got plenty of time, and as it is, the risk is that you burn out. I mean, some young riders come in, they do so much so young, they miss out on a part of their childhood, part of their education and maybe just have enough of it. It suited me, and I may be a bit behind some of the younger girls who may have more skills in the international field but I’m getting there. And it’s very possible to do the training because they’ll work around you and if you need extra support and advice from the squad or even universities, I mean my university were great at giving me extra time if I needed it and if I had training commitments and essays and stuff so it worked out well for me.
Do you feel like you’ve missed out on some things on the social side growing up?
While I was at uni I did keep very fit, I was in the gym every day and I didn’t live life to the full extent of university but I wouldn’t say I missed out on anything. I was a bit concerned that I didn’t have enough time to catch up because some of these girls have been junior world champions and I wasn’t even racing as a junior. But it worked for me and there’s still time.
Has it always been about the track for you?
Yeah, I started riding grass track, I got a track bike when I was nine, just as a hobby, and I had some good results and started riding with the men. My skills started improving and someone contacted me and saw my results and said ‘do you want to try this?’ and I was like, yeah!
So who originally got you on the bike?
My dad. My dad’s always been a cyclist, and done a lot of road racing and hill climbing and a little bit of track and grass track for fun. I prefer the more social side of track racing. Being in an arena is a nice environment, you don’t miss out, being in a proper team’s nice because you get to support everyone.
It has to be Manchester. It’s easy to ride and it’s not too steep. It’s close to Sydney, Sydney’s pretty similar.
What went through your mind when you won the sprint at the worlds?
Shock I think, because I didn’t expect it. Obviously you have to go into it with a mind that it could happen but I didn’t think I was ready for it so when it happened I was just shocked. I was like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh! It took a long while to sink in actually, I kept forgetting and then seeing the jersey in my bedroom and thinking, whoah, I’m actually World Champion, that’s really crazy! It was a big shock for me and a big shock for everyone I think! I hadn’t really envisaged it in detail if you know what I mean, I hadn’t really thought about that day actually arriving there and then.
How do you maintain your motivation?
I think its good being a track rider because I don’t have to spend hours on the road by myself. I get to sit in here (Manchester Velodrome) and train with lots of other guys and they’re the best in the world so sometimes when you come in and you’re feeling a bit down we all just help each other and give each other a shout and things like that. You know, it’s just a good atmosphere.
From the heart of the sport, have you seen a change in women’s cycling following your recent success on the international scene?
I hope so, I mean it’s great that with the Olympic development programme and the Talent Team picking up young riders and stuff. Girls are coming to me and sort of saying, I aspire to be like you and I’m like, me!? Whoah, that’s a bit strange! But yeah, they’re asking my advice about training and about the tactics etc, so it’s nice to feel that I’m having a small impact on the sport. When I started there had been good track riders like Louise Jones but by the time I started they were already finished so there was a bit of a lull. There was a gap for sprinters and no one in the UK that I could really aspire to, well no one I came into contact with anyway. So, I think that hopefully with me being here and I always go and chat to the other girls and sometimes we join in training sessions so I hope that I can pass on a bit of advice to them maybe, not that I’ve got much to give! And it might make them think that it’s not such an impossible dream, it’s something quite achievable. It’s happened right here, I started on a grass track so I started from the bottom just as a hobby, so you can get there.
What’s been the biggest challenge to date in your career?
The biggest challenge for me is probably more of a mental challenge. Being a sprinter it’s a very psycological event. You have to spend a lot of time in the track around your opponents knowing that a mistake that you make in the split second, will loose or win it for you, so the challenge for me is finding that focus and maintaining it. Also when it’s best of three and you loose the first one, getting back up for the second ride knowing that to get through you have to win it I think, for me that’s the hardest thing. And it’s very fatiguing being in that frame of mind for a whole day. Sprinters might start warming up at eight in the morning, so you have to get up at six and it could go on till 11 at night.
Best thing about being a pro?
The best thing is getting to travel all around the world, race and achieve great things. How can you fault that? Meeting loads of like-minded people and learning little bits of languages, it’s just great, I can’t think of anything nicer. I feel blessed most of the time, I mean training is hard but I really enjoy seeing how I can do, how I can improve and then getting the reward of competing abroad for my country, I can’t think of anything much better. My hobby’s become my career.
And the worst?
The worst would possibly be getting it all wrong at the Olympics. I think I hadn’t really prepared myself for that bubble and it was the most surreal two weeks of my life. I’m glad that I’ve had the experience now to know what to expect next time but I think the hardest thing was dealing with that, just underperforming, it happens, everyone has a bad day, I had a bad day and it was the first time that had happened to me. It didn’t match what I was doing in training and that was hard, it was a big barrier to get over, to accept that and move on.