We chased down the double Olympic Gold-winning track cyclist to chat 2012, not being ashamed to be emotional and how she loves winter sports
Photos by Dan Medhurst/Oakley
What was your most significant victory?
It’s a difficult decision between my first World Title in 2005 and my Olympic gold at London 2012. I would have retired in 2008 after my gold at the Beijing Olympics, but you can’t pass up an opportunity to perform on home turf. I was like, “I will carry on for four years, I hope my body can handle the training." As I knew the speed I was going in Beijing would not be enough for 2012 and when you’re getting into your 30s as an athlete you have to question whether your joints and muscles will hold up because it’s a challenge so yeah winning gold in London was incredible. It makes me feel quite emotional just thinking about it.
It was the perfect way to round off your career then?
It was and in the words of Kurt Cobain [who was quoting Neil Young at the time] I really wanted to burn out not fade away and I thought if I can have success in London then I’d feel content with what I’ve achieved in my career. I’d feel like I’ve done it, bought the t-shirt and gone home.
You didn’t have to buy it though?
No I got given lots of stripy ones, which was nice.
What other events at 2012 did you see?
The last day of track and field, I saw Mo [Farah] running and getting gold. It was such an incredible experience, it was tribal, I mean the noise in the athletics arena and the chanting for Mo, it got you deep down inside. You can’t really explain it.
How does it feel to ride a velodrome?
Some of them feel like a wall of death, I’d be like, “How do you get on that? I don’t even know!" The first night I rode on one I went to bed and still felt as if my body was moving, like being on a fairground ride. It’s a really incredible sensation of speed and momentum, and I definitely get a rush from it. Most velodromes do taster sessions so I’d definitely recommend people give it a go.
What music did you listen to pre-race?
Lots of playlists but I have a weird thing of not listening to the same ones year in year out, as certain ones remind me of certain feelings or disappointment. One album I listen to a lot though is Collison Course by Jay-Z and Linkin Park. And I love the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl is the coolest, and I love that kind of upbeat slightly rocky music.
Did you enjoy being a track cyclist?
Yeah I loved it. I loved the training, people always used to say it must have been so hard but I don’t mind hard work physically in fact I quite enjoy it. I quite like that kind of sicky and shaky feeling, I really miss it actually.
What are you up to now?
Lots of different things, I’m very lucky to be sponsored by Oakley. Funnily enough they were the first sponsor I ever had. My dad bought me a pair of cobalt blue and red iridium eye jackets for my 16th birthday and I thought I was the coolest person in the world ever. They didn’t come off, they were either worn as a hairband or as sunglasses for about two years, they got so scratched you could barely see out of them.
That was at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, I was wearing some M frames and the guy gave me two boxes there and then. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me. It’s a very cool brand, I feel I’m a bit dorky for Oakley so I’m very lucky they’ve stuck with me.
You’re a role model for lots of people, you’re not dorky…
I’ve never been embarrassed about taking the mickey out of myself, I’m quite open with my shortcomings. I am an emotional person, I have worked a lot with our team psychologist to help me get through the pressures of being an athlete and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m just a normal girl with all the same insecurities as everybody else, but it doesn’t mean that just because I have an emotional side I can’t be hugely successful at whatever I put my mind to.
Do you still find pleasure in riding a bike?
Yes. The first time I went out on my bike after the Olympics I did three hours with one of my team mates and I actually laughed out loud as we were going along, I was like, “Wow this is weird I don’t have to carry on. I could turn around, stop for a coffee, two coffees, stay out all day and it doesn’t matter." It was weird to cycle without any constraint on what I needed to do. I’d really like to start mountain biking again as that’s been off the radar for risk of injury but that’s where I used to enjoy cycling the most, mountain biking holidays when I was 16/17 years old. I would love to get on the BMX track too, the one at the velodrome is amazing but Shanaze Reade took me up on the ramp once and I was like, “No I don’t think so!" I had to hold onto the railing on the way down again. It’s a mind blowing sport.
Would you like to give snowboarding a go?
I actually ski. I had one snowboarding lesson after I’d learnt how to ski when I was about 20 and I didn’t really pick it up very quickly so I thought, "Nah I’ll put skis back on!" Or actually I put some snow blades on and tried that instead as I thought that would be a bit more fun. But I LOVE winter sports, I used to dream about going skiing as a cyclist, I used to literally dream about it, because I learnt how to ski then it was banned when I was training. I also lived in Switzerland for 18 months and for 12 of those months I lived in a ski resort. I would get on the train in the morning and then travel down the mountain to go to French lessons and then train while people were getting off with their skis, everyday around all this white snow. I was thinking, “If only… one day I’ll ski…" So I went back there this winter and I love it, I ABSOLUTELY love it.
Victoria Pendleton is sponsored by Oakley