UCI World Cycling Centre: Victoria Pendleton talks about life after cycling

Keirin Olympic Champion Victoria Pendleton is currently in Rio for her fourth consecutive Olympic Games.

But far from riding the boards, this year the two-time Olympic Champion will be watching the racing from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) commentary box. Race commentary is just one of the strings she has added to her bow since retiring from competition after the London 2012 Olympics.

Following her first Olympic participation in Athens in 2004, Victoria Pendleton won gold in the sprint at Beijing 2008, followed by two medals at London 2012: gold in the keirin and silver in the sprint. It was after these “home” Games, that the household name in British track cycling hung up her bike for good. She hasn’t looked back.

“I knew I was going to retire after 2012. It was just being realistic. I had achieved more than I had ever hoped to and they were looking for younger girls. So basically, I knew four years out that London would be my last competition.

“To tell the truth, I went cold turkey after London. I gave my shoes away and by the time I got back home, I didn’t have a bike anymore. I was ready to do something new.”

It was a transition that many professional athletes have found difficult. However, Pendleton had a tactic: “I kept myself very busy and said ‘yes’ to as many propositions as I could. It was like doing work experience really. I tried all sorts of things, especially things that had been forbidden when I was cycling such as cross-country running and skiing.

“I’m an outdoors person really. I only ended up cycling on the track because I was good at it… and I was too easily distracted to ride outside. I would always be looking at something and losing my concentration!”

On retirement, Pendleton started co-commentating cycling races, public speaking, personal training (she has a degree in sport and exercise science), and acting as a brand ambassador. It was her ‘give anything a go’ attitude that got her into horse racing.

It started as a challenge when an on-line betting forum contacted her at the beginning of 2015 to ask if she would be interested in training to get her jockey’s licence with the aim of racing the renowned Foxhunter Chase in Cheltenham (GBR) one year later. It didn’t take her long to take the plunge. She was surrounded by expert professional trainers and coaches, and despite some “daunting moments” never looked back. It took her only 16 weeks to obtain her jockey’s licence, and in March 2016, she surpassed the expectations of many by taking fifth place in the famous Foxhunter Chase.

“I had sat on a few ponies before and been led, but never ridden a horse.” she laughs. “But I love animals, they thought I would be up for it and apparently I’m ‘trainable’. Quite a few cycling skills are transferrable such as balance, judgement of speed and the gap between horses.

“I just fell in love with horse riding. I had underestimated how much I enjoy being part of a team, with everyone doing honest, hard work."

She continues: "I enjoy being part of something great, sharing the same goals and being in that routine of training.”

Since learning to ride, she has mounted 83 different race horses, including six polo horses as she trained for a charity polo match. She spends six mornings a week at the stables, which are only 10 minutes from her home.

“I don’t know where I’d be if I’d discovered horses at the age of 14,” she laughs.

She has not, however, turned her back completely on cycling. Although a self-confessed fair-weather rider (“you’ll never see me out on a bike in the rain”), she enjoys commentating, and also drew a great amount of pleasure of a recent visit to the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, where she trained between 2002 and 2004.

The retired track cycling star was in her element as she chatted to young athletes competing at the UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championships at the UCI WCC.

She graciously answered questions fired at her by the young riders, many of whom aspire of becoming Olympic Champions themselves.

“It was a joy talking to the athletes and answering their questions,” said Pendleton. “It is such a great opportunity for them to come to a competition like this. They are at the beginning of their careers and they are so enthusiastic. They are already so more advanced than I was at their age so I tell them to take their time.

“I have good memories of my time in Aigle. You have everything – accommodation, food, the velodrome and the gym in a compact environment with no distractions. You have the support and can focus entirely on cycling. It is sensational. It was hard, and a very intense time for me but I’m glad I stuck with it. It definitely helped me in my career.”

Although that career came to an end four years ago, Pendleton is looking forward to experiencing the Rio 2016 Olympics from the other side of the fence. She will commentate all four of cycling’s Olympic disciplines: road, track, BMX and mountain bike.

And she has an ulterior motive:

“I hope to be able to cast an eye at some of the equestrian events,” she says with a glint in her eye.