Cycling: Vicky has it all sewn up but she's cooking up other plans

Queen of the boards may hit the road if women are denied equal opportunity
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The Independent Online

For most of this coming week, Olympic gold medallist Vicky Pendleton will be one of the biggest stars in the World Track Championships and, with plans to participate in no fewer than four different disciplines, she will be one of the most high-profile figures of the five-day event. And afterwards? Among other things, sewing and cooking, two of her hobbies. But not a bike in sight.

"I've barely had time to do any of either since Beijing," she says. "This last year has been one long, hard slog. Normally your season starts with training in May and builds towards the World Championships the following March, but with the Olympics in between we've had to peak twice. So I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks of not riding my bike at all."

Pendleton says she had the option of not taking part in these World Championships but it was not one she considered, even for a moment. "I couldn't bear the thought of somebody else winning them," she laughs.

Clearly a believer of the philosophy "in for a penny, in for a pound", at this year's Worlds Pendleton will be present across the boards in the sprint, the team sprint, the keirin and the 500-metre time trial. In the first three she will be far and away the favourite. In the individual sprint alone she has been world champion for three of the past four years, as well as taking gold in Beijing.

In comparison, the 500m will be something of a voyage in the dark for Pendleton. She is a six-time British champion, but at last year's World Championships the logistics of participating in all four sprint disciplines kept her out of the running. "The 500 was squashed between the sprint heats so it wasn't possible practically," she says. "This time around I'm really doing it because I can."

Her form, she admits, is "slightly below the Manchester World Championships last year. I'm not as strong or as fast as I was at the Olympics either". This is probably a relief to her rivals, considering that at Manchester she snapped up two golds – in the sprint and the team sprint, the latter with Shanaze Reade – as well as silver in the keirin.

Surprisingly for someone with such a jawdropping run of World Championship success, Pendleton's initial goal in 2009 is merely "to get on the podium more than once". The logic behind this has less to do with feeling slightly off the boil than the fact that history is not in her favour. "It could be the hardest Worlds ever, I think. In 2005, not one Olympic champion regained a title [in the same discipline] they'd taken in Athens. I know I'm not in my best condition, and I'm fully expecting other athletes who didn't get the opportunity at the Olympics last year to be wanting to step into my shoes. They're keen to take your crown.

"But I've recently been clocking personal bests in my strength tests, doing some good starts. That'll be useful for making sure I'm on Shanaze's back wheel when she starts off in the team sprint."

Beneath her Beijing form she may be, but Pendleton is clearly determined to keep her status as the most successful female sprinter of her generation. And yet the Stotfold-born rider may soon bring an end to her career in that speciality – perhaps this summer – to concentrate on road racing.

Her decision will depend largely on whether the powers that be finally opt to bring about closer parity between men's and women's Olympic events on the track. Women currently have three chances for gold compared with the men's seven, and in Pendleton's sprinting speciality just the one.

As the national sprint coach, Iain Dyer, points out: "She rightly feels hard done by because she didn't get the chance in Beijing to express how good she is. It would be a massive decision to face uncertainty in a new discipline. But Vicky's first World Cup win came in a scratch race a few years ago, and she showed that she had good versatility and finishing speed. I think if she turned to racing on the road, she'd undoubtedly become a winner."

Pendleton says: "The track is definitely my first love when it comes to riding the bike, I'd still do some endurance events, but the road is definitely an option. It would be with one real objective in mind, the road race in London in 2012. We'll have to wait to see what decision [about parity] is made this July. For me it's a case of it not being over till the fat lady sings."

Should Pendleton stick with the sprinting, she already has plans for an assault on the world record for 200m – the most accessible for sprinters – "but at the end of next year, with the proper strategic planning". Should she go, though, road racing's gain would be sprinting's massive loss – and this week at the World Championships we will have the opportunity, perhaps the last, of seeing exactly why.

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