She was Britain’s ultimate golden girl… and then she headed to the West Country yard of trainer Paul Nicholls to begin another career… Former Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton tells Gabrielle Fagan why she’s taken to the saddle after retiring and how she’s trying to live life without regrets.
Victoria Pendleton is one of Britain’s most successful female Olympians.
The cyclist won a sprint gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. and later went on to win gold for the Keirin event at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
By the time she retired from cycling in 2012, she’d also won nine gold medals at the World Championships.
But after a glittering career, she swapped one saddle for another and is now an amateur jockey and horsewoman.
In March 2015, Pendleton announced her intention to become a jockey with the aim of competing at the Foxhunter Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, with guidance from horse trainer Paul Nicholls.
After learning her new trade at Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard in Somerset,she made her competitive debut in August 2015, finishing second in the Betfair Novice Flat Amateur Riders’ Handicap at Ripon riding Royal Etiquette.
She won her first race at Wincanton in March 2016 guiding 5-4 favourite Pacha Du Polder to victory, and later that month achieved her ambition of riding in the Foxhunter Chase, outperforming many pundits’ expectations by finishing fifth.
Now Victoria, 37, lives in Oxfordshire with her husband.
What does she think is her biggest achievement?
“Olympic medals aside – horse riding. Last year, in just 12 months, I went from never having ridden to coming fifth in the Foxhunter Chase, over a course with 22 fences.
“While the medals for cycling were a long time in the making, being able to devote myself in a short, intense period to something completely new, was incredible.
“Afterwards, I knew I couldn’t have given any more of myself than I did. That’s such a good feeling.
“I fell in love with riding on my first lesson and being in the equestrian world gives me a joy that I wouldn’t have believed possible.
“Working with horses is good for me as I’m a naturally impatient person, but you can’t be with animals, so it’s tempering that strong streak of wanting everything done ‘now’.
“I’m retraining my racehorses with a long-term aim to compete at eventing.
“I love having nothing to prove or chase in this new world. I can just indulge my obsession, which is being with horses. I literally get unhappy if I don’t see them every day.”
Who’s the love of your life?
“My horse, Vesper (Vesperal Dream). He’s a black beauty – French-bred, elegant and very slender. He’s very confident, loves looking at himself in the mirror and has such a nice way. All the girls at the stable yard have fallen in love with him as well.
Oops, actually I’ve just thought that’s a bit embarrassing as I should have also said my husband, Scott! I’m such a horsey lady now. It’s the same when I talk to other female riders – we all mention our horses first and husbands second.”
And cycling – where does that rank?
“I’m just a fair-weather cyclist now. Most of my cycling is to and from the stables. Occasionally Scott and I go on a ride for fun, but that’s about it. I’ll keep track of the competitive cycling results out of interest and for commentating work.
“My biggest disappointment was ending my career when I was 32 because, although I ended on a high, inside I felt I still had more to achieve. That’ll always be a frustration. Even so, I have no desire to compete again.
“Retiring’s been fantastic as it’s opened up an exciting new world of possibilities for me. I’m an adventurous person who loves change.
“I’ll give any sport a go – I’ve actually just taken up surfing.”