Pendleton's great achievement proves winners don't need to win
Cycling Track

Pendleton's great achievement proves winners don't need to win

18 March 2016 / 09:50
She didn’t make the podium but Victoria Pendleton proved that winners really don’t always need to win as she silenced a chorus of cynics at the Cheltenham Festival.
GettyImages-516342502The two-time Olympic cycling champion achieved what some thought impossible and most thought improbable as she finished a battling fifth in the Foxhunters Chase at the famous race meeting.

Fans at Cheltenham usually only care for where their money is invested but not in this race. 

In the long history of this storied Festival there’s never been a more popular rider to win the crowd absolutely no money.

Just 14 months after sitting on a horse for the first time, Pendleton produced a performance on Pacha Du Polder that had experienced observers shaking their heads in disbelief.

Most thought she wouldn’t get around the daunting 22 4ft 8in obstacles, bigger than she’s ever jumped, and recalled the time when Prince Charles, competing in the same race, took a heavy fall and was left with a bloodied house.

But Queen Vic had the measure of the future King.

After a patient and cautious start, she slowly started to weave and scythe her way through the 24-strong field in the amateur equivalent of the Gold Cup.

The crowd held their breath after her nervy first jump and let out a collective sigh of relief as she cleared the final fence and powered up Cheltenham's famous hill, like she once powered around a velodrome.

It was a testament to Pendleton’s popularity and the way this particular challenge - dismissed by some as a dangerous stunt - had captured the public imagination.
 
"It's probably the greatest achievement of my life," said Pendleton, a nine-time world champion and three-time Olympic medallist.

"The reception felt like I'd won and I feel very lucky for that. I didn't expect to get that sort of cheer, it was quite humbling really and it ranks right up there with being at the Olympic velodrome.

"I'm overwhelmed, so thank you to everyone who has made this possible. I just feel honoured. It was a ridiculously audacious dream and we gave it our best shot.

"I can't believe I did it and I got around. It's the most fun I have ever had."

Ever the competitor, Pendleton even joked that she was disappointed not to finish fourth, after she got her whip stuck in the crucial run-in.

She will be back working out at the stables of Alan and Lawney Hill in the morning and it’s clear this wasn’t a challenge to be completed and forgotten.

Pendleton admits she’s been searching for something to fill the void left by the end of her cycling career and there is no denying she has fallen for the sport of kings.

"Nobody knew whether this was possible, me included, but I've given it my best shot and taken it step by step. I had 100 percent faith from the start and I trusted my experts,” she added.

“I just want to consolidate what I've done to become a more competent horsewoman.  I just really want to enjoy going back to the yard and riding out.

"I look forward to riding out for Alan and Lawney and to learn more about the craft without any more pressure and expectation, as I've not had that luxury in the last year.

"I have got that time on my side to sit back, relax and enjoy it. I can't wait."

By James Toney, Sportsbeat

Sportsbeat 2016