She’s defiant, although she broke down in tears in the BBC1 film Cycling’s Golden Girl, recalling her team-mates’ reaction at the Beijing Games after news broke that she’d fallen for her coach – a line that convention says should never be crossed. “It was the saddest day in my entire life,” she said. “Everyone was so angry with us, that Scott and I had fallen in love, because it was so unprofessional and we were a disgrace.”
The pair are back on track for London 2012. For Pendleton, whether as an individual or with team sprint partner Jess Varnish, the Games are about getting it right on the day, and that comes down to head and heart as much as it does legs and lungs. Pendleton comes alive when the subject of her Beijing sprint title comes up.
“My form had never been better. I’d done personal best after personal best, and just had this unusual level of confidence in my form. I thought, ‘You know what, I am just going to have this today. It’s mine. It’s actually mine.’ I wasn’t going to let it go.”
And there we have our first mention of the C-word, something that has always been a hot topic for her, and due to her brutal honesty in interviews, it has led to a caricature being painted of a woman on the edge of crumbling into dust at any moment.
“I have had to learn to be a lot tougher, a lot harder, almost assertive verging on aggressive, and that’s not my natural character. I’m a right softie. I love looking after people. There’s nothing I like more than having people round and cooking lots of food and everyone’s happy. I just love that. That’s what comes naturally to me, so to be hard and decisive and intimidating – I have had to learn how to do that.
“I’d be better off if I was a more type A personality, someone who is confident, quite arrogant… these are personality traits you see in sprinters so often. It comes naturally to them, but with me it’s more, ‘Why do I do this? It isn’t me!’”
And it’s that contradiction that dictates our conversation. She’ll rarely make eye contact yet there’s no doubting her genuine warmth and honesty. In short, she is much more human than your average world-beater. If you take off the Olympic-tinged glasses, then you’ll be looking at a woman who simply needs to dig a little deeper to find her mettle, and with experience comes perspective.
“With the success of the British cycling team, everyone expects us to step up on any given day and say, ‘There you go, have some Gold’, but it’s nothing like that. It’s about time, training and also a bit of luck, and it doesn’t necessarily come every time.” And at the Velodrome this summer in her home country, Victoria will get one last bite at Olympic glory before turning her mind to matters away from the track, including the man who is currently playing fetch with Mr Jonty.