Victoria Pendleton discusses expectation and pressure in Sky Sports docuseries ‘Driving Force’

Victoria Pendleton discusses expectation and pressure in Sky Sports docuseries ‘Driving Force’

In Judy Murray’s introduction for episode three of the Driving Force docuseries on Sky Sports, she describes her guest as “one of the bravest and most impressive women” that she has met.

The person Murray is referring to is Victoria Pendleton, the former Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth champion cyclist, turned jockey.

“I feel quite overwhelmed really, for you to call me brave, especially. It’s something that I’ve never really considered myself [to be].”

Pendleton’s answer, and thoughts on Murray’s description of her, are interesting. She does not see herself as brave, and yet anyone who reads her story or watches her tell her tale during the episode of Driving Force, will discover just how courageous she is.

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With an older sister and a twin brother, Pendleton grew up as one of three siblings. All three cycled from an early age and were encouraged to do so by father, Max.

“She’s a third-generation cyclist.” he said. “My parents were cyclists and when we had Victoria, my wife and I were cyclists… you’re expected to be a cyclist and carry on.”

The expectation he had for his offspring coupled with unfinished business on his part, as his words to Victoria later in her career, highlighted.

“I always said to Victoria that she was now in a position where she could represent the country and ride World Championships, at least she’d never be in the position I was, which was looking back and thinking what could have happened?”

The way that he encouraged me over the years, sometimes was a little bit character building, that was one of his favourite phrases. He was very hard, if I didn’t race for example, sometimes he wouldn’t want to speak to me, which made me feel very, very guilty.

Victoria Pendleton about her father’s drive for her

“I’ve recounted this many times before but when I was younger, I’d watch my dad cycle away into the distance and not be able to keep up. He wouldn’t look back to see where I am, and that made me feel quite hurt.

“It made me feel like he didn’t love me anymore, which is crazy because I know that he always loved me, but it felt at the time like I needed to earn it.

“It was sometimes a tough lesson and difficult to understand and appreciate as a kid, feeling very much that my dad’s appreciation of me was very much based on the physical performance I delivered on the bike.”

In contrast to her husband, Pendleton’s mother Pauline sat at the other end of the spectrum when it came to competitive cycling.

“As a mum I didn’t really pay a lot of attention as to how she rode, I didn’t recognise that she had a good style or that she was fast… in fact I wasn’t very happy about them racing at all,” Pauline said.

“She would always say that they loved us no matter what, that we could only do our best and do what we could do,” Victoria added.

“She said that we didn’t have to do something if we didn’t want to, but I felt like I had to do it and it was something that I was destined to do.”

When brother Alex battled with leukaemia at a young age, Pendleton believes the experience brought a “seriousness” to her character which remained with her through her childhood. At school, she excelled at sport but had a practical head on her shoulders, and was determined to complete her GCSEs, A Levels and then get a degree at university.

“At no point, did I think that cycling could be my full-time job. In my generation, there weren’t any female cyclists that I was aware of. I was forced to watch the Tour de France every year, religiously, and there weren’t any women in that.

“I had very little understanding of what was available on the female cycling scene, so it was never something that I thought women could do full-time.”

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At the age of 16, she was talent spotted and subsequently coached by the GB assistant national track coach Marshall Thomas. Thomas would go on to guide her through the remainder of her school education and then during her university years.

“Marshall probably doesn’t even realise what a massive influence he was in directing my life into elite sport,” Pendleton said. “He’s not what I would regard as a typical elite coach.

“He was very reassuring, encouraging and he always made sure that the training was manageable for me. He’d talk me through it and I had to give him feedback, he never applied undue pressure because he knew that I was conscientious. He treated me like an adult, which was quite unusual.”

When I was talent spotted by Marshall and the training programmes came my way, my dad took a bit step back because he knew it was above and beyond his ability to train me. It wasn’t until that moment that I really felt his sense of pride in me, because he said that I’d made it on the first rung of the ladder.

Victoria Pendleton

“Marshall was the perfect coach for Victoria,” Pendleton’s father noted. “He gave her sufficient encouragement, but not so much that she got sloppy and thought she could do things easily.”

As the episode of Driving Force continues, Pendleton will discuss how her career developed from that point on. She speaks candidly about her experiences at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Switzerland, the impact Professor Steve Peters had on her career and why she stepped away from the sport when she did.

Watch the third episode of Driving Force on Monday at 9pm on Sky Sports Arena. It will also be available On Demand via Sky and NOW TV.

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