Celebrity Interview: Victoria Pendleton
PUBLISHED: 18:04 12 January 2015 | UPDATED: 16:10 21 March 2016
Sofa, telly, food, big new slippers (all brilliant) but it’s post-Christmas and there’s an itch to be moving again, get out and about, work those muscles and take the air. Who better to give a little inspiration (and top health tips) than Britain’s most successful female Olympian, record nine-time world cycling champion and local girl, Victoria Pendleton
Q: Take us back to your roots in Hertfordshire. What was it like to grow up here?
A: It was a really nice place to grow up, and still is. It’s very quiet. We lived right next to bridleway fields – it was a happy upbringing in a nice, safe place. And Hertfordshire has always been especially good for cycling. I appreciated it more when I left for university [in Newcastle] and came back home. I had a chance to take it all in, because sometimes you take it for granted a bit.
Q: Where did you used to cycle in Herts?
A: Everywhere! There were so many routes. My dad knew every country lane, every village and every bike track – lots of different places. I used to cycle a lot through Ashwell and we used to cover Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire as well as Hertfordshire. All through those counties, any direction really. I personally liked Steeple Morden and some cute places in Bedfordshire. Chocolate box villages are my favourite.
Q: So cycling around provided some of your happiest memories?
A: Definitely. It’s the freedom. You don’t feel you’re holding up traffic or getting in anyone’s way. You can just enjoy it. It was fairly rolling countryside with a variety of routes. I especially liked going to Chicksands on my mountain bike when I was a kid. It’s a bit more organised these days but I really enjoyed that.
Q: What are some of your favourite routes to cycle now?
A: I’ve just been doing some pictures on a lovely route, actually in Oxfordshire. It goes from Wood stock through Glympton, Middle Barton and Netherwarton to Barford and St Michael. Check it out!
Q: Did the amount you cycled in your youth shape you in terms of becoming an Olympic athlete?
A: Of course. Succeeding in sport is about how much practise you put in. It’s a 10,000-hour thing and I’m a strong believer that you have to get the hours under your belt. You can’t shortcut that. I don’t think I really knew how fit I was when I was a kid. I rode with my dad quite long distances and I’ve been racing since the age of nine, so we did a lot of sport growing up. My earliest memories of my dad are watching him race, so it was inevitable when we were old enough that my brother and I would get on bikes.
Q: Did you consider anything else as a profession?
A: No. I thought everybody did stuff like this because I’d grown up with it. Every holiday, every weekend, travelling to races – I thought that was the norm.
Q: Talk us through your daily fitness routine now.
A: It’s varied. I’ve been running a lot, which I wasn’t allowed to do before. I’ve been cycling a lot just because the weather’s been so mild. I have a Pilates reformer at home so I do a lot of that, every other day or so. There’s yoga, and I have recently put in a squat rack at home, so I do weight training. It’s whatever takes my fancy, really. I probably exercise six days out of seven.
Q: How does it differ from preparing for competition?
A: In competition, everything is very well planned in advance and very well detailed. You just stick to the plan, keep your head down and be as disciplined as possible in every aspect, whether sleep, recovery or the intensity of your training. And it’s all recorded; the data is analysed. I really love routine and so I’ve never found it a problem. I really enjoy it. I don’t mind somebody organising what I have to do. I’m a creature of habit in some ways.
Q: What tips could you give those looking to shed a few festive pounds this New Year?
A: Don’t eat them in the first place is always a good idea! Or, keep exercising. If you go out and do a little bike ride or a short run, or spend a little bit of time in the gym, you can afford to enjoy yourself without feeling guilty and without going backwards too far. I’d just say keep to a routine and keep squeezing in those little bits of exercise here and there, then you don’t have to hit it really hard to bring it back. That’s the bit that can be daunting, and if the challenge is too big it becomes overwhelming. Keeping on top of it is important.
Q: Are there any festive-season foods you avoid to stay in shape?
A: I tend not to buy things I don’t normally eat, apart from the Christmas pudding, and maybe some home-made mince pies. I wouldn’t say I change my diet completely. I like to eat healthily anyway and I think I’ve become more disciplined now I’ve retired – because I’m such a creature of habit, I don’t find it hard to do. I quite enjoy the challenge.
Q: Did you make any New Year resolutions or plans for 2015?
A: What I want to do is schedule in more learning. There are a few courses I’ve been talking about doing for a while – I’d like to do some yoga training, some of my Pilates. I’m going to sign up and learn. It’s going to be a year of learning more stuff.
Q: How are you filling the gap left by retirement?
A: I thought I’d be sat at home twiddling my thumbs, but I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had lots of varied opportunities to keep me busy. Commentary for BBC Radio 5 Live will be ongoing and I’ve been filming some documentary pieces. I’ve done some personal training and the Halfords bikes are an important part of my life now.
Q: Talk us through your input in designing your Halfords range.
A: The company approached me before the London Olympics and asked me if I’d like to get involved in a collaboration. Chris Boardman has had a lot of success with his Halfords range and knowing Chris quite well, working together in a team, it seemed like a good opportunity to get people involved with cycling. So we create bikes which are very much ‘bums on saddles’, rather than very high performance machines…so far! They’re stylish, simple and not overly complicated with too much technology on them. I’ve been happy with how it’s gone. It exceeded my expectations massively. In my mind, the design brief is to keep the bikes simple, as light as they can be within the cost bracket, and they have to look great, appealing to a variety of women.
Q: How would you gauge the legacy left by the London Olympics in 2012?
A: It’s a difficult thing to gauge because it’s a cultural change. It’s not a quick fix. I feel there’s a lot more momentum in certain schemes to get young people involved in sport; young women in particular, because women are harder to engage. Something like two million fewer women than men are involved in sport every week, which is a huge number. In terms of targeting that demographic and giving them more opportunities to get involved, there are positive steps in place. We’ll probably look back on it in 10 years and see it as a catalyst for change, and I think it is changing. For me as a cyclist, I see far more people on bikes when I’m out training than I ever did before. The other day I went out for a ride and the first two people on bikes I laid eyes on were women. I thought that was a great indicator of what’s happening; the changes in cycling culture.