Snubs, insults and downright bitchiness – for the first time Australian cyclist Anna Meares has told the inside story of her bitter feud with British golden girl Victoria Pendleton and their final showdown at the London Olympics.
Meares, who dethroned the local hero dubbed ‘Queen Victoria’ to win gold in the Brit’s last-ever race, has skirted around the rivalry for years, claiming reports of deep-seated animosity between the pair were ‘just paper talk’.
But in her newly-released biography ‘Now’, the dual Olympic gold medallist reveals the feud was in fact very real and ultimately led to Pendleton’s downfall.
According to Meares, in the lead-up to the London Games she was snubbed by Pendleton and insulted by the British media, leading to the successful culmination of a secret three-year training campaign the Australian and her team had labelled ‘Know Thy Enemy’.
Victoria Pendleton (pictured at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Germany in February) lost to Ms Meares (right, after her win) on her home turf at London’s 2012 Olympics
Victoria Pendleton (pictured, left) poses with her silver medal after being beaten at the London Olympics in 2012 by Australian Anna Meares (centre) while Shuang Guo (right) on bronze
By the time Meares arrived in London for the 2012 Olympics she was so focused on beating Pendleton that her team-mates feared the bitter rivals would come to blows when they crossed paths unexpectedly in the dining room of the athletes’ village.
Meares says the seeds for the feud were sown during a race at the 2006 World Championships in Bordeaux, France.
In trying to block Pendleton from moving to the front of the pack Meares’ pedal had hit the Englishwoman’s wheel and she nearly fell.
Meares was disqualified and tried to apologise after the race.
‘To my surprise, she snaps at me, “I’m not interested in anything you have to say”, Meares writes in the book.
Victoria Pendleton (pictured, left) with ex-husband Scott Gardner (right), competed for years against Anna Meares – with the pair forming a fierce rivalry
Anna Meares (pictured, left, with her partner Nick Flyger) made a remarkable comeback after a devastating crash in January 2008
‘I try again and she repeats sharply: “I’m not interested”.’
From that moment their relationship deteriorated, with sportswriters building up the prospect of the two meeting in the final of the women’s sprint at the Beijing Olympics as cycling’s ‘grudge match of the century.’
But in January 2008, just seven months before the start of the Games, that showdown seemed impossible after Meares was involved in a horrific crash during a race in Los Angeles.
Her neck was broken, shoulder dislocated and she had torn ligaments and tendons.
A doctor told her it was a miracle she was not a quadriplegic.
Anna Meares (pictured, left) is seen celebrating her London 2012 Olympic win alongside home turf favourite Victoria Pendleton (right), who won silver
Anna Meares (pictured, left, with partner Nick Flyger, right, and their first child, Evelyn Bette Meares Flyger, centre)
Incredibly, she was back training on a stationary bike ten days later, made the Olympic team and in an epic contest before a vocal home crowd, defeated China’s Guo Shuang in the semi-final of the sprint before going to down to Pendleton in the final.
The pair would meet again at the 2010 World Championships in Melbourne but it was not anything that happened on the track that enraged Meares, it was what Pendleton said to a local reporter.
‘This was when everything changed for me,’ Meares said.
‘Victoria was quoted as saying that she believed her biggest rival at the London Olympics would be Guo Shuang, who she described as the runner-up at the 2008 Games.
In January 2008, Ms Meares was involved in a horrific crash during a race in Los Angeles which left her with extensive injuries (pictured)
Victoria Pendleton (pictured at London Men’s Fashion Week in 2019) was praised in the British press for her photogenic red carpet appearances, as well as her cycling
‘But I had defeated Guo in the semi-final in Beijing, before Victoria beat me for the gold medal. I could not believe what I was reading. I was upset and offended.
‘I started thinking, “I don’t care if you don’t like me, and I understand if you don’t respect me, but at least acknowledge me for what I went through before Beijing.”
‘I won that silver medal after breaking my neck in a race fall and went through months of rehab just to get there.
‘For me, there couldn’t have been a bigger slap in the face, and she had made it a public one.’
Meares and her team threw themselves into ‘Project Know Thy Enemy’.
They watched and studied over 300 hours of video of Pendleton’s races, determining that she preferred to race from the rear position.
Anna Meares (pictured, right) has opened up about her complicated rivalry with Britain’s Victoria Pendleton
Victoria Pendleton (pictured) has had an image overhaul after retiring from professional cycling
To counter that Meares practised incessantly until she perfected the move known as ‘track standing’ – balancing the stationary bike until the opponent has no alternative but to move to the front – on the steepest part of the bend where it is rarely done .
Meares became an expert at the move but never used it in competition prior to London – including in the 2010 World Championship semi-final loss to Pendleton – so as not to tip her hand.
To fine-tune their race tactics for the London showdown Meares’s coach Gary West recruited Australian male team member Alex Bird to impersonate Pendleton’s style in hundreds of simulated races.
From then on Meares and her team refrained from referring to Pendleton by name – she was known to them only as ‘Alex’.
Anna Meares (pictured, left) of Australia is seen celebrating her victory against Victoria Pendleton (right) at London’s 2012 Olympics in the Women’s Sprint Track Cycling final.
Anna Meares (pictured) was treated cruelly in the British press, and talked about as a ‘ugly coal miner’s daughter’, she claimed
Meares arrived in London ready to face Pendleton but soon found she would be taking on an entire country which had elevated her photogenic rival to celebrity status.
‘In the lead-up to London I read a story from the UK about the rivalry which was headlined: “Broomstick Versus Lipstick”,’ she said.
‘The story described me as the ugly coal miner’s daughter coming over to steal Queen Victoria’s gold medal, a portrayal I took personally.
‘I’d never been judged on my appearance before.’
Going through customs at Heathrow, she was welcomed by the immigration officer who then looked at her passport and said, ‘You’re Victoria’s rival’.
When Meares answered in the affirmative, he handed back her papers and said, ‘Enjoy your silver’.
After retiring from cycling, Victoria Pendleton (pictured) had a trendy makeover
Anna Meares (pictured) is seen at the medal ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games, after winning gold ahead of local favourite Victoria Pendleton
Before the pair met on the track they almost settled their differences in the food hall of the athletes’ village, Meares recalled.
‘The Aussie team was on one table and the British team on another and Victoria and I were approaching each other from different directions.
‘We were carrying our food on a tray, and as we got closer neither of us looked left or right or budged; nor were we prepared to let the other pass first when we finally met.
‘I could sense my teammates thinking, “Oh dear, what’s going to happen here?”
‘Eventually, we both took a step sideways and walked around each other, with not a word or a look to be shared.
‘Thinking back, I can’t believe how petty this was but in that moment it didn’t feel right to back down, not even a little.’
Anna Meares (pictured) is seen competing in the Women’s 500m Time Trial during day three of the UCI World Track Cycling Championships at Hisense Arena on December 4 2010
Victoria Pendleton (pictured at the opera in London in January 2019) claimed her biggest Olympic rival was Guo Shuang, who had in fact been beaten by Ms Meares
When the two rivals met in the best of three final of the sprint – Pendleton’s last race before retirement – it was almost an anti-climax, the Brit disqualified in the first race and the Australian pulling off the track stand tactic to perfection in the second to win the gold medal 2-0.
Pendleton earned Meares’ admiration for taking her hand and raising for the entire length of the back straight after the race.
The end of their rivalry was cemented when they met at the Beijing Olympics four years later, Meares as a competitor in her final event, Pendleton a commentator for BBC.
‘You really made me work hard,’ Meares said to her. ‘Because of that, I ended up being as successful as I’ve been.’
Pendleton answered, ‘It’s been epic. We’ve experienced the same stuff. You’re the only one that truly knows what it’s like to be me.’
‘We’re always going to have that connection,’ Meares told her. ‘It’s never going to go.’
Anna Meares (pictured, left, with partner Nick Flyger, right) earned Ms Pendleton’s admiration after years of fierce competition
VICTORIA PENDLETON: OFF TRACK
Victoria Pendleton CBE, to give her her full title, has made as many headlines off the track as on it.
She will always be remembered as one of Team GB’s most successful female Olympians with two golds and a silver across two Games – 2008 and 2012 – before her retirement shortly after London.
But she didn’t stay out of the limelight for long. Pendleton was signed up for the 10th series of Strictly Come Dancing in 2012 and partnered Brendan Cole to finish seventh of the 14 contestants. Her autobiography, Between The Lines, was also published in 2012.
The following year Pendleton married Scott Gardner – their relationship had previously caused problems as he was forced to leave his role as sports scientist with the British cycling team Pendleton was a part of after Beijing 2008. The couple split in 2018.
After quitting cycling, Pendelton turned her attention to a bigger saddle and enjoyed success as a jockey, making her competitve debut in August 2015 and winning her first race the following March on Pacha Du Polder at Wincanton. A fortnight later the pair teamed up for fifth in the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. She later described it as the ‘greatest achievement of my life.’
She has also presented TV coverage of the Festival and been on the front of numerous magazines while in 2018 she hit the headlines again when she had to abandon scaling Mount Everest due serious health problems after suffering from a lack of oxygen on the expedition.
Last year she spoke about how splitting from her husband and the failed Everest climb led to depression and her contemplating suicide.