Queen Victoria faces pressure

WHAT is Victoria's secret?

That's what all of Britain wants to know, as cycling superstar Victoria Pendleton rides for glory at the London Olympics.

Companies clamour for her to promote their products, magazines want her on the front cover, sometimes naked.

BBC One ran a one-hour documentary on her yesterday, trying to find out what drove her to become a world and Olympic champion.

It's that fascination the Brits have for Pendleton that her greatest rival, Aussie star Anna Meares, thinks could be an Achilles heel in London.

"I feel for sure it's going to add a lot of pressure to Victoria's campaign in London. She's one of the most famous faces in the British team, huge profile," Meares said from her training base in Italy.

"Performing in front of a home crowd that has high expectation for her is going to be very difficult."

Pendleton beat Meares in the individual sprint at the Beijing Games four years ago, but the fact the Aussie took silver was astonishing, considering she had broken her neck in a race fall just seven months earlier.

Last year the Rockhampton star dominated the world championships in the Netherlands, winning the individual sprint, the team sprint with race partner Kaarle McCulloch and the keirin.

Meares repeated the dose in the keirin at this year world championships in Melbourne, but was beaten by Pendleton in the other two events despite breaking the world record during the preliminary races.

The Aussie said she was a much better rider than she had been before Beijing and had embraced the pressure that came with being a world champion.

"This time around I'm four years more mature physically and mentally, which in our sport is huge. I think it's going to show big dividends in London," Meares said.

"I love the fact I'm a medal contender. Love the fact I have a real shot at winning not just one, not just two, but three gold medals.

"That's what's exciting. That's what's been driving me for the last three-and-a-half years."

While the 28-year-old has been competing for 17 years, McCulloch is a relative newcomer, with just eight years experience.

"Eight years ago I was a middle distance runner," she said. "I got on a bike and remember thinking 'this is the silliest sport. Why would I want to do this? Wear a lycra skin suit - who does that?'

"Here I am in a nice yellow one and going to the Olympics."

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