Pendleton exit puts duo in focus

  • By: Matt McGeehan, Press Association Sport
  • Last Updated: December 31 2012, 10:26 GMT

Matt McGeehan focuses on Jess Varnish and Becky James as he looks ahead to the cycling year to come.

Jess Varnish: Olympic heartbreak
Jess Varnish: Olympic heartbreak

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The abdication of Queen Victoria offers the opportunity for two of Britain's women to show their full potential on the bike in 2013 and beyond.

Victoria Pendleton's retirement after London 2012, following a brilliant career which included two Olympic gold medals and nine world titles, will see Jess Varnish and Becky James emerge from the sprinting shadows.

Varnish dedicated herself to the team sprint's specialist starting spot for London, competing alongside Pendleton, but her Games ended in heartbreak on the opening day of competition at the velodrome.

An infringement of a takeover rule which was until the 2012 World Championships loosely enforced - and has now been amended - saw Varnish and Pendleton miss out on a medal ride.

Pendleton had individual opportunities, bouncing back to win keirin gold a day later and sprint silver behind Anna Meares; Varnish's first Olympics were over.

Never will she forget the painful memories, but the 22-year-old from Bromsgrove is now looking to diversify ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

Varnish said: "I've now got more opportunities to focus on the individual events. Before the Olympics it always came second.

"Now I'm looking to learn again and try to race differently. Before now when I've been given the opportunity to race individual events I've had to do a standing lap, basically, because that's all I've been able to do."

Learning by experience is key for Varnish. Pendleton, who retired aged 31, is almost 10 years her senior and therefore a decade further ahead.

Pendleton won her first world title in 2005, aged 24, so Varnish has time on her side.

"I'm doing everything I possibly can," said Varnish, who rode in all four sprint events at November's Track World Cup in Glasgow.

"It's all about keeping my options at the moment and getting a bit of everything.

"Now's the time to do it. I'm not going to be getting involved in everything four years down the road.

"This is all practice for me. You need to do it and do it right, or do it wrong, to get it right in the future."

Varnish has a new team sprint partner in James and the duo won the opening two events on the Track World Cup calendar, in Cali, Colombia and Glasgow. They will be contenders at February's World Championships in Minsk.

Just as in Glasgow, when Varnish beat James in the sprint semi-final, they may also find themselves racing each other; competition which can spur each other on.

James is targeting a strong 2013 ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Rio.

Representing Wales aged 18 in Delhi in 2010, James pushed Meares close in the sprint event, losing by a tyre's width to take silver.

Meares, less than two years later, won Olympic gold ahead of Pendleton in the final race of the Briton's career.

"It's a really good memory for me," said James, reflecting on Delhi.

"In that final, in the final ride, I knew I had nothing to lose. I gave it absolutely everything.

"I felt such a boost of confidence. I was against such an amazing rider and to come that close to her in the final was unreal.

"Neither of us knew who had got it over the line. It was so close."

Now James and Varnish will seek to realise the potential they have already demonstrated is present.


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