Gold medallist Victoria Pendleton talks to Gabrielle Fagan about her love for her fiance and the freedom of wearing heels
Victoria Pendleton is practising her footwork with the conscientious attention you'd expect of a two-time Olympic gold medallist. But these aren't sporting moves. She's walking in high-heeled shoes, one of the many small pleasures she's relishing since she stepped off the winner's podium and retired from cycling.
“It's such fun. I've started out with wedges and now I'm on to the real thing,” she says, giggling with delight as she shows off a pair of patent shoes with skyscraper heels.
“I've never been allowed to wear them before because I had to be so careful about not damaging my ankles, which obviously could have affected my performance.
“So I've only really worn them to pose at events or photo shoots and my evenings out have been pretty limited because of training. Now I'm wearing them whenever I want.”
Pendleton, with her model looks — she's a petite 5ft 5in and has a beautiful mane of chestnut hair — has always been one of the most glamorous girls on Team GB, and clearly she's taking every opportunity to dress up now she no longer has to spend her days in tracksuits.
“I had to wear an extra-small man's tracksuit because they didn't have a women's version. Then at home I'd pop on another tracksuit,” she says.
“So it's great to have time to buy make-up and focus on being a bit girlie.”
That wardrobe and lifestyle liberation began in August after the London Games, where the world champion cyclist won gold and silver medals and bade farewell to a sport that has commanded and shaped her life since she took it up competitively at the age of nine.
It's been a long, tough journey to success which has tested Pendleton (31) to the limit, as she's recently revealed in her new book, Between The Lines: My Autobiography.
She reportedly describes how the pressure of cycling at a top level drove her to self-harm, cutting herself with a knife.
Today, she sums up her feeling at ending the punishing physical training and shedding the mental stresses as “indescribable relief”.
“I haven't felt this relaxed and happy in ages,” she says.
“There's always been so much expectation on me that every time I stepped on a bike that I would win, which is draining.”
She's engagingly effervescent, refreshingly honest and patently madly in love with her Australian fiance, Scott Gardner.
They live together in Cheshire and plan to marry next August.
But their partnership caused friction and tension with athletes and staff among Team GB.
Gardner (36) initially had to quit his job as the cycling team's sports scientist but returned later as her personal coach.
Pendleton, who had ambitions to become the first woman athlete to gain three golds at the Olympic Games, believes the furore and its aftermath helped to rob her of that prize.
“I think it affected my chances. It did feel as though by falling in love we'd committed a crime and at times it made me feel very isolated,” she says.
She credits Gardner's eventual return to the team, as her personal coach, as fundamental to her Olympics victory.
“We call them ‘our medals' and I couldn't have done it without him. Oooh, I know it sounds a bit soppy,” she says.
“But it takes a special kind of patient, unselfish person to date an athlete because everything has to be focused around that person and their career.
“Also, it's so intense. You are living in each other's pockets, with hardly any time for a social life or anything else but the sport.
“It's made our relationship even stronger, and Scott's totally in tune with me.
“But we're both now looking forward to a fresh start and a life which doesn't centre around me and my bike.”
Her cycling days are not over, she reveals, but now she will ride for pleasure and is currently encouraging others to get on their bikes as ambassador of a new Hovis campaign.
It's launched a website (hoviscycle|maps.com) with 16 suggested cycle routes, expert tips from her, and a selection of sandwich recipes.
“I do hope to inspire people with the joy of cycling,” she says.
“Many people own bikes, according to a Hovis survey, but all too often [around four out of 10] are just left in a shed or garage gathering dust.
“I can't imagine a time when I wouldn't cycle, it's part of my life, although now it will be for fun in the countryside near our home.”
There's little hope, though, of local cyclists being able to boast of overtaking the Olympian, who when she competed pumped her pedals at 200 revolutions per minute.
“Oh, I won't cycle slowly just because I'm not racing,” she says.
“I always have to have pace and something to test me. It's just the way I am, anything I do I have to do properly and to the best of my ability. That will never change.”