No. 9 Victoria Pendleton
Last year’s position: 5th
After the highs of Beijing, 2009 was never supposed to be a peak year for the track riders, particularly the sprinters.
But Pendleton’s victory in the sprint competition at the World Championships in Pruszkow, Poland, was one of the most dramatic, draining spectacles of the year.
The speed was still there, Pendleton was the only rider to qualify in under 11 seconds, but the ease with which the gaps opened in the match sprints in Beijing was harder to find.
Although unbeaten on her way to the final, there were times Pendleton had to dig deep.
But it was in the final, against Willy Kanis, that Pendleton demonstrated the depths to which she was prepared to dig. Leading 1-0, she was beaten by Kanis in the second race and suddenly a fourth world sprint title looked in doubt.
And it needed a photo finish to split the pair, with the verdict going to Pendleton.
It’s no wonder she was emotional. “This is the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” she said.
Pendleton won three national titles and the sprint at the World Cup in Manchester, but that victory in Poland eclipsed them all and was perhaps a finer achievement than Olympic gold.