Anna Meares respects Victoria Pendleton, she just can’t be her friend. The intense rivalry between the world’s two best female sprint cyclists continues to bubble away days before they fight for three gold medals at the world track cycling championships in Melbourne.
Britain’s Olympic sprint champion Pendleton earlier this week said world champion Meares pushes the rules to the limits and is the source of bitterness between the pair.
Meares agrees she pushes the limits, which she says 95 per cent of riders do, but the Australian disagrees she’s bitter.
“I have always had respect for Victoria and I’ve always said that I’ve had respect for Victoria. I’ve never said anything on the contrary,” Meares said on Thursday.
“Sometimes with great rivalries you can’t have a great friendship because there’s so much riding on the line for those involved.
“It’s an uncomfortable situation to switch off and open yourself up to that person when you do need to beat them on the track.
“Sometimes it is easier to just be competitors. And perhaps it’s going to be a case for Victoria and I to wait until we have retired and see where it goes from there.
“I’m racing the world championships in a week and the Olympic Games in three to four months. I really don’t want to put any energy into anything else at the moment.”
Bitter or not, there’s no denying their fierce rivalry on the track.
Pendleton beat Meares to sprint gold at the 2008 Olympics, seven months after the Australian broke her neck in a track accident.
Meares broke Pendleton’s four-year run of world titles last year and then toppled her again in a titanic contest at the World Cup meeting in London last month.
But Pendleton then combined with Jessica Varnish in the team sprint to inflict the first defeat on Meares and Kaarle McCulloch, who are aiming for a fourth consecutive world title next week.
Whenever they race, Meares says, it’s either in a semi-final or final and they “literally turn each other inside out”.
It’ll be no different in Melbourne but Meares insists the world titles won’t be just a battle between her and Pendleton.
The Germans, Chinese and French are all closing in on the team sprint, while Meares says up to seven women could win the individual sprint and nine are in contention for the keirin.
Meares says she’s in the best condition of her life to defend her sprint, team sprint and keirin world titles, while she’s also returning to her original event, the 500m time trial.
But the biggest goal awaits in London at the Olympics.
“This is a full dress rehearsal for me – physical, mental, emotional,” she said.
“I’m practising everything that I want to get right here in Melbourne. And what I get wrong, I have time to readjust and to tinker with before the Olympics.”