Pendleton relieved after retiring
Victoria Pendleton is relieved to be entering retirement after her dream of bowing out with a third Olympic gold was ended by Anna Meares.
Pendleton reached the final of the women's sprint competition without breaking sweat but when she met her great Australian foe in the best-of-three decider she was foiled in dramatic fashion.
Pendleton edged the first race in the tightest of photo finishes but was later relegated for leaving her lane - much to the dis-satisfaction of a packed and partisan velodrome.
Meares led out the second race and, after cleverly forcing Pendleton to take the initiative earlier than she wanted to, romped to victory down the straight.
Pendleton, her voice cracking as she unsuccessfully fought back tears, insisted she was more than happy to be leaving her last Olympics with a silver to add to the gold she had already won in the keirin.
Pendleton's journey to London 2012 has been a turbulent one, with her sports scientist fiance Scott Gardner forced out of the British Cycling fold due to their relationship and latterly reinstated to prime her for the pressures of a home Games.
"I'm just relieved it's all over," said 31-year-old Pendleton, who won her first Olympic gold at Meares' expense in Beijing four years ago.
"People are asking me if I'm disappointed I lost but I'm just happy that it's over.
"This has been the hardest four years of my whole life. Coming in as Olympic champion and with a home Games to live up to, you just can't imagine it.
"Of course I'm disappointed not to have won two golds, that would have been perfect, but I'm just overwhelmed with the feeling right now that I never have to go through this again.
"A goal coming into the Olympics was to get onto the podium at least once so I think a gold and silver surpasses that because there have been so many points over the last four years when I thought I wasn't going to make it.
"It would be my worst nightmare right now to relive the last week of my life - hanging around, waiting for the next track session...the expectations have been too much.
"But it's been worth it. It's been phenomenal here for the last few days.
"Just being here is something I'll never forget. It's been such a landmark in my life and probably the most significant thing that has ever happened to me. It's been so special."
It seemed pre-ordained that Pendleton's swansong would come against Meares.
The pair have been involved in many supreme duels down the years, not least when Pendleton upset her opponent in front of her home crowd at the World Championships in Melbourne four months ago.
On that occasion, Meares was relegated in their semi-final contest for leaving her lane but today the tables were turned in their entirety.
This time it was Pendleton who was denied on her own soil and, once again, the commissaries had a hand in the result.
Pendleton, who was also disqualified alongside Jess Varnish in the team sprint last week, was quick to pay tribute to Meares and the memorable battles the pair have produced.
"Me and Anna had a good solid hug downstairs waiting for our medal ceremony and a good chat about our rivalry over the years," she said, addressing the continual speculation about a personal antagonism between the pair.
"It's been a very rare thing to have two female athletes really competing on so many occasions at such a high level. Racing against Anna has made me a better cyclist.
"I don't think there are two others quite like us. It's been an epic rivalry and I hope it's been entertaining."
Meares is now firmly Pendleton's past, with the future filled by planning her wedding to Gardner and enjoying her new-found freedom.
"I'm never going to wear a skinsuit again. I'm going to continue cycling to keep fit and that is it," she said.
"Getting married is high in the agenda and I'm looking forward to trying other sports again, going skiing, doing normal stuff I've basically stayed away from for the last 10 years because I've been so dedicated to getting this right.
"I'm looking forward to having a bit more of a life. The world is my oyster."