GETTING back in the dating pool is hard for anyone after a marriage breaks up but for Victoria Pendleton, it was unchartered water.
The Olympic cyclist, 40, never had time in her training schedule to go on dates with her ex-husband Scott Gardner.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun, she said: “I had never really been on many dates to be perfectly honest. I was too busy training, most of the time, so it was very daunting. To be honest, I didn't think that I'd ever meet anybody, after the divorce, I thought that it was it.
“I'd kind of accepted that, and I'm very happy, I'm quite an independent person. I've got lots of hobbies, so it was something that I kind of accepted.
“I was like ‘this is it just gonna crack on and do what I want to do’, which is kind of nice with nobody to ask permission from or whatever to crack on and do me.”
Victoria, who has partnered with E.ON for their Change The Weather campaign, shed her good-girl image after retiring from cycling and opted to dye her hair and get multiple tattoos.
She joked: “I got a motorcycle, some may say it looked like a little bit of a midlife crisis, I don't know, but I was very settled with that. I'm very happy pottering about doing my thing.”
The athlete added: “Some people really don't care about tattoos and other people can be very opinionated about them and say that it makes you unprofessional. I don't know that there's a kind of something to do with having tattoos and not being reliable. I also didn't have time [while I was competing]. They do take ages. I was very focused on training and just training.”
I know who I am now
But now training isn’t dominating her life and she has found romance with a new man while keeping her independence.
She reckons the secret to her new relationship is the fact that she has become more confident in herself.
Victoria said: “I think I was more comfortable with myself and what I wanted. What I wanted was to still have a sense of freedom and independence in my life.
"I want to ride my horses and I want to ride motorcycles and I want to travel and I want to jump out of aeroplanes and I'm going to do all these things and that's that.
“I think probably having a better idea of what I want my life to look like was an advantage because I think I've always been easily swept along with what other people want - rather than being my own person.”
Her career as an elite cyclist saw her train and race all over the world as she built up her collection of medals - including Olympic golds at the Beijing and London Games.
But outside of her professional feats, her touring the world showed her how damaging air pollution can be.
Polluted air makes it hard to breathe
She said: “I trained and raced in some of the most polluted cities in the world and also with the mountaineering I spent some time in Kathmandu which is one of the most polluted cities - just because the mountains create sort of air pressure systems.
Top tips to help cut air pollution
Victoria said: "Air pollution is an invisible threat to so many, whether you’re an athlete or not, the fact that you can’t see pollution means that we have no idea about what we’re breathing into our lungs. As an Olympic cyclist, I spend a lot of my time encouraging people to cycle and campaigning for better cycling facilities in cities because if we cycle more, we drive less, which results in cleaner air."
"It keeps the smog kind of contained. I have definitely experienced what it feels like in terms of bad pollution and how it affects you physically.
“It affects everybody, whether you're an athlete or whether you're just making your commute to work.
"If the air is bad, everybody's breathing in and you can't see it visible but it's still doing damage to your body and your ability to perform in many ways.
“For me when I go into London, even if I go for a couple of days I always take my running trainers with me or do something. I do notice the difference. I'm very lucky that I live in the countryside. I certainly appreciate the fact that clean air is much nicer to train in.
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“When there's high pollution, it feels like what I imagine asthma would feel like.
“It's just harder on your lungs to function. You can't breathe deeply, it's not easy.
“You definitely see people struggling with their breathing more in polluted places and just a tightness, I guess.”