Victoria Pendleton can clearly recall her favourite moment of being an Olympic champion. It was not standing on the top of the podium in Beijing with a gold medal around her neck, nor was it when she received an MBE from the Queen for her Olympic efforts. In fact, it was the opportunity to meet her idol, Dave Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters and the former drummer in Nirvana, at an awards ceremony not long after her return from the Games.
"I'd been on stage with my medal when I went over to see him so he at least slightly knew who I was," she recalled. "I desperately wanted to say something cool or credible but all I could muster was 'I love the Foo Fighters'. He's pretty much the No 1 guy I wanted to meet and he was lovely. I ended up chatting to him for about 20 minutes." Other benefits of her gold-winning ride have included being invited to a fashion show by Stella McCartney, while Pendleton has her heart set on meeting British actors James McEvoy and Keira Knightley when she next wins gold.
That might come sooner rather than later. Pendleton is bidding for an unprecedented four gold medals at this week's World Track Cycling Championships in Pruszkow, Poland, which get under way today. Pendleton, 28, will effectively head up the Team GB contingent at the worlds. Missing from the action are Sir Chris Hoy, who is out injured, Bradley Wiggins, who is focusing on road racing instead, and Rebecca Romero, who is taking time away from the track.
But Pendleton is unfazed by her role as team leader or of her bid to win a quartet of golds. "I'm entering four events [the individual and team sprints, the 500m time trial and keirin] but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to win four golds," she explained. "I've set myself a minimum target of two podiums but I don't know where I am in the world standings right now. "At my peak I know I can beat the best girls in the world but I'm not at my peak. I've already peaked this season - in Beijing - and it's impossible to do that a second time. My pace and times are still good but I don't know whether they're gold good. We'll just have to wait and see."
One suspects post-Beijing fatigue is beginning to take its toll on the glamour girl of Britain's cycling team. Since returning from China, she has had just five days off. And the daily grind of cycling six days a week and having no social life are beginning to have an affect. "I'd just like to be able to do the simple things in life like go to a museum," she said. "I love art but I can't risk tiring myself out by standing even for an hour at a gallery. I'd be too worried about the risk I'd be taking and potentially knackering my legs.
"It's not like my interests are particularly rock and roll. I'd love to have time to work on my garden - it's getting embarrassingly overgrown, do some baking and some dress making. They're simple things I just don't have time for." Pendleton, though, is happy with the sacrifices she has made but she was worried ahead of the Olympics that the sacrifices might not end up paying off. "I got a bit paranoid about doing anything before Beijing," she said, "particularly when it came to training on the roads. White van drivers seem to have no regard for cyclists and I was so worried I'd just get knocked off my bike. That wouldn't just have cost me the chance of winning Olympic gold but would have also meant the last four years of preparation and sacrifice would have been totally pointless."
As it was she stayed out of danger, arrived at the Beijing velodrome in one piece and comfortably blew away her track rivals with a dominant display in the women's sprint. But it did not bring the happiness she had hoped for. "I remember winning and it was more a relief than anything," she said. "Then it was a bit like what next?" What followed were a string of awards ceremonies and appearances, and a chance to show off her medal.
"I took the medal everywhere I went," she recalled. "I either had it in my pocket or my handbag. But I've since had to pack it away. It's hidden somewhere at home but the ribbon's a bit frayed and there's even some chunks out of the medal from where I dropped it." While the Worlds are the first focus this week, her long-term goal is to add more gold to her collection at the 2012 Olympics on home soil in London.
"Once you win one Olympic medal you want to win more and I'd love to win gold in front of my home crowd," she added. It remains to be seen in what event. There is every chance that Pendleton may not defending her sprint title and instead switch to the pursuit - the event in which Romero won Olympic gold - or the road race. "It all depends on what the IOC [International Olympic Committee] decides," she said. "If things are evened up with the men's and the team sprint or else the keirin is added then I'll stick to the sprint events. Otherwise it'll be time for a drastic change for me. It's a risk but it might be I have to do it."
For now, though, Poland is her sole target. "The Worlds have been pretty good to me so far," she said. "I had a great time in Mallorca two years ago and again in Manchester last year. Hopefully Poland will be as kind to me." firstname.lastname@example.org