More than one hour after losing in the sprint final to Anna Meares of Australia, the poster girl of British cycling could not dry her eyes. But the nine-time track world champion was not sad, just relieved.
Pendleton, who by the age of six had already starting cycling with her father Max, was relishing the possibilities of a completely different life unfolding.
"What happens next?" the 31-year-old Pendleton said. "I'm never doing that again. I won't ever don a skinsuit ever again, which I won't miss entirely, I must admit. I'm going to continue cycling to keep fit, and that's it, that's seriously it.
"I'm looking forward to doing other sports again. I'm looking forward to going skiing, that's for sure, and doing normal stuff."
Pendleton, who rode in her first competitive race when she was 9, has always been interested in other things apart from cycling. Before becoming a multiple world champion and a double Olympic gold medallist , she had completed a degree in sports and exercise science at the University of Northumbria.
"Getting married is high on the agenda and just try new things, new challenges," Pendleton said. "Cycling fell on my lap. It was never my dream or ambition. My father is a cyclist, so it was a way to do stuff with him, and I just happened to be quite good at it. ... Now, I'm just lucky to have many opportunities open up as a result of being a successful cyclist that the world is my oyster."
Pendleton said she went through the hardest four years of her life trying to prepare for London, where she won the gold medal in keirin.
"I'm just relieved it's all over," she said, fighting back tears. "People are asking me if I'm disappointed I lost but I'm just happy that it's over. 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."
Pendleton would have been the most successful British female athlete at the Olympics had she won that second gold. Still, she has written one of the most successful stories in British cycling history.
Apart from her Olympic gold medals, she holds nine track world titles, has been a Commonwealth champion, posted 17 World Cup wins and has been crowned national champion 26 times.
"I think I've done a good job," she said. "I hope I have."
She surely did well in her final race against Meares, a nerve-racking contest she could have won.
Pendleton thought she had got off to a strong start in the final after beating Meares by one-thousandth of a second in the first leg of their best-of-three match. But the defending champion was relegated a few minutes later for coming out of the sprinter lane.
The race jury decision affected her and she never looked in contention in the second bout.
"I wasn't really aware that I had come out of the sprinter's lane," said Pendleton, who had already been relegated last week in the team sprint. "When you're going as hard as that and putting as much effort into it, it's not something you can see that easily. Of course, you have to bide by the decision of the commissaries. I've never been disqualified or relegated twice in the space of a week, so that's a new personal best."
Meares and Pendleton have never been friends and have hardly spoken to each other over the last six years, following their feud at a world championship in France. In London, they had exchanged a handshake after the keirin. After Tuesday's final, they joined their hands during a victory lap.
"Of course, we had a good solid hug downstairs waiting for our medal ceremony, and a good chat about our rivalry over the last few years," Pendleton said. "I think this is a very rare thing to have two female athletes competing and meeting on so many occasions at such a high level. It's been epic, it's been a sort of epic rivalry, and I hope it's been entertaining."
Now, the path is clear for Meares. Will she miss Pendleton?
"Track cycling will miss her," Meares said, smiling.
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.Suggest a correction