08/08/2012 01:16 EDT | Updated 10/07/2012 05:12 EDT

British cycling's poster girl looking forward to life away from track after last Olympic race

LONDON - Victoria Pendleton had just lost the Olympic sprint final to her rival in the last race of her career, and could not dry her tears.

This was not sadness. It was relief.

The poster girl of British cycling was relishing the possibilities of a completely different life unfolding away from the track.

"What happens next?" the nine-time track world champion said. "I'm never doing that again. I won't ever don a skinsuit ever again. ... 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, 31, rode in her first competitive race when she was 9 and has always been interested in other topics than 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.

Cycling, she says, "just fell on my lap."

"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," she said. "It wasn't my dream or my ambition."

She's engaged to a sports scientist who has worked with the British Cycling team, and says getting married is "high on the agenda."

Pendleton said she went through the hardest four years of her whole life trying to get ready for London, where she won the gold medal in keirin.

In losing Tuesday's race, she missed out on the opportunity to become the most successful British Olympic female athlete. She retires, though, by writing one of the most successful stories in British cycling history.

Apart from her two Olympic gold medals from Beijing and London, she holds nine track world titles, has been a Commonwealth champion, has posted 17 World Cup wins and has been crowned national champion 26 times.

"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.

"I'm just overwhelmed with the feeling right now that I never have to go through this again."

Her last race was a nerve-racking ending to her career.

Pendleton, who won the event at the Beijing Games, thought she had got off to a strong start in the final after beating rival Anna Meares of Australia by one-thousandth of a second in the first leg of their best-of-three match. But she was relegated — a cycling term for disqualification — a few minutes later for coming out of the sprinter lane.

The decision affected her and she never looked close in the second round.

"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."

Meares and Pendleton have never been friends and have hardly spoken to each other over the last six years, following a 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.

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.