Teniel Campbell hails from Trinidad and Tobago, a country that has never had a female cyclist compete at the Olympic Games.
She intends to change that.
Six months into her high-level training camp at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC), the 20-year-old has made astonishing progress and is unwavering in her determination to achieve her goal of qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
The 20-year-old made a firm statement at the recent Central American and Caribbean Games, where she claimed a gold medal in the road race. Yet the Games in Barranquilla, Colombia, had not started as she wished:
“I went into the Games with the mindset to win. I was fourth in the time trial, just 7 seconds off the podium, and I was very disappointed. Then on the track, I won three bronze medals – in the Scratch, the Omnium and the individual pursuit. So when it came to the road race, there was no way I was going home without a gold medal. I had to win.”
The race was punctuated with attacks and breaks but it was impossible for Teniel, who had only one team mate in the peloton, to follow all the moves. After the group came together 3km from the finish, Teniel timed her sprint perfectly to take victory.
“I just put my head down and sprinted,” she said. “I thought I had gone too early, and close to the line I saw another rider coming but I thought ‘no, no, no!’”
Direction UCI Women's WorldTour
With her gold medal and three bronze medals in pocket, Teniel travelled back to the UCI WCC in Aigle, Switzerland, where more good news awaited: confirmation that she was one of three of the centre’s athletes to be chosen to race as a trainee with a UCI Team.
Her placement is part of a system whereby UCI Teams can invite Under-23 riders to compete alongside their squads for the last months of the year. No contracts are signed, but the initiative enables young riders to race at the highest level and allows teams to scout for young talent.
From August 1st until December 31st, Teniel and fellow UCI WCC trainee Agua Marina Espinola (Paraguay) will compete in some races with UCI Women’s Team Cogeas-Mettler Pro Cycling Team. Meanwhile Hungarian Barnabas Peak will confront the UCI WorldTour peloton as a trainee member of Quick-Step Floors.
Teniel and Agua will make their first foray into the UCI Women’s WorldTour at the Ladies Tour of Norway this week. Teniel cannot wait to race against her all-time favourite cyclist, Marianne Vos (the Netherlands).
“I love Marianne and the way she races. I so want to meet her and talk to her. Maybe one day I will beat her in a sprint.”
She is thrilled by the progress she had made this year: “I have learnt so much at the UCI World Cycling Centre. I am way stronger than before and my climbing has got better. I have learnt to manoeuvre in the peloton and ride more aggressively.
“I still have a lot to discover about myself… things that my coach sees but I don’t yet. I have learnt to trust the process and be patient. My time will come!”
The young cyclist is talented on both the road and the track, and will not rule out either discipline. For the moment she is more focussed on road as that is where she has the best chance of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I don’t want to choose between the two. It is possible to do both – a lot of pro women do. Why not road in Tokyo and track in Paris in 2024? Anything is possible.”
In the meantime, she looks forward to her first experience in the UCI Women’s WorldTour: “I am excited to see how I can do, how I handle myself. This is a stepping stone for Caribbean cycling and for my country.”