Young Gun Interview: As ever, Ed Hood has been keeping his eye on the results of the ‘promising riders’ and the name Teniel Campbell has stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. The twenty-two year old Trinidadian has been winning at home and now in Europe and will be a pro for the Valcar Cylance team in 2020.
Worlds Mixed relay TTT
The little island nation of Trinidad and Tobago has produced it’s fair share of quality bike riders in the past: US circuit Criterium King, Emile Abraham; Worlds Kilometre medallist, Gene Samuel; Commonwealth Games and Pan Am Champion, Leslie King – and not forgetting Nicholas Paul who produced a stunning world record 9.1 flying 200 metres, this year. And now the girls are getting in on the act, 22 year-old Teniel Campbell has been a prolific winner on the national, Pan Am and Caribbean scene for a year or two – but now she’s brought her winning ways to Europe and has landed a professional contract for 2020 with Italian UCI team Valcar Cylance Cycling.
Vulcar Cylance for 2020
She took time to give PEZ an insight into her rise to upper echelons of ladies cycling.
PEZ: How did you get into bike racing?
Teniel Campbell: I have an older brother, Akil Campbell who is also a cyclist. Growing up being the younger sibling I was just simply following what my brother was doing. I really admired his grit, drive and single minded mentality. At that time cycling was not my passion. I just enjoyed it because it was a way of bringing my family together as my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends would be present to support us. There was a period where I stopped cycling. In this phase my local coach Elisha Greene, each time he dropped my brother home would tease me about coming back and him needing a ‘female cyclist’. I eventually give in to his quest in 2014 and made progress and strides under Elisha, Ashton Williams and gym instructors Mr Junie and his wife Mrs Karen. This was my foundation.
PEZ: Is there much of a ladies’ racing scene in Trinidad and Tobago?
It‘s not as grand as the US and Europe but back when I started we had many more females involved compared to now. Trinidad and Tobago was known for our success at the junior pan American championships in the sprint events. Back then we had success from Jodi, Aziza, Denese, Keiana and Kollyn winning several medals at that level. Keiana and Kollyn had the pan American team sprint record and Kollyn the 500m record. Fast forwarding to now, unfortunately it’s just myself and Alexi Costa – who recently got a pro contract in the United States – who rode with me at last year’s at the Central American and Caribbean Games; and this year at the Pan Am Games and World Championships.
Worlds road race
PEZ: Tell us about your Central America and Caribbean and Pan Am Games results please.
CAC Games: three bronze on the Track, one gold on the road – I was on top of the world when I finally won a gold medal. The effort was being made, race after race on the track but it just never clicked at the right moment. Pan Am Games: Two silvers, in the TT and road race. The day of the time trial was incredibly stressful with the bikes not arriving on time and having a delayed start. I was happy that I stayed calm and focused as best as I could and attained silver behind Chloe Dygert. In the road race, my legs just felt flat. I didn’t follow my instincts as I was outnumbered by countries in the small group that made it over the climb. I didn’t wanted to take the risk as I also knew I was a favourite. I did what I could to secure another medal for my country, I just didn’t have enough in the tank to attain the gold.
PEZ: How did you get the opportunity to join the UCi programme at Aigle?
After my performances at the elite Caribbean Championships in Martinque, Desmond Roberts who’s CEO of my local club initiated a conversation with the UCI president David Lappartient. The president was also really impressed by my strength. I guess that together with the possible recommendations from Alejandro Tablas (former World Cycling Centre coach who now works with the Scott women’s team) sealed the deal, he knew me from the UCI talent identification camp that was held in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
PEZ: How about that Euro weather compared to sunny Trini – that must have been a shock?
It was definitely a shock to my system!! I arrived to Aigle to minus 14 degrees from a spanking hot 25- 30 degrees island. I wore a lot of layers, maybe three or four and I still do but probably one layer less now. But I do love the atmosphere and the beautiful mountains – which I hate climbing at times.
PEZ: The Swiss ‘regimented’ lifestyle is so different to laid back Trinidad; that must have taken a bit of getting used to?
In year one I felt lost and confused with the reality of this new lifestyle. I was really like ‘holy smokes, I’m alone and have no idea what I’m really doing.’ I really cracked and broke down by week two and wanted to return home. I just didn’t care about any of my goals but Elisha Greene amongst others really helped me by ensuring that I remembered my reasons for being there. It was a difficult period but I pulled through and here I am now.
PEZ: Why chose the road, you had good results on the track?
When Erin Hartwell became Trinidad and Tobago national coach, he told me I had to specialise and make a decision; Sprint or Endurance. I never liked the idea of focusing on one thing, I believe I am capable of doing anything once I put my mind to it even if it has never been done before. But yes, I chose the discipline that you’ll hardly ever see in Trinidad and Tobago newspapers; a tall, lanky, successful endurance cyclist making waves on the international circuit, smashing down the doors and paving a path for the upcoming generation.
PEZ: Who coaches you?
Originally in Trinidad and Tobago – Elisha Greene, Ashton Williams, Mr Junie and his wife Mrs Karen. At the World Cycling Centre – Alejandro Tablas in 2018 and Adam Szabo in 2019. Currently – Davide Arzeni of my new Valcar team and Antonia Burton who’s strength and conditioning coach for Trinidad and Tobago. And then there’s the knowledge you learn from fellow cyclist, former cyclist and random conversation with individuals.
PEZ: What’s your favourite kind of race?
The races were you have to clinch your teeth and dig deep. It unlocks something you never knew you had within. In these races even when you don’t win, it feels like a victory, for example in the Pan Am championships in Mexico. I also like fast and furious. A little bit punchy, with some aggressiveness. I love speed when I’m not nervous. Mountains are not my cup of tea but it’s also possible if I put my mind to it.
PEZ: Tell us about your winning ride in Kreiz Breizh, which is a tough two stage race in Brittany.
A lot of people don’t know but I got food poisoning after Pan Ams in Mexico. Having both this problem and then flu was a disaster. I lost myself in this moment because I missed races which were well suited for me and couldn’t come to terms with it. I love to race my bike and help the team win or win for the team. However, I had lost my confidence during that period. Adam, my coach insisted that I would be the leader and lead this team at this race during the race meeting. I really tried to tell him no, but he really believed in me and told me he wanted me to regain my confidence – he knows my capabilities.
I had the support from my teammates and they did a phenomenal job helping me achieve my first European victory. We had Alice Sharpe in an early breakaway so I was in the peloton chilling. We caught the break on the final lap, with less than 600m to go, they were only a couple bike lengths in front of me and I just went full gas in the seat and caught everyone off guard to win Stage One. Nobody could have followed and I gained valuable GC seconds. The following day it was just about protecting me and being defensive. My teammates really buried themselves for me – Eyeru, Fernanda, Agua, Anastasiya and Alice. I had to deliver, I also needed to make up after a disastrous Bene Ladies tour. Luck and good legs weren’t on my side. Everyone was elated for me after winning Stage Two and securing the GC. My team were really happy. So happy that they made me doing the champion dance when I return from the podium! I will really miss those girls.
PEZ: And fifth in Flanders at Nokere Koerse?
I did not celebrate that but it was okay. I was annoyed that I couldn’t deliver for the team. I had the legs but I got caught up behind another team lead-out person that pulled out and I lost momentum. It was just another learning curve; a moment to know how to read and what to anticipate.
PEZ: Sixth in the Chrono Champenois – you ride a good time trial.
I am good at time trials. Maybe I can be super good at it if I target it more. Chrono Champenois was my first long time trial and was supposed to be a guideline and preparation towards the Yorkshire Worlds. I was happy for the result but knew I did not give it 100% because I played it safe knowing that it was my first long time trial.
PEZ: How was your Harrogate Worlds experience?
In one word: ROUGH. The weather on the day of the time trial was pretty insane. Seeing the crashes from the u23 and the conditions really made me freeze and I had flashbacks to my crash on the curb in the Innsbruck Worlds, last year. It’s good that these things happen so you know what you need to work on and overcome. I will be back in the Aigle Worlds 2020; the third one is the lucky charm, right? However, the spectators on the roadside of the road race were bananas. A lot of noise and vibes; they were directly in your face cheering you on and offering Coca Cola. Unfortunately for me my chances of a good placing ended on the first lap when I got caught up in a crash at the back of the peloton, waiting to get a feed from the car.
PEZ: Tell us about your stagiaire ride with Cogeas Mettler Pro Cycling in 2018.
It ignited me. It was always a dream to ride at the Women’s WorldTour level. Getting that opportunity and experiencing it brought out a different side of me. From then on I was all in to be LEGEND and to stamp my name on the circuit. Hence I came back to Europe this year on a mission. The world is about to know whose Teniel Campbell from Trinidad and Tobago.
PEZ: Valcar Cyclance Cycling for 2020, tell us about that.
I had a lot of interest from approximately 12 teams. Some of them were teams that applied for the Women’s World Tour status. I choose Valcar because there number one priority was me being comfortable in the environment and happy. For them the key to success is being happy and everything else with follow; person first then the rider. The team and the ‘very very super’ Italian girls are excited to have me as their first international rider. I’m looking forward to racing, developing holistically, having strong team cohesion and dominating the circuit with the girls in their colours next year.
PEZ: Do you know what your programme for 2020 looks like yet?
Very Exciting with some ‘Big One in there.
PEZ: Is your ticket to Tokyo booked?
To be continued.
# The girl isn’t shy! We’ll be keeping an eye on those ladies results . . . #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,800 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.