DECORATED VETERAN national cyclist, Gene ‘Geronimo’ Samuel, pedalled back the years to his 1991 World Championship 1,000-metre Time Trial bronze medal performance as he rolled out onto the sleek 250m Siberian spruce track atop a sprint bike for the first time at the National Cycling Velodrome in Balmain, Couva, yesterday.
The four-time Olympian, alongside fellow Trinidad and Tobago great and three-time Central American and Caribbean (CAC) gold medallist Roger Gibbon, joined a lengthy list of former and current elite cyclists and sport administrators who were on hand for the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago’s test event.
“This is a dream of mine for over 30 years and to have a track like this in our own backyard is even more exciting for the youngsters coming up, they should really appreciate this,” said Samuel after making a couple laps. “Previously and up until now, Caribbean athletes have been at a disadvantage because we always had to travel to train elsewhere just a couple days before competition.” The Olympic-sized track was built and laid by ace builder, Ralph Schurmann of Schurmann Architects, with Shanghai Construction Caribbean Michael Zhang overseeing the facility’s infrastructure.
Currently, the International Cycling Union (UCI) is working towards to making this location a ‘satellite centre’ for the region.
The aim is to get athletes from the Caribbean, Central and Latin America and from other parts of the globe, to come and train during winter, from Europe and North America particularly. Also visiting the state-of-the-art facility yesterday was UCI World Cycling Center High Performance Manager, Belinda Tarling, who was equally impressed with the Velodrome. Her visits to the Velodrome will assist in TT attaining a UCI-sanctioned arena.
With the 2016 Junior Pan American Cycling Championships (August 27-31) drawing closer, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cycling Federation (TT CF), Robert Farrier, anticipates bumper crowds and great developmental opportunities for TT young stars.
“It’s really fantastic because it’s something that’s been long overdue,” he said. “If a facility such as this was around in 1991 then we might have certain of Gene Samuel taking home a World Championships gold medal. We are creating young riders to go out there and make Trinidad and Tobago proud. We too, can breed World champions right here on home soil.” Farrier added, “we are still missing a few ingredients, in terms of ‘how do we get our riders up there (highest level)’? The Velodrome is however one of the big additions. There are also some other things that we are putting in place such as a Strength and Conditioning Centre and so on.
We are still yet to get a high performance coach but we will get that in place. We are on the road for great things.” In speaking with SporTT acting chief executive officer Adrian Raymond, he revealed that training and development will play a major factor towards revenue generation for the arena.
“The events being hosted is just one part of it,” said Raymond.
“Think of UWI and how students come in to be schooled from abroad and spend their monies locally, that’s how we’re going to contribute to the economy. Junior Pan Ams is also a huge endorsement from UCI.” Also attending yesterday’s test event was the national men’s Under- 16 basketball and Under-21 volleyball teams who would also use this facility to train.
Minister of Sport Darryl Smith in his short address, lectured to the youngsters to maintain this space professionally and as respectable athletes.
Farrier concluded, “one of the reasons why we hoped to host Junior Pan Ams was to grasp the opportunity and showcase the Velodrome to the entire continental area. We want to bring the Over-20 Pan American countries to Trinidad to use our facility and compete against our athletes. Ths is the way forward.”