TENIEL Campbell’s two-year contract with Australian pro cycling team Mitchelton-Scott climaxed a year of mixed emotions and performances for one of cycling’s most promising young talents.
On October 13, 2019, the 23-year-old completed a two-year training programme at the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland.
Five days later, Campbell was selected to join Italian-based UCI Women’s Continental team Valcar Travel & Service and became TT’s first female cyclist to secure a pro contract.
On October 23, 2019, she attained the status of the first female cyclist from the English-speaking Caribbean to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Campbell’s historic Olympic qualification was highly dependent on her stay at the WCC since she was able to compete on the biggest stage and alongside the world’s highest-ranked athletes.
Her largest haul of Olympic qualifier points came in 2019 courtesy two silver medal performances at the Pan American Games Road Race and at the Women’s Tour of Thailand and a bronze at the Pan American Championships Road Race. In December, 2019, she travelled to Italy for her debut as a pro athlete. Although abroad, the Valcar Travel & Service rider was duly rewarded for her efforts and claimed the TT Olympic Committee’s (TTOC) Sportswoman of the Year award.
This was the second time Campbell was recognised by the Olympic fraternity, having won the recently-introduced Future is Female award in 2018.
Seven weeks after joining her new club, Campbell had a wondrous start to her pro career by pedalling to bronze in her debut event – Vuelta CV Féminas in Valencia, Spain – in February 2020.
On March 1, she showed grit on the European circuit by holding on to fifth at the Omloop van het Hageland in Belgium. Again, on April 13, she was recognised for her achievements and rode away with the First Citizens Sports Foundation 2019 Sportswoman of the Year award.
However, when the pandemic struck in mid-March, all cycling events were shut down and Italy soon rose to become the most covid19-affected country in the world.
Campbell, who only arrived in Europe just three months prior, was forced to significantly reduce her outdoor activity to protect herself from the novel virus. The young Hardbargain, Williamsville, resident was still very new to Italy and was now mandated to isolate herself.
“It was pretty challenging due to covid19. Being alone for two months inside a house can really drive someone crazy if you look at it negatively. I think this year really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I just started talking more and opening up a bit and reaching out for help.
“For these reasons, it’s why I really survived and got back some sort of groove for the remainder of the season to do the best I could,” she said. As a pro athlete, Campbell and her team-mates were eventually allowed to ride outdoors in small groups for a limited time. Still, the majority of her time was spent indoors.
As time passed, the road cyclist eventually became nostalgic. With TT’s borders closed, she was unable to use the downtime to return home. Luckily, she was permitted a chance to travel and returned to the WCC to recalibrate her thoughts.
“In July, I went back to the WCC for two weeks. This helped clear my mind a lot. Apart from going back there, just having strong faith in God, trusting His timing and the support from family and friends played important roles throughout the difficult and dark moments.
“I couldn’t come home so that was the closest place I knew I would be comfortable. Returning there brought back normality in my life. I missed the WCC because I had spent so much time there before heading to Italy,” she added.
With a significant decline in covid19 cases and a return to road races in Italy, Campbell and her team-mates returned to competition by placing tenth at the Giro d’Italia Femminile (Giro Rosa) time trial. Of the nine following road race stages at Giro Rosa, the TT athlete was only able to complete six of laborious distances. After six days of racing, she covered over 650km but grew weary after consecutive days of arduous riding.
On September 24, Campbell suited up in national colours for her third UCI Road World Championships in Imola, Italy. She had a tough start by placing 36th in the Women’s Individual Time Trial and then 47th in the road race.
Although disappointed with her results, Campbell believes it was a learning experience. Three weeks later, Australian pro cycling team Mitchelton-Scott announced her entry to the top-tier World Tour team.
Upon her selection, the cyclist said, “My family was over the moon. They called me drinking champagne while I drank water. It was a challenging year for everyone but experiencing all of this away from family, it helped me grow as an individual. I started on a high then covid19 hit and things just didn’t go as planned with the remainder of the season.
“If everything in life was easy then everyone would be doing it. At the end of the day, if you have goals, you must make sacrifices. This is just another sacrifice. When the time comes, I would be able to have my family around and so on, but for the moment I have to band my belly and make a sacrifice,” she stated.
Campbell begins her competitive season with her new club in January 2021. Although Australian, Mitchelton-Scott is based in Spain and Italy, with the former destination currently favoured by the athlete.
She also indicated that returning to TT before the Olympic Games may not be an option due to the uncertainty of international travel. Campbell does want to risk returning home and then getting stuck here before the new season rides off.