"It hasn't sunk in yet. It all feels pretty crazy," were Teniel Campbell's words just days after the announcement that she had signed her first WorldTour contract with Mitchelton-Scott through 2022. Reaching the upper echelons of professional cycling happened sooner than she thought, and she said it still feels like a dream.
Campbell's under no illusion about how tough racing is on the Women's WorldTour, but she's determined to learn and grow, and she has the support of her nation, Trinidad and Tobago, every step of the way.
"My family were so happy, drinking champagne. I've never seen them so happy," she told Cyclingnews in a phone interview on Monday. "This extends to the entire of Trinidad and Tobago; everyone back home is going bananas over it.
"When the news reached the Caribbean, it was crazy because everyone lives their dreams through me. They have seen me grow from the junior levels to the WorldTour. It meant a lot to everyone, and I was happy to see this. Seeing them happy made me even happier. It still doesn't feel real and hasn't completely sunk in yet. I'm the first rider from Trinidad and Tobago to reach this level."
Campbell grew up in Hardbargain, on the south side of Trinidad. In an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews in June, she said she learned how to race bikes at a local club and from hanging around with the boys. Campbell said that her country offers little in terms of cycling infrastructure, and few families place their children in the sport because it's too expensive. She said it took support from her parents and her cycling community to help her get to where she is in cycling today, and she hopes to pay it forward by helping the sport grow in the Caribbean.
Campbell said that her contract with Mitchelton-Scott, her two-year shot at the Women's WorldTour, feels like a way of giving back to everyone in her family and nation for the endless support they have given in her pursuit to become a world-class athlete.
"I feel like I'm giving back to cycling in my community," Campbell said. "My community couldn't be more proud. They feel represented, and they look forward to seeing my growth, seeing greatness, and they appreciate the determination and sacrifices that I have made. They know it hasn't been easy, especially being overseas and away from my family during a pandemic. Everyone is just so happy – the entire country. It's crazy because to have support from a whole nation is so nice.
"It's a big deal for everyone, but I'm just at the beginning, and there's still a long way to go. I must not get carried away. I'm excited, but there are still goals that I want to achieve."
Classics, World Championships, Olympic Games
Campbell began her professional career in road and track cycling at the World Cycling Centre in Switzerland, following an invitation from UCI President David Lappartient to join the programme on a fully-paid scholarship beginning in early 2018. She then graduated to the pro ranks as a trainee with Cogeas-Mettler Pro Cycling that same year.
She spent one more season with the World Cycling Centre team before signing with Valcar Travel & Service in 2020. She found immediate success with third at the Vuelta CV Feminas and fifth at the Omloop van het Hageland before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season in March.
Campbell, 23, is 6’1", and her data files show that she can push 1,200 maximum watts in a sprint, but she is also a successful time triallist and has a love of the Classics. She told Cyclingnews that she wants to win a major one-day race, a world title, break world records and win a gold medal at the Olympic Games much further in the future. She didn't expect to secure a shot at the WorldTour so soon.
"It's been crazy. I didn't expect it to blow up so much in the global cycling world. I read many comments from people who felt it was a good signing and want to see my continued progression and development as a rider. That felt pretty crazy," Campbell said.
"Mitchelton-Scott contacted me in September, and I was a bit shocked. I wasn't sure how to respond at first, but we started talking more often, and it eventually fell into place.
"I didn't get the results I had hoped for at the World Championships [in Imola], and I thought maybe they would change their minds. At first, I wasn't sure why they would contact me because, other than at the beginning of the season, I didn't have good results, there wasn't a lot of racing this year, and I was confused."
Campbell spent time working with Mitchelton-Scott's current director, Alejandro Gonzales-Tablas, during her time at the World Cycling Centre. The team noted that Gonzales-Tablas had watched Campbell graduate from the programme and continue to grow as an athlete and teammate through the professional ranks.
"Alejandro said that results weren't the only thing that teams look for in a rider, but also how you work in the peloton, respecting your role as a domestique and selflessly riding when the roles and the script changes. That stood out to them, as well as my determination," Campbell said.
"We first met at the talent ID [camp] in Argentina, so he knew me as a junior rider, which is pretty cool," she said. "We met again at the World Cycling Centre in 2018. It was hard training under him, but I really developed as a rider, and so did my confidence, and I believe that since then, he has kept his eye on my progression."
Campbell said she hasn't met with Mitchelton-Scott yet to discuss next season's race calendar, but that she hopes to spend the next two seasons learning from some of the world's best riders in the Classics and stage races.
"I want to continue my development and take domestique roles to learn from the riders who have more experience; that's top-notch for me. If the team believes in me and wants to let me see if I can handle leadership roles, then I will go for it," Campbell said.
Mitchelton-Scott have not announced their full roster, but they have extended contracts with Amanda Spratt and Jessica Roberts, and have signed new athletes Ane Santesteban, Urska Zigart and Arianna Fidanza. The team's long-time co-leader, Annemiek van Vleuten, is set to race with Movistar in 2021.
Since their inception as Orica-AIS in 2012, the team has dominated the Classics and stage races. Campbell is familiar with the team's strength and tactics, having participated in the same races during the last two years on the European circuit.
"I have a funny story: usually when you see Mitchelton-Scott go to the front, you know the hammer is about to go down, so to be able to know what's coming as an insider is pretty cool," Campbell said.
"I'm looking forward to racing aggressively, which will boost my confidence, and by doing the domestique roles, you grow in strength and confidence, and it gives you a chance to learn. When that leadership role comes, you will have the experience and the backing from the team. This is all part of developing respect and confidence in each other."
In the next two years, Campbell's biggest goal is to perform well at the World Championships and participate at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, both in the colours of Trinidad and Tobago.
"I would like to get it right at the World Championships. I've been chasing this, but it hasn't been clicking for me. Being part of Mitchelton-Scott will also help me be in peak condition for the Olympic Games [time trial]. To get it right at the Worlds would be the cherry on the cake."
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