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Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No6: Teniel Campbell

Maria David Sponsored
6 Mar 2021

The first black female rider to race for a Women's WorldTeam team

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David

Teniel Campbell made history recently by becoming the first black female to race for a Women’s WorldTeam. The 23-year-old Team BikeExchange rider may have placed only 91st at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but it nonetheless represented another groundbreaking milestone for Teniel, who has come a long way from her upbringing in Trinidad and Tobago.

Her journey to the sharp end of the women’s pro peloton began back in Trinidad when she took up cycling as a way to pass the time while watching her mum play netball. Teniel recalls:

‘My brother Akil and I would get bored to death watching mum play netball. The cycling track was nearby, so we went over there and spoke to the coach to relieve the boredom.

‘He said we were welcome to come over whenever we wanted and this is how it all started.

I never paid attention to my skin colour, or anyone else’s. For me, it is important that someone sees my potential and not the colour of my skin

‘As my brother and I improved we started taking part in races. My dad, who lives in the US, was also a cyclist, so when he would come to Trinidad for the Easter Grand Prix we would all be racing together.

‘It was my brother who inspired me – he was “that guy”. I really loved his grit and determination and I used to think, “I must drop and beat him one day!”

‘I had a golden opportunity in 2017 when Desmond Roberts [the manager of her team at the time, Perfection Services Limited Cycling Club], paid for me to travel to Martinique for the Caribbean Cycling Championships.

‘While I was there I met UCI president David Lappartient after I won double gold, and he was very impressed, and invited me to the UCI Training Centre in Switzerland, where my coach was Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas.

‘My time there was then extended, and I joined the UCI’s continental team. I was heartbroken when Alejandro moved to Mitchelton-Scott (now Team BikeExchange).

‘I never paid attention to my skin colour, or anyone else’s. For me, it is important that someone sees my potential and not the colour of my skin. But I do remember arriving at my first professional races in Norway and noticing from people’s facial reactions how surprised they were to see me.

‘I got totally dropped in the race, but I was welcomed by the women in the peloton. Chloe Hosking and Annemiek van Vleuten sent me messages of encouragement, saying they admired my determination.’

Teniel then signed with the Italian team Valcar Travel & Service for 2020. She moved to Bergamo in Italy, but just a few months later her life was turned upside down when she found herself at ground zero when the coronavirus pandemic starting to sweep across Italy and the rest of Europe.

‘Dealing with the pandemic was difficult,’ she says. ‘How I survived it was to really switch my brain off. It was really hard hearing the ambulances going up and down and church bells ringing at all hours. The only people I saw were when I was in the supermarket once a week, so it was really challenging.

‘After two weeks I just stopped thinking. I didn’t think about the Olympics being postponed, races, nothing. I just kept pedalling on Zwift. If you let the mind stray it’s not going to make it any easier. So I just switched off.’

After such a difficult year, 2021 represents a fresh challenge for Teniel. She has signed a two-year contract with Team BikeExchange, making the step up to the Women’s WorldTour and reuniting with Gonzalez-Tablas, who is now a sports director for the women’s team.

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

‘When I discovered I was going to work with Alejandro again I was really excited. I am looking forward to the season and to seeing if I can discover my capabilities because I always remember him telling me during the first year at the world cycling centre that I don’t know how much I am capable of.

‘So to be here with him again, I hope to discover my engine more, and my characteristics as a rider. I am really comfortable with Alejandro as my coach because he knows me.

‘I have a lot of mantras and mottos to motivate me. My favourite is from Thomas Jefferson: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal and nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.’

‘Everything is mostly mental – what you tell yourself is what you’ll get. The more I get the more I realise how true that is.’

For more from Zwift this International Women's Month, visit here.