"We’re coming for the world, watch out.”
CAC gold medallist Teneil Campbell uttered those words last year and it reverberated around the local cycling community yesterday, when the UCI released its season-end rankings, revealing several historic feats for this country.
Although Campbell's success was in the road race, she also referred to her compatriots, who by then picked up a haul of medals in their track cycling events.
TT's efforts at the CAC Games, followed by the UCI World Cup and most recently the UCI World Championship, provided the points, which on Thursday saw the nation close the season ranked third by world governing body for cycling in the men's elite sprint. It is this country's highest ever UCI ranking.
"Trinidad and Tobago, we have like some of the best cyclists ever and we’re coming," Campbell had told a journalist at the 2018 CAC Games.
Team TTO amassed 4,338 points, of which more than half were attributed to 21-year-old Nicholas Paul, the youngest rider on the TT team, who enjoyed the form of his life in 2018. Netherlands, with two athletes at the top of the individual rankings, leads the nations rankings, followed by Australia.
Paul had a massive individual achievement to celebrate, a record fourth place rank in the elite men's sprint, the best of any TT cyclist at the end of a season.
Paul gained 2,420 points, with his highest points haul coming from the Pan American Games last September in Mexico, where he won silver in the men's sprint. At his three World Cup events, Paul placed fifth, sixth and 11th to pick up another 880 valuable points. At the World Championship, his seventh place earned him 450 points.
Paul also won gold in the at the Central America and Caribbean (CAC) Games, though that awarded him just 200 points.
The next best TT sprint cyclists in the top 100 were Olympian Njisane Phillip, in 27th with 1,332 points, Keron Bramble 65th (586 points) and Kwesi Browne 74th (546 points).
Not to be mistaken with the national ranking in the men's sprint, which is an accumulation of points from riders' individual performances, TT's men's elite team sprint also made positive movement, closing the season in ninth, up from 12th at the end of the previous season. It is their best season finish in a decade.
Several more cyclists contributed to the points haul in the men's team sprint. Phillip and Paul, who partnered throughout the season, both earned 1,068.75 points, while Browne and Bramble, who featured on fewer occasions, claimed 727.5 points and 341.25 points, respectively. Haseem McLean, Myles Burnette and Aaron Alleyne contributed with 50 points each.
In the men's keirin, Browne ended in 12th place, up from 19th the previous year.
The standings reflect TT's strong position in relation to qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games. The qualifying countries and athletes, however, will be finalised at the conclusion of the 2020 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, which takes place in March next year.
Gary Acosta, former team manager and racing director at the TT Cycling Federation, in an interview with Newsday yesterday, gave his perspective as to where the sharp rise stemmed from.
With respect to the team's overall improved performances, Acosta said, "(The) hiring of a national coach/technical director Erin Hartwell in October, 2017, by the SporTT ensured that TT’s best sprint cyclists trained every day together under one programme."
Acosta also attributed the use of the National Cycling Velodrome as "a major contributor."
"Being able to train on a world class velodrome assists a lot, since cyclists will not have the issue of acclimatising to foreign wooden, indoor tracks."
He said there has been "excellent support by SporTT (Sport Company of TT) and the Ministry of Sport towards the cyclists and management staff."
He added, "Apart from (aiding) financially, they have also opened the services of the elite development performance unit to the team."
The team's mechanic, Elisa Greene, he said, is "more than just a mechanic, but also a mentor and brings his extensive cycling experience and background to the management team."
He noted that the dedication of TT's pool of cyclists, namely Phillip, Paul, Browne, Bramble and Jabari Whiteman and their application have had a considerable impact.
"Nicholas (Paul) is the quintessential athlete," Acosta said, "and the perfect person to be trained. He’s always present and punctual, follows instructions, trusts the coach and executes perfectly. His performance is not surprising based on the work he puts in training."
However, Acosta suggested TT's successes in cycling through 2018 came in spite of what he described as a lack of support from the TTCF.
"TT is now the third best sprinting nation in the world according to the world governing body. No other sport in TT has that type of world ranking.
"While the support from the ministry and SporTT has been great, the financial burden by corporate Trinidad will obviously assist tremendously. Unfortunately, the assistance and support from the TTCF is lacking drastically.
"Imagine the team is competing at a World Cup and they see the president of the Federation in Jamaica colours and as coach of Jamaica? How does that affect the motivation of a cyclist?"