FOUR-TIME TT Olympian Gene “Geronimo” Samuel believes there is a possibility national cycling coach Erin Hartwell, can ditch TT to seek greener pastures, after a wave of unexpected and uncomfortable issues within the local cycling fraternity over the past month.
The veteran cyclist/coach made these remarks following Hartwell’s recent decision to take some time off from his duties, just days before TT’s penultimate Olympic qualifier in Milton, Canada.
Samuel highlighted multiple intricacies which have occurred over the past four weeks, and even in his (Hartwell) previous tenure as TT Cycling Federation (TTCF) high performance director back in 2010, which may have played an integral part in the American opting to request leave at such a crucial time.
Hartwell though, is a familiar face among the sport locally, having been hired as national coach in May 2010 before his contract was terminated six months later under the then Minister of Sport Anil Roberts and TTCF president Robert Farrier.
The former world record holder then returned to TT in September 2017, on a three-year contract, to take up the post as the new technical director of cycling. Since his reintegration into the sport, TT cycling has been on the rise. However, with a flurry of unwanted issues within recent times, Samuel is worried Hartwell may have reached his breaking point while TT stands to lose its most essential cycling asset.
“After working wonders for the past two years, this is what it has come to?” questioned a fiery Samuel, on Wednesday. “It’s the last straw that broke the camel’s back. These are sad times for cycling. If he takes up a job elsewhere, he’ll be in charge, he’ll have equipment, nobody would be undermining him and they would be accepting of his time. It’s too much of favour and politics in TT.”
The respected local cyclist admitted Hartwell is doing an amazing job with the team but reiterated the multitude of administrative and athlete fluctuations which, according to him, can become overbearing as a professional coach.
In a short conversation with the American, on Tuesday, Hartwell said, “In light of the recent events in cycling that have impacted upon my professional reputation and career, I’ve been granted leave by the Sports Company to pursue other opportunities.”
These “recent events” can be summarised as the abrupt resignation of former TTCF president Larry Romany after just four months in office, a Pan American Games gold and silver medal stripping courtesy a positive doping test (controlled substance) in the same month and the removal of five Mavic wheels from Hartwell’s office by an athlete without consent from TTCF; all in December 2019.
Additionally, the personal omission of two riders from TT’s Men’s Team Sprint squad, who according to Hartwell, had a slim, mathematical chance to qualify for Tokyo. These cyclists though, deemed the task impossible.
“I know he wishes things could be turned around. It’s a pity the Team Sprint unit isn’t going (to Olympic qualifiers) and I know Erin has to be so mentally drained. Like Gary Griffith, an individual who is trying to do the best he can, Erin is frustrated. It hurts me because I’m the one who pushed Erin to take up the job during a conversation in pouring rain in Pennsylvania some years ago,” Samuel added.
With Nicholas Paul, Kwesi Browne and Quincy Alexander gearing up to compete at the UCI World Cup on Friday without their coach present, Samuel believes his absence may affect their mental strengths. He is, however, confident the team can still produce a dominant performance and still qualify in their respective individual sprint and keirin events.
“They are race horses and professionals and they have to do the best that they can and they will give it one hundred per cent. Erin has brought them this far,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, TT Olympic Committee president Brian Lewis, indicated he was not privy to all the information surrounding this matter and was unable to make a direct comment.
“I don’t have that information as this is news to me. But, who Jah bless no one curse. I just hope the athletes will stay focused through all the ups and downs,” said Lewis.
Attempts to contact TTCF president Joseph Roberts, for a comment also proved futile, since calls to his phone went unanswered.