Italian-based professional road cyclist Teniel Campbell plans to conquer racial stigmatisation on the European circuit by producing a consistent supply of powerful performances for her Valcar Travel & Service outfit.
In a detailed interview with cyclingnews.com on Friday, Campbell opened up on racial discrimination in sport, particularly cycling. However, she plans to let her legs do the talking and be the ultimate judge of her character as a Caribbean athlete competing among Europe’s top-flight.
The 22-year old road racer began her pro career when she touched down in Italy in December 2019. Since her arrival, Campbell has proven an integral part of her team.
In February, she secured her Valcar Travel & Service unit a podium finish at the Vuelta Feminas in Spain and then grabbed fifth place at the Omloop van het Hageland in Belgium.
Campbell, who is six foot one, boldly stands out among her mainly white teammates and fellow competitors.
“There are literally no athletes of colour in the peloton (pack of riders). You can distinguish me from the colour of my skin and my height.
"I didn't want to be known as that person. I want people to see me for the talent I have, not because of the colour of my skin or because I'm so completely different from everyone else. No, I don't want that. Me – I'm human. I have the talent, and that is what you must know me, see me and respect me for: my talent,” she told cyclingnews.com.
The article said systemic racism in pro cycling seems to get swept under the carpet by the sport’s governing body, International Cycling Union (UCI). It has also been openly criticised for its lack of action against racially abused athletes, which violates its own code of ethics.
“For example, when Kévin Reza was racially abused by Michael Albasini in 2014 and again by Gianni Moscon in 2017, or when Natnael Berhane was racially abused by Branislau Samoilau in 2015 - the UCI chose not to issue punishments,” the story said.
Campbell expressed pleasure at having been born and bred in the multicultural society that is TT.
While she has never been racially abused during her short Italian stint and even at the World Cycling Centre in Switzerland 15 months earlier, she plans to combat racism by churning out performances to stamp her name on the highly competitive, white-dominated circuit.
“I have never, in the back of my head, seen colour. I don't judge anyone. I come from a multi-ethnic country, and I grew up, basically, among all the races. I was raised right, and I know how to treat people. If you're nice to me, I'm nice to you. If you respect me, I respect you – this is how it should be. You shouldn't judge someone based on how they look. I think if you're just yourself, people will like you and accept you for who you are.”
In the European professional ranks, Campbell says, she is one of two black female cyclists. The other is cyclo-cross world champion Ceylin Carmen del Alvarado – a Dominican-born Dutch pro cyclist.
An encounter with two female cyclists while racing the Ladies Tour of Norway caused her to reflect on how challenging it is to break through racial prejudices and discrimination within a historically mostly white sport.
She recalled, “The only time I was a bit shocked was the first time I did the race in Norway. We were dropped, and I remember two girls turned around and saw me and said, 'Who is this?' I thought, 'Oh gosh.'”
After that race, Campbell wrote to her coach and said she needed to train harder. She used this experience as a motivating factor to continue pushing and work harder.
“It didn't sit right with me that I was getting dropped so easily, and I was a complete mess. I went home, did my homework, and came back with the motivation to make a name for myself on the European circuit and to be respected.
"As the wins come and people start to know you as a rider and to pay attention to you, that builds respect. You can see and feel that in the peloton. When they know you, and they know who you are, they respect you as a rider and a person. It's about determination, grit and the perseverance to achieve. I don't see people for colour. I see everyone for being human,” she concluded.