Three individual gold medals from three individual events at the just concluded Tissot UCI (International Cycling Union) Track Cycling Nations Cup in Cali, Colombia, saw T&T cyclist Nicholas Paul make yet another huge statement about his ability and more so about his current form.
Paul went to his debut Olympic Games as the World record-holder in the men's flying 200-metre (9.100 seconds) but in Tokyo, Japan the 22-year-old placed sixth in the men's sprint and a semi-finalist in the keirin. With a relegation in the match sprint followed by an outright disqualification in the keirin, Paul summed up his Olympic bow as a learning experience.
Speaking to Guardian Media Sports following Paul's feats at the Nations Cup, former T&T cycling technical director, and head coach Erin Hartwell was impressed with his former charge.
"Many athletes suffer serious post-event letdowns following an Olympic Games. They lose interest in training and have difficulty rising back to a high level of readiness in a short period of time," said Hartwell.
In Colombia, Paul who represents Central Spokes Cycling Club locally left no doubt about his ability to use his Olympic experience as fuel. He won the 1km time trial on September 17, the keirin on the following day, and completed a hat-trick of gold medals by taking the match sprint title two days later. His classy racing all happened at the Alcides Nieto Patiño Velodrome, a venue that has hosted 15 previous stops on the UCI World Cup series calendar, now called the UCI Nations Cup, and several World and Continental championships.
On his way to gold in the match sprint, the Gasparillo native set a new venue record in the flying 200m with a 9.660 seconds ride in the qualifying and went unbeaten through the next four rounds including the final against Amar Masri (Malaysia), Daniel Rochna (Poland), Rayan Helal (France) and Kevin Quintero (Colombia).
He also set a record on the Alcides Nieto Patiño track in the time trial when he went 59.378 in qualifying before winning the final in 59.994.
While less than a handful of top ten riders from Tokyo in either the keirin or the match sprint attended the Cali Nations Cup, Paul's records and performances must not be understated according to Hartwell, as he managed to earn T&T's first-ever gold medals at any Nations Cup.
Teammate Akil Campbell, 25, also captured a historic gold medal in the men's elimination race, which was Sunday night’s final event, battling back from a crash to take the gold medal on his competition debut. It follows a string of good results on the international circuit for the rider who has won multiple age groups and elite national titles. In June, Campbell also won the men's scratch race at the Elite Pan American Track Cycling Championships in Lima, Peru.
Hartwell continued: "As an athlete and coach, my perspective is that a UCI Nations Cup is still a UCI Nations Cup regardless of participation. It's the biggest track cycling series globally; having a few more Europeans won't change the fact that Nico and Akil both won at the highest level of competition."
He added, "Of course, some races are more competitive than others. However, we don't differentiate results from the same competition series. Nico and Akil handed Team TTO historical results that the nation can be proud of. Don't overlook the fact that Akil Campbell sprinted around a world champion to win the elimination! A win is a win in my books."
Up next for Paul is the World Championships in Roubaix, France from October 13-17. Hartwell has been left with no doubt that something special might be in store for the young rider as he leads his nation on one of the biggest stages in just under a month.
"T&T must be taken seriously by the traditional players in the game. It's taken some time, but folks have had to accept that TTO punches quite hard in the ring. The tide is turning on the traditional dominance of the sport. It's quite refreshing," said Hartwell.