Caitlin Conyers emerged as the surprise success story for Bermuda at the Pan American Games after a pair of superb displays in her cycling events.
Conyers announced herself on the international stage in Lima, finishing seventh in the time-trial on Wednesday before placing tenth in the road race on Saturday.
Not bad for someone who only dipped her toe in the sport two years ago, taking part in a handful of local races despite not having the correct apparel in which to race.
Much has changed for Conyers since then, with the 29-year-old admitting she finally feels as though she belongs competing against the region’s elite.
“I knew going into the last lap [of the road race] that I needed to be in the front group because they were going to fly down the hill and go full gas to the finish,” said Conyers, who finished the five-lap, 80-kilometre course in San Miguel in a time of 2hr 19min 52sec.
“Luckily, I was able to stay with them up the climb and slide in at the end. I didn’t have the best final corner; I was a little timid on the U-bend, but I managed to stay with the group and finish in tenth place. That was my goal.”
Conyers’s confidence received a major boost after the time-trial and said she felt relaxed and comfortable throughout the road race.
“There was only one major climb, but the race was very stop-start with lots of attacking and counterattacking,” she said.
“They were quite a few strong teams like Mexico and Cuba, plus a strong girl from Trinidad [Teniel Campbell], so nobody wanted to let anyone get away.
“We knew going into it that it was going to be a bunch sprint going into the finish.”
Conyers, who races locally for Bicycle Works, said she arrived in Lima harbouring slight self-doubts after struggling in overseas races during the build up to the Games.
She suffered mechanical issues at the Pan American Cycling Championships road race in Pachuca de Soto, Mexico, in May and missed the cut in the Vuelta Femenina a Guatemala on the first day of the five-day event in June.
“This whole season has been geared towards the Pan Am Games,” added Conyers, who earned Bermuda a berth at the Pan Am Games by winning a silver medal in the road race in the Caribbean Cycling Championships in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in October last year.
“I didn’t have the best performance at the Pan Am Championships and had a terrible performance in Guatemala.
“However, I got what I needed from those races and was able to put it all together for the time-trial and road race.
“I’m really happy it paid off and I finally feel like I belong. I hope I just improve from here.”
Nicole Mitchell, who embraced her role as Conyers’s support rider, having received a late invitation to the Games, came 29th out of 36 competitors in 2:21:16.
The race was won by Arienis Sierra, of Cuba, in 2:19:49, with Teniel Campbell, of Trinidad & Tobago, in second (2:19:50) and Lizbeth Salazar, of Mexico, coming third in 2:19:50.
“A lot of my role was just to try and pull [Caitlin] up into a better position and shield her a bit from the wind,” Mitchell said.
“It was pretty clear by about the third lap that nobody was going to let anybody get away.
“I tried to advise her that she didn’t need to follow every move because there were much bigger teams with a lot stronger riders. I told her just to conserve as much as energy as she could.”
Dominique Mayho, the Bermuda coach, said he was particularly impressed by Conyers’s road-race display as she is a more confident time-trialist.
“I always know she is good for the time-trial and she was just 13 seconds off a bronze,” said Mayho, who competed at the previous Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015.
“Our biggest thing is helping her overcome her fear of crashing when she is cornering.
“With the last turn, it made it a little challenging, but I was in the team car and when I saw her sprinting, I was all smiles.
“It was an amazing performance. There’s nothing like a good result to boost your confidence. Now she knows she can compete.”
Games wrap-up, page 29