Conyers enjoys picture perfect season
Caitlin Conyers laughs when she remembers “rocking up” to local cycling events and not even having the appropriate apparel in which to race.
Much has changed for Conyers since then, when she dipped her toe into the sport, competing in a handful of races in 2017, with the 28-year-old storming to several titles during a remarkable breakout season this year.
She has simply reigned supreme locally, winning the Presidents Cup, the Bermuda National Road Race Championships, the BBA Time-Trial National Championships and the Butterfield Bermuda Grand Prix.
“It's been a surprise,” Conyers said of her performances this year. “The first [surprise] was the Grand Prix and winning the criterium; the determination for the overall winner.
“I was able to breakaway and I got a taste of winning and thought, “Oh, I could be good at this'.
“The next goal was the two national championships, both of which I was able to win. I continued to prove myself and show what I'm capable of. That encouraged me to reach for more.”
The only blot on Conyers's copybook was her fourth place in the Sinclair Packwood Memorial Race, a “huge disappointment” in which she believes her lack of experience was evident in the predictability of her attacks.
“It's one of the races that I keep revisiting in terms of my development and getting smarter on the bike,” she added.
If her showing at the Elite Caribbean Championships last month are anything to go by, then those wrinkles appear to have been ironed out with the help of her coach and boyfriend Dominique Mayho.
Making her international debut in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Conyers won silver in the road race, to earn Bermuda a berth at the Pan Am Games in Lima next year, and bronze in the time-trial.
“You never know who's going to show up and I was quite nervous as there are quite a few pro women cyclists in the Caribbean,” said the Bicycle Works rider.
“Luckily, some of the riders I was nervous about facing didn't compete, but there were a few really strong girls from Trinidad.
“There was also a girl from Curaçao [Lisa Groothuesheidkamp] who has been around for years and trained at the World Cycling Centre in Switzerland.”
Conyers had to finish in the top two of the road race to qualify Bermuda for Pan Am, and did so in the most thrilling fashion.
She will likely be rewarded for her exhilarating sprint finish with selection to represent the island at the multi-sport event next summer.
“It all came down to a bunch sprint and it was quite hectic,” she said. “It was a serious photo finish; I think it was less than a centimetre difference between me and third.
“The prospect of representing Bermuda even in the Caribbean was so huge for me, so the possibility of Pan Am would be incredible. My expectations and goals have definitely evolved quite a bit.”
With the help of Mayho, the island's No 1 rider, Conyers aims to improve her average time-trial speed and continue her rapid rise by racing in the United States next year.
“We have plans to travel at the beginning of next year,” she said. “Racing in the US would be ideal because they will be competing at Pan Am. That will show me the level I need to be at.”
Mayho, who rides locally for rival team Winners Edge, knows only too well about the challenges Conyers could expect to face in Lima, having raced at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and the Pan Am Games in Toronto the following year.
“Dominique has been everything to me in cycling,” Conyers said. “He's the person who got me up at 5am in the mornings to train. I'd just sit on his wheel for as long as I could. It's a tough relationship coaching somebody and you have to cater to the way someone learns. We've got to the point where he understands what I respond to; I need a lot of positive reinforcement!”
A product of Tri-Hedz, Bermuda's junior triathlon programme, and the daughter of Jeffrey Conyers, a keen cyclist and triathlete, perhaps Conyers's seemingly overnight success should not be perceived as a complete surprise.
“I've always been an athletically inclined person,” she said. “I did Tri-Hedz as a kid and also went away [to compete] in cycling at the age of 12.
“However, when I went to boarding school [Trinity School in Ontario] I didn't continue with any of those sports. I also didn't do any sports when I went to law school [at the London School of Economics], which I regret.”
It was only when Conyers returned to the island in 2016 that she decided to revisit her sporting past.
“I bought a mountain bike and then a road bike, and did some of the races last year,” she said. “There's a funny picture of me at the Grand Prix [in April, 2017] wearing a white T-shirt, just kind of rocking up to races.
“I really love [competing] and my father and obviously Dominique have been super supportive, which has really helped. Bermuda has such a great cycling community and it's been fun being part of it.”