Coryn Rivera could hardly have set the bar much higher for herself during her opening season at Sunweb, but the American is determined to approach her sophomore year on the team in much the same frame of mind that carried her to victory at the Tour of Flanders, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the RideLondon Classique in 2017.
"We take all our positives from last year and we learn from all our mistakes last year as well, and use that going into 2018 with a clean slate," Rivera told Cyclingnews. "There's always a new race. You can't go in thinking, 'We won it last year so we'll win it again this year.' It's about going in with a clear mind and not being overconfident, but at the same time knowing everything we did last year and drawing confidence from that.
Confidence is something Rivera – winner of 70 national titles and counting – can hardly have lacked over the course of her cycling life, even if she endured quiet frustration at being pigeonholed as a sprinter during the early years of her senior career. That misconception came about largely due to her slew of criterium success in the United States, as she combined her professional career with a business degree at Marian University, but Rivera began to showcase her full range once she was able to focus fully on racing in 2016.
Although Rivera suffered the disappointment of missing out on the Rio 2016 Olympics, she impressed in her final season at UnitedHealthcare, winning the Joe Martin stage race and securing a contract with Sunweb for the 2017 campaign. The expectation, both within the team and externally, was that Rivera's first season on a European team would be largely a learning experience, but the Californian adapted quickly and stitched together a fine sequence of spring results.
As well as victories at the Trofeo Binda and the Tour of Flanders, she placed third at Gent-Wevelgem, 6th at Amstel Gold Race and 7th at La Flèche Wallonne to take a temporary lead in the Women's WorldTour standings. She would finish the season-long series in 4th place behind winner Anna van der Breggen.
"It was a lot more than I had expected," Rivera said. "I went into last year more as a development rider, learning the ropes and really feeling what it's like to race here full-time. But I learned pretty quickly. I learned how the peloton moves and who the riders to watch are and how the team works. Everything just clicked really easily. But I think there's always something to improve on and learn from, and that's what I'll look to do this year."
Rivera certainly learned quickly in 2017, claiming the Tour of Flanders at the second attempt. A group sprint at the end of a Classic is very different to a regular bunch gallop, but Rivera showed impeccable instincts to tailor her effort accordingly in the finishing straight in Oudenaarde.
"I think it's a lot about instinct, and then having a strong mind and the willpower to really want it and put in that extra effort," Rivera said. "Because by that point in the race, everyone's done, everyone's tired. I don't know what I did and where I got it from at Flanders, but that's something that's very important in races like that."
If Rivera's victory from an 18-rider group seemed to reaffirm her talents as a sprinter, her effort on the Mur de Huy later that month demonstrated that the 25-year-old's repertoire is a wide one.
"Personally, I see myself as a bike racer – whatever it takes for me to get to the line, I'm going to do, whether it's climbs or sprinting or whatever it is," Rivera said. "I'm working on my weaknesses now and really fine-tuning my strengths like sprinting, and I think I'll only be a stronger rider in 2018."
Eyes on Tokyo
Rivera was speaking at the Team Sunweb presentation in Berlin at the beginning of January, shortly before she joined her family on a trip to see relatives in the Philippines. Her last visit was as an 11-year-old – just as her interest in cycling began to take hold – and this latest trip was the first opportunity to explore the Philippines by bike. "I don't know if the roads are hilly or flat, so I'm going into it a bit blind but at least I know the weather's nice so I can't complain about that," Rivera said.
Rivera's first competitive outing of the 2018 season will come at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on the last weekend in February, where the new finish in Ninove – over the old Tour of Flanders combination of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg – will provide a most bracing first day of school for much of the peloton. With Ellen van Dijk and Lucinda Brand also on hand, Sunweb will not want for options in Flanders.
"There's a lot of uncertainty and nervousness in the first race of the season while you see what everyone's at, but we'll do our best," Rivera said. "Lucinda [Brand] is racing cross and is already very fit. I've had a good winter at home in California so we'll just kind of see how it goes. The course has changed a little bit and is more similar to the old Flanders course, so it's also a new race. There'll be a lot of uncertainty as to what the race will be like, but obviously we'll be going there aiming for the win."
Speaking on-stage during the Sunweb presentation, Rivera made no secret of her ambition to be in the mix at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In the shorter-term, the American will look to build upon her 2017 success, even if she notes that results alone will not be the sole measure of progress.
"It's not necessarily a case of having boxes to tick or anything. I'm a pretty easy-going person and I like going into races just looking to do our best as a collective team, and we see what our best chance is in the moment and have a back-up plan if things don't go right," Rivera said. "I think the later spring classics between Gent-Wevelgem through to Amstel are races that really suit me, and typically I'm in really good form by then, too."
Listen to the Cyclingnews podcast below, and for more episodes, click here.